Scunthorpe 3 City 2

THE curse of the S came back to hit City once again.

Scunthorpe followed the example of Southend, Swindon and Shrewsbury to send Stuart McCall's men tumbling to an unexpected sixth defeat – and no doubt this was the hardest to swallow.

The television cameras got their money's worth at Glanford Park with a footballing free-for-all but the Bantams were left scratching their heads over this one.

In a game littered with efforts on goal, they had come from behind once again only to blow a half-time advantage.

It ultimately came down to their struggles to defend against set-pieces – not a new phenomenon and certainly not helped by the makeshift nature of yesterday's line-up.

Conceding at the start of both halves will also raise questions about how switched on the team began each time.

Defeat meant that the sides swapped places as Scunthorpe grabbed the lifeline of only their second win in seven matches.

The Iron had fallen away dramatically since arriving at Valley Parade as leaders on Boxing Day. They have already lost seven times in the league since the turn of the year – as many as they were beaten in during the whole of 2016.

City's recent form could not have been more different but McCall was forced into changing a winning line-up.

Nathaniel Knight-Percival was a late addition to the absentees after suffering a deep cut in his forehead during training.

So it meant a City debut for on-loan Aston Villa centre half Kevin Toner, whose 20 appearances for Walsall earlier this season had included a 4-1 thumping by Scunthorpe.

It had been hoped to see Nicky Law back after four games out with an injured knee but he was missing again and Josh Cullen was only on watching duty after playing the full 90 minutes in the Republic of Ireland under-21s' 1-0 win over Kosovo on Saturday.

City again went with three centre halves – but most were still fathoming the 3-4-3 diamond formation when Scunthorpe seized an early lead.

Colin Doyle, back from international bench-warming duty, unconvincingly punched a Josh Morris corner straight behind.From the second, the ball came through unchallenged to the far post, where Ivan Toney took a touch and fired home from close range.

It was a sloppy goal to concede as the home crowd celebrated with the paper clappers dished out by the club to improve the atmosphere. But once City had shaken their heads, the response was spectacular.

Charlie Wyke was felled just outside the box and Billy Clarke's free-kick picked out Toner on his own to score with a thumping header. The young Irishman celebrated his first senior goal wildly – and two minutes later the packed away end were in raptures once again.

Doyle launched a long clearance upfield, where a poor defensive header presented the loose ball to Alex Jones and he did the rest with a neat shimmy and an angled finish across Luke Daniels into the bottom corner.

Scunthorpe had conceded only once in the first half hour of games all season – City had undone them with two in as many minutes and we were not even a quarter of the way in.

It was a dramatic turn-around and the earlier clappers were drowned out by the jubilant travelling army.

The wide-open nature of the contest continued, with Matt Crooks and Jordan Clarke shooting over at one end while Mark Marshall and James Meredith foraged in the box at the other.

McCall's bold gamble to go with three up front and Billy Clarke just behind meant there were always plenty of attacking options when City had the ball. Equally, they left themselves open to a Scunthorpe response.

The disjointed nature of the midfield minus Law and Cullen was evident whenever the Iron pushed on.

Hakeeb Adelakun's deflected shot wrong-footed Doyle but he was spared any embarrassment by the alert Meredith. Clarke whipped in another teasing free-kick for City but Charlie Goode did well to clear under pressure.

But after a shaky opening ten minutes, City had got a grip on proceedings and shown the attacking intent that their manager would have hoped with such a positive line-up.

Scunthorpe's brittle morale following their wretched recent run had resurfaced from the moment the visitors got their noses in front. The hosts needed a moment of magic to lift themselves again – and got it soon after the restart as City began the second half just like the first.

Adelakun turned inside Clarke to deliver a ball over the top and find Toney behind the defence. The striker still had it all to do with his back to goal – and certainly did with a spectacular overhead kick to loop his shot past Doyle.

The free-for-all continued as City threatened to go straight back in front but Clarke's drive whistled a yard wide. Then a scramble in the six-yard box saw Toner's volley deflected behind.

Neither team looked capable of shutting up shop for a draw even if they wanted to. It made for a cracking watch for the TV viewers – if not either coaching staff.

Scunthorpe wanted a penalty for Rory McArdle's strong-arm tactics in the box but referee Darren Deadman had let a few meaty challenges go and remained unimpressed.

City pushed again and Timothee Dieng thought he had scored with another header from McMahon's corner but Daniels clung on with a great reaction save.

Not much had been seen of Wyke but he sprung into life with a snap-shot set up by Marshall that had the Iron keeper at full stretch.

Scunthorpe lost Goode to injury and Daniels was then grounded in an aerial clash with Wyke before Meredith lashed over as the home crowd screamed for a foul on the keeper.

Toner nodded wide from another set-piece and Toney sniffed a hat-trick with a neat flick at the near post that Doyle grabbed at the second attempt. Both sides were getting closer – and the deadlock was broken again with six minutes left.

Morris had been a peripheral figure against his old club but his corner was right on the button and Rangers loanee Crooks crashed a header into the roof of the City net.

The Bantams looked to bounce back once more as Daniels saved smartly from Marshall and Dieng nodded over.

Romain Vincelot headed against the bar and the follow-up was scrambled over in a late bout of penalty-box pinball. But City could not find a third goal and were left contemplating a tough one to take.

Attendance: 5,247