MATCH REPORT: Sheffield United 3 Scunthorpe United 0
AT first glance, this fixture appeared a mismatch.
But, as regular watchers of Sheffield United and Scunthorpe will tell you, nothing when these teams meet is ever quite as it seems.
Late goals, red cards and controversy have peppered recent encounters between League One rivals who, despite enjoying cordial relations off the pitch, bring both the best and worst out of each other whenever their paths cross on it.
And, true to form, although Danny Wilson’s side recorded the result which kept them on top of the table it came at a price with Shaun Miller, whose goal set United on the path to success, joining defender Neill Collins in the treatment room ahead of Saturday’s game against Hartlepool.
Mark Duffy, who counts the hosts among his list of admirers ahead of next month’s transfer window, presented Scunthorpe’s greatest threat.
But when Dave Kitson pounced early in the second-half, there was simply no way back for opponents who seem destined for a difficult New Year.
His header, which powered beyond Steve Mildenhall and into the back of Scunthorpe’s net, confirmed exactly why Wilson was so delighted to secure the former Reading marksman’s services until at least the end of the season.
Nick Blackman twisted the knife still further with a late penalty after being involved in a champagne exchange with Ryan Flynn and Blackman which reflected United’s dominance more than the scoreline.
Wilson’s joy, though, was tinged with concern about the condition of two influential figures in his battle to bring Championship football back to Bramall Lane.
Twenty two places separated United and the visitors ahead of kick-off.
Nevertheless Scunthorpe, now managed by Brian Laws, will have made the short journey west harbouring high hopes of securing only their fourth victory since the former Sheffield Wednesday chief’s return to Glanford Park.
With all of his wins so far coming away from home, Laws has clearly enjoyed some success curing them of the travel sickness which contributed to predecessor Alan Knill losing his job.
Nevertheless, the fact they spent Christmas Day rooted firmly in the relegation zone and contemplating a long and arduous battle against the drop confirms a change at the helm is no magic elixir.
A fact United, naming the same starting 11 which had climbed to the top of the table four days earlier with a win over Crawley Town, demonstrated in emphatic fashion when Miller claimed his eighth goal of the campaign after barely four minutes.
Seizing upon Niall Canavan’s mistake and benefiting from Flynn’s intelligent decoy run, the United centre-forward exploited the space which opened up in front of him by driving towards the edge of the penalty box before threading a fierce low drive between Mildenhall’s outstretched palm and the far post.
It proved to be the start of a long and painful afternoon for United’s opponents who remain 23rd in the rankings.
Laws, who twice steered Scunthorpe to promotion before taking charge at Hillsborough six years ago, enjoys cult hero status on the south bank of the River Humber.
Predictably, 40 or so miles down the motorway, he is a much more divisive figure and United supporters greeted his appearances in the technical area with a few well chosen words of advice.
However, the sight of Scunthorpe struggling to keep Wilson’s charges at bay during the opening exchanges caused Laws far greater concern.
Tony McMahon’s raking pass was only a whisker away from sending Flynn, one of two United players dismissed when these sides last locked horns three months ago, scampering beyond his marker.
The other - captain Michael Doyle - was a menacing presence in midfield. But it was Blackman who should have heaped further misery upon Scunthorpe shoulders following Miller’s superb feint.
Despite his prowess in the opposition area, Wilson acknowledges that the summer signing from Crewe is still far from the finished article.
If Miller’s over-weighted pass contributed to Blackman’s mistake, the service he provided for Dave Kitson soon after prevented his fellow centre-forward extending United’s advantage.
However, a few rough edges apart, Miller undoubtedly has considerable potential and his inventiveness was responsible for driving the 25th minute move which ended with McDonald flicking the ball just wide.
Damien Mozika and Andy Barcham nearly punished United’s profligacy 12 minutes before the interval when the latter saw a shot parried clear by Long after his colleague’s header from Jimmy Ryan’s cross bounced back off the underside of the bar.
John Cofie, who replaced the injured Miller, nearly harried Mildenhall into an error only seconds after taking to the field but United were forced to make a second substitution when a dazed looking Collins trooped gingerly down the tunnel.
Kitson ensured United regained their poise just before the hour when, having drawn a free-kick from Canavan, he converted McMahon’s delivery in some style.
Blackman attempted to get in on the act with a speculative long distance effort before receiving his reward with only five minutes remaining.
McDonald and Flynn teased Scunthorpe’s rearguard this way and that before Tom Newey’s petulant challenge left referee Gary Sutton with no option but to point to the spot.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Long 6, Maguire 6, Hill 6, Flynn 7, Doyle 6, Blackman 6, McDonald 7, Miller 7 (Cofie 46, 6), Kitson 7 (Cresswell 86), N Collins 6 (Williams 50), McMahon 6. Not used: Westlake, McAllister, Ironside, Coyne.
SCUNTHORPE: Mildenhall 6, Ribeiro 6, Reid 6, Ryan 6 (Ellington 63, 6), Mozika 7, Barcham 6, Canavan 6, Duffy 7 (Kennedy 90), M Collins 6, Newey 6, Hawley 6 (Djezeri 78), Slocombe, Grella, Gibbons, Godden.
Red cards: None
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Weather for Sheffield
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
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