United lost for the second time in the Christmas period as an impressive Scunthorpe moved joint top of the table with a 2-0 win at the Kassam Stadium. Goals from Deon Burton and David Syers gave the Iron all three points as United ended the year in fifth place in the table.
It took Burton just ten minutes to break the deadlock with a near text-book opener. Marcus Williams swung in a superb cross from the left which meant that the vastly experienced striker didn't have to move, let alone jump. The striker flexed his neck muscles and the ball arrowed into the bottom left corner of the net to make it 1-0.
United saw shots from Danny Rose and Sean Rigg clear the fence and a header from Johnny Mullins go wide in the first 25 minutes and gradually started to impose themselves on the game after that early setback. Without the suspended Dave Kitson the front two of Deane Smalley and James Constable worked hard and the latter almost found an equaliser on 37 as visiting keeper Sam Slocombe dived bravely at his feet as another wicked David Hunt cross looked to have picked Constable out.
Scunthorpe looked good on the ball and should have been 2-0 up at the break when Smalley handled a 39th-minute corner to leave Clarke to make a great save from Burton's penalty. Had that gone in then United would have had a mountain to climb but instead at the break they were still in the match.
The first 15 minutes of the second half were nervy times as crosses flew across United's box and shots were blocked at source. Having weathered that period the Yellows came back to force Slocombe into a good save from Asa Hall's 20-yard shot on the hour and with the crowd sensing that they were needed the volume level began to rise. Unfortunately that decent spell wasn't made to count as Scunthorpe started to exploit the extra space.
There was an almighty let off on 75 as the impressive Syers closed down Jake Wright and tackled the United skipper to free Burton once more. With only Clarke the beat, Burton went for the early shot and was left covering his face with his hands as the ball flew wide of the right-hand post. United were gambling on forcing The Iron back but that left space for the visitors to run into and on 72 they were 2-0 up. Mullins missed his kick in defence and Syers had another clear run at goal. Clarke advanced but Syers lofted the ball over his head for an expertly taken goal.
Surely there was no way back? Well, just possibly. On 83 minutes Constable, who never sees a lost cause, bustled past a defender when he seemed beaten. Slocombe threw himself at the striker and brought him down but the keeper then atoned with a brilliant save from Smalley's penalty, struck low and hard towards the bottom-left corner of the net.
Had the penalty gone in then it might have set up a grandstand finish, instead it merely confirmed that this was not to be United's day.
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Tony Bailey, Stats by OPTA
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