HE DIDN’T score a goal and he was not named City’s man of the match.

That was probably the right call because Jack Payne, praised afterwards by Stuart McCall as the best in the business in League One right now, more than justified the billing.

It was Payne who took the plaudits for his eye-catching mastery of a Scunthorpe defence that resembled a circus troupe after a night on the lash.

And the post-match gossip once more centred around the chances of hanging on to him and Huddersfield partner-in-crime Lewis O’Brien when the transfer window reopens in just over a week.

They had again led opponents a merry dance along with David Ball in that attack-minded trio that continues to power City’s increasingly impressive attempts to pull out of trouble.

Like a WWE tag team, there is no respite. If it’s not one of them bombing into the box and creating chances, it will be one of the others elusively finding themselves a pocket of space to look to cause damage.

The Scunthorpe defenders rarely had a moment’s peace from the non-stop pressing and harassing.

That is the hallmark of what David Hopkin has instilled in this transformed team – qualities epitomised by the performance of George Miller.

If one City player currently sums up the improvements Hopkin has eked out of the rudderless rabble he picked up in September it’s the young striker. He looks fitter, stronger and more confident in his all-round game.

Rory McArdle will have gone to bed haunted by visions of Miller perpetually in his face.

McArdle looked a shadow of the defensive warrior that had stood so tall during five years in claret and amber as the City man constantly invaded his personal space.

The energy, the fitness, the determination to chase down everything – everything that Hopkin demands were there to see in the striker who ran himself into the ground for 78 minutes.

McArdle was a bag of nerves; fellow centre back Charlie Goode not much better. Manchester United loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, at left back, was so rattled that he even lost the ability to take a throw-in without botching it.

McCall was embarrassed by Scunthorpe’s defensive ineptitude on his much-anticipated return to Valley Parade. “To call it schoolboy defending is probably an offence for schoolboys” he grumbled.

His side’s frail confidence from a six-game losing slump, the last five now without scoring, was clear to see.

But hats off to Miller and Co for finding that weak spot and exploiting it mercilessly with their full-on press.

Talking of head wear, a relaxed baseball cap-wearing Stefan Rupp was there once more to double his personal winning streak.

The good news is that the owner, who is set to adopt a more formal title in the coming days, has plans to fly back over for the Sunderland game on Boxing Day – airport drones obviously permitting.

Rupp admits he usually spends Christmas week with friends skiing. But as City continue to salvage a season that was threatening to go downhill faster than Franz Klammer, the German has no intention of sloping off.

Calmness and normality on and off the pitch are his aims for the club he will not leave in the lurch. More results like the last couple of weeks and that could happen sooner than anyone dared imagine.

The thought of being out of the relegation zone at the midway point, if only on goal difference, smacks of a Christmas miracle.

But other than a few results elsewhere falling nicely in their favour, there has been no luck involved.

This ongoing revival is down to sheer bloody-mindedness and honest hard work. Just as Hopkin had promised even during the darkest times.

Such has been the turnaround, City had gone into Saturday’s game in the unusual position of favourites because of the contrasting form patterns of the two sides.

They did not disappoint. The way Hopkin had his team lined up showed there was nothing half-hearted about their intentions.

Forced into changes he wouldn’t have wanted to make by the absence of Anthony O’Connor and Kelvin Mellor, the Scot went on the offensive.

He threw in Eoin Doyle as an extra attacker to play alongside Miller, effectively operating with five forward-thinking players.

Hope Akpan and a back four including Ryan McGowan were tasked with keeping it tight while those in front had the run of the place.

Scunthorpe began in lively fashion, Funso Ojo forcing Richard O’Donnell into an immediate save. But once City applied some pressure, the visitors cracked.

Goode’s heavy touch allowed Doyle to hoover up the loose ball and he fed Payne for a carefully-placed eighth goal of the season across the keeper and in off the far post.

Then it was McArdle’s turn to blunder, Miller pouncing on his hesitation to sneak in the box where he was knocked over by keeper Jak Alnwick. Payne still found the net but ref Carl Boyeson had already blown, Doyle sparing him any awkward questions by blasting home the penalty.

Doyle was denied another by the bar before McCall hauled off McArdle and Borthwick-Jackson at the break in a desperate switch to 3-4-3.

But any hopes of rescuing his day were dashed by the rush of blood from substitute Cameron Burgess. Already on a yellow, the defender stupidly lunged at O’Brien and was sent packing after just 21 minutes on the field.

City threatened to rack up another goal spree against their depleted and dejected opponents but Alnwick stood firm to thwart Ball and Payne. Jordan Clarke then turned Grinch with a goalline block to keep out Kai Bruenker’s diving header.

But that was a minor quibble from another afternoon that confirmed McCall’s assertion that a side with the quality City have to offer should be “nowhere near where they are”.

More like Saturday, backed sufficiently in a transfer window where Rupp knows they must do themselves justice, and City will sense they have nothing to fear.

And that seemed unthinkable a few short weeks ago. ‘Tis the season to be jolly after all.