MEETINGS with Scunthorpe are never the most glamorous occasions on United’s fixture calendar.
But, as Danny Wilson acknowledged beforehand, last night’s certainly felt like one of the most important.
Following a painful defeat in Sunday’s Steel City showdown, the manager had challenged his players to produce both the type of performance and result which would consign events at Hillsborough to the dustbin of history.
Against opponents reduced to 10 men when Sam Togwell saw red just before the interval, they ultimately obliged. But only after the introduction of Richard Cresswell and Stephen Quinn rescued what had seemed destined to become an evening of disappointment.
Scunthorpe broke the deadlock when Mark Duffy threaded a powerful drive between Steve Simonsen’s outstretched palm and the post.
But with Togwell’s exit changing the dynamics of the contest, subs Cresswell and Quinn set in motion the chain of events which culminated with Lee Williamson snatching an equaliser.
Quinn’s late winner, which took a wicked deflection off Scunthorpe’s Paul Reid, was harsh on Alan Knill’s side who had battled manfully to overcome their numerical disadvantage.
However Wilson, having seen United reassert their grip on second place, will shed few tears for his opposite number as he attempts to plot a course back towards the Championship.
Despite remaining in a strong position towards the top of the table, United’s display against Sheffield Wednesday had brutally exposed their reliance upon Kevin McDonald in midfield.
With the former Scotland Under 21 international again missing and Nick Montgomery, his replacement at the weekend, nursing an injured calf, Wilson restored Johannes Ertl, James Beattie and Ryan Flynn to the starting 11 hoping to find greater creativity.
It was an experiment which Wilson ditched after a woeful first-half which saw United fail to reach the same heights they have achieved in recent weeks until Cresswell and Quinn entered the fray.
Scunthorpe, unchanged for the second match in a row, arrived embroiled in a desperate dog-fight for survival but comforted by the knowledge that, prior to kick-off, they had not lost at this stadium since 1983.
In recent seasons, United might have found unpicking the visitors’ defence a tougher task than solving Stuart Pearce’s cryptic clues about the identity of the next England captain.
But a delightful back-heel from Beattie ensured it took them barely five minutes to do exactly that here although Ertl wastefully shot wide with the net at his mercy.
Nevertheless, United were reticent and ragged until the introduction of two tried and tested favourites injected some urgency into what had previously been a disappointing piece of work.
Indeed it was Scunthorpe, despite betraying the nerves one would expect from a team in such a perilous predicament, who possessed greater rhythm and purpose throughout the opening period.
So it was no surprise when, moments after Neill Collins had directed a tame header straight into Sam Slocombe’s arms, Duffy handed them the lead with a perfectly placed shot after being allowed to run, unchallenged, towards the edge of the penalty box.
Flynn, supposedly drafted-in to sprinkle some stardust across United’s attack, instead found himself being forced to make tackles around Steve Simonsen’s area to prevent Scunthorpe from doubling their advantage.
When Togwell was dismissed for a rash challenge on fellow captain Michael Doyle before the interval, United were presented with an opportunity to impose themselves.
It took less than 10 minutes for Wilson’s reshuffle to take effect with Cresswell and Quinn both involved in the move which ended with Evans crossing the ball for Williamson to volley home in emphatic fashion.
Slocombe denied Evans with his legs after the Wales international had evaded his marker and Matthew Lowton was inches away from doing the same following another perfectly executed pass from Quinn who later blazed over the crossbar from the tightest of angles. But the Irishman did find the back of the net with eight minutes remaining before a last ditch tackle prevented Evans from extending United’s lead on the stroke of full-time.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Simonsen 6, Lowton 6, Jean-Francois 6, Ertl 5 (Quinn 46, 8), Doyle 6, Evans 6, Beattie 5 (Cresswell 46, 7), Flynn 6 (Hoskins 75), Williamson 7, Collins 6, Maguire 6. Not used: Howard, Porter.
SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Slocombe 6, Togwell 5, Mirfin 6, O’Connor 7, Parkin 6, Walker 6, Reid 6, Duffy 7 (Byrne 78), Barcham 6 (Thompson 70), Reckford 6, Ribeiro 6 (Grant 88). Not used: Robertson, Mozika.
Cautions: Parkin (36), Mirfin (56), Slocombe (69).
Red card: Togwell (39).