CHED Evans took an important step along the road to redemption by helping Sheffield United secure their first ever point at Glanford Park.
The Wales international striker, who by his own admission has failed to deliver since joining the visitors in a blaze of glory two years ago, returned from a near-five-month absence through injury to claim the goal which not only preserved their unbeaten start to the League One season but propelled them to the top of the table as well.
In recent weeks personal issues have weighed upon Evans’ shoulders more heavily than that £3 million fee ever could.
But, after being charged with rape following an alleged incident in Denbighshire earlier this summer, a second-half cameo bristling with intent, power and purpose proved that football provides an opportunity to escape the pressures of his private life.
“Ched has been through a difficult period,” Michael Doyle, United’s captain, said.
“It must be very tough for him at the moment but it was great to see him come back like that.
“For a footballer, there is nothing better than being out there on the pitch.
“It’s where we all want to be.”
Despite numerous false starts to his career at Bramall Lane, Evans possess the qualities required to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in a division high on character but, barring some notable exceptions, low on genuine class.
Chris Dagnall, whose sumptuous finish on the stroke of half-time handed 10-man Scunthorpe a deserved lead, also caught the eye during this hard-fought contest.
However, should Danny Wilson be able to coax the best out of Evans, then he knows United’s promotion credentials will be greatly enhanced.
It is that knowledge which persuaded him to welcome the former Manchester City centre-forward back into the fold only four days after making his comeback during a reserve-team fixture against Burton Albion.
“Ched can be massive for us,” Doyle said.
“He’s had a long lay-off but everyone has seen what he can bring to the table out there.
“He’ll get better and sharper the more he plays and, like a lot of us, he probably feels as if he’s got something to prove.”
If transforming below-par performances into positive results is the hallmark of champions, then Wilson can enter tomorrow’s meeting with Huddersfield Town a very happy manager.
Despite him insisting United’s miserable record in north Lincolnshire was of “no consequence” both before and after the match, at one stage his players seemed intent on maintaining a healthy respect for tradition.
Scunthorpe, having seen Andy Barcham sent off for a foul on Doyle midway through the opening period, peppered Steve Simonsen’s net with Damien Mozika also going close before Dagnall caressed a perfectly-weighted shot beyond the United goalkeeper.
It was no more than Alan Knill’s side deserved with their opponents failing to test new loan signing Sam Johnstone on his senior debut.
“It was probably the best Chris has ever scored,” Wilson, who had earlier seen the former Rochdale striker hit a post, said. “But probably the worst we have conceded during my time here too.”
Wilson, though, is intent on creating history rather than dwelling on it.
Evans’ introduction gave United the cutting edge they required to break down Scunthorpe’s stubborn resistance and, having seen Nathaniel Mendez-Laing also rattle the woodwork, the substitute hooked home following Matthew Lowton’s cross.
Johnstone, the latest teenage protégé to roll off the Old Trafford production line, was a member of the Man United team which defeated their Yorkshire namesakes in last season’s FA Youth Cup Final.
An excellent near-post save to deny Lee Williamson underlined exactly why Knill had placed his faith in the youngster.
United thought they had claimed a rare victory in these parts when Evans came within a whisker of scrambling home at the death.
But while Wilson’s satisfaction at climbing to the top of the table was tinged with disappointment - “we started slowly but the most important thing is that we still haven‘t lost” - defeat would have been unfair on their opponents.
“I was proud of my players and they gave me everything I could have asked for,” Knill, who described Barcham’s red card as incomprehensible, said. “When I played a sending-off was when the other guy didn’t get up again.
“OK, Andy touched him but not enough to warrant that.”