A QUICK-fire double from top scorer Jon Mellish was enough for Carlisle United to take all three points against Scunthorpe, keeping the Cumbrians’ hopes of a play-off place alive.

The midfielder has been a revelation this season and his brace came after a sustained period of pressure early in the second half that the Irons simply could not handle.

United went into the game on the back of two straight victories, and were looking to make it three on the bounce for the first time since December. Scunthorpe had been unbeaten in their last five games, but had only managed to pick up three points once in that run.

Carlisle were quick out of the blocks and mounted several early attacks in the opening five minutes, but the final ball was lacking and Scunthorpe were able to absorb the pressure. However, United had two big chances around the ten minute mark.

Mellish received the ball on the edge of the box and was able to pick out the in-form Offrande Zanzala, who turned well but couldn’t get enough power on the shot and the ball went out for a corner. Moments later, Callum Guy swung in a good ball from the corner flag and found skipper Aaron Hayden in acres of space.

It looked like the centre-half would go for goal, but he headed it back across the box and it struck a United player in the face and went out for a goal kick.

The visitors were forced into an early change on 17 minutes, when Devarn Green came off with a knock and was replaced by Abo Eisa.

Zanzala was the man in form going into the match, with five goals in his last eight games, and the Congolese striker looked determined to add to his tally. On 21 minutes, he had a shout for a penalty turned down.

Jon Mellish won the ball back deep in his own half and drove forward before giving it to the lively Omari Patrick on the right wing. Patrick picked out Lewis Alessandra in the middle of the park, who played a good ball down the line back to Mellish. His lofted ball across the box was met by the arm of Zanzala, who claimed he was pushed; but referee Samuel Barrott was quick to wave away the forward’s protest and gave a free kick for handball.

Moments later, the troublesome striker found himself another half a yard of space with a good touch onto a bouncing ball into the area. Zanzala somehow manged to squeeze in an effort as he fell to the floor while surrounded by Scunthorpe defenders, but his effort went narrowly wide of the upright.

Scunthorpe managed precious little in terms of attacking in the opening half an hour, but on 34 minutes the Irons created the best chance of the half. The ball found its way to Mason O’Malley in space on the right side of United’s box and drove a low shot at United’s goal, forcing keeper Paul Farman into an excellent save.

The United keeper was forced into action once more moments later from the resulting corner, but was once again equal to the challenge and the Blues were able to clear. It would have been harsh on the Cumbrians, who dominated possession for much of the first half but were unable to find the breakthrough and went into the break at 0-0.

United came out all guns blazing once more and almost had the lead in the opening five minutes. Good play released Mellish on the left, and the converted defender was able to pick out Joe Riley on the edge of the box. The midfielder feinted past one and saw two shots blocked before Rory Watson in the Irons’ goal was able to claim.

Three more golden chances went begging within six minutes. First, a short corner was worked into Rod McDonald, whose header took the slightest of touches off a Scunthorpe player and went wide.

Then Patrick’s blistering pace found him space on the right hand side. He laid it back to Riley who crossed to the back post and found Zanzala in space – but the striker somehow put it wide from just a few yards out.

A brilliant save from Rory Watson on 59 minutes to keep United at bay seemed to suggest it could be one of those days for Carlisle – but a minute later, the pressure told and the deadlock was finally broken.

Scunthorpe had looked shaky defending set pieces all night, and Callum Guy’s delivery a corner on the right hand side met the head of Jon Mellish, who nodded home from point blank range.

DODGE: Jon Mellish attempts to weave his way away from the Scunthorpe pair

DODGE: Jon Mellish attempts to weave his way away from the Scunthorpe pair

The pair combined again just two minutes later to double the Cumbrians’ advantage – Guy’s inventive cross from the left found Mellish in space once more, and United’s top scorer poked home off the bar for his 15th goal of the season and United’s second of the night.

The quickfire double was enough to seal it for United, but Blues boss Chris Beech will be hoping an injury to Riley is nothing serious.

The midfielder was withdrawn on 79 minutes after getting caught, and was replaced by Dean Furman.

SQUEEZED: Joe Riley comes under pressure on the ball for Carlisle in the first half

SQUEEZED: Joe Riley comes under pressure on the ball for Carlisle in the first half

Carlisle managed the final minutes exceptionally well, and Scunthorpe barely had a sniff of goal for the remainder of the game. Mellish was, unsurprisingly, named man of the match following his goal-scoring exploits.

United are now just three points off seventh-placed Newport in the final playoff spot, with both sides having played 38 games.