York City could soon face a scrap to save their Football League status if they continue to surrender points in the alarming fashion that has been displayed in the club's last two outings.

Saturday's dismal 4-1 showing at Kidderminster was followed up last night by a 3-1 home defeat against a Scunthorpe team who hardly had to break sweat for their victory and played the majority of the second half with ten men.

In fact, the visitors comfortably won their first away game since October by converting their only three shots on target.

The result means that City's winless run has been extended to a tenth match as the club slipped to 17th in the table.

And, in the event, unlikely as it might be, that the five teams directly underneath the Minstermen win their games in hand, then Chris Brass' men would be hovering just one position above the dreaded Conference drop zone.

Worryingly, City are currently playing with the air of a team that does not know where its next win is coming from and at least three victories are still needed if the club are to safeguard their Third Division future.

At least, second-half substitute Andy Bell looks prepared for a fight.

Non-contract signing Bell climbed off the bench in the 69th minute and injected a more positive, enthusiastic and aggressive approach to City's play.

Instead of hoping things might happen, the released Wycombe striker made them happen and his tenacity was rewarded with an excellently-taken lobbed goal on 76 minutes.

It is also virtually certain to be rewarded with a starting place against Torquay on Saturday.

Aside from the determined Richard Cooper and perhaps Darren Dunning, few other City players would have a valid argument if their name is not included on the team-sheet to face the promotion-chasing Gulls.

Leigh Wood became the latest player to struggle with the responsibility of deputising for the suspended Brass at the heart of the City defence with Chris Smith on the bench again after failing to carry out his manager's instructions against Kidderminster to be a more vocal and organising presence at the back.

Even goalkeeper Mark Ovendale - a model of consistency for most of the season - was culpable last night and Brass is suddenly searching for reliable performers who he can trust to attain a certain standard from game to game.

City did, however, have three chances to open the scoring before Scunthorpe were gifted a 17th-minute lead.

Assistant manager Lee Nogan ran on to Lee Bullock's header and lobbed Scunthorpe goalkeeper Tommy Evans after just two minutes but Iron captain Wayne Graves charged back to hook the ball off the line.

Bullock then headed wide from Nogan's cross and Dunning tried his luck with a low 25-yard drive that missed the target.

But it was Scunthorpe who went ahead when former Grimsby Town player-manager Paul Groves, who has been loaned out by the Mariners, comfortably beat Wood in the air to head in a Kevin Sharp corner from three yards.

Nogan then volleyed wide at the other end and teenage defender Sean Davies had a low shot saved before Ovendale needlessly conceded a penalty.

The 30-year-old goalkeeper dropped a long throw by Lee Ridley and then wrestled Andy Butler to the floor, making referee Mick Fletcher's decision a formality.

Steve MacLean sent Ovendale the wrong way from the spot on 32 minutes and a far from impressive Scunthorpe team enjoyed a two-goal advantage at the break, prompting a chorus of boos from City's lowest crowd of the season.

Two clumsy fouls by half-time substitute Jamie McCombe on Nogan then saw the Lincoln City-bound defender receive his marching orders just six minutes after entering the action.

In between the two cautions, Cooper went close with a 20-yard volley but Scunthorpe secured victory after McCombe's dismissal when Sharp's free-kick appeared to mesmerise a static City defence and Ovendale before finding Groves, who gratefully tapped into an empty net from a yard.

Rarely can a player have scored two goals from such a close range in professional football.

Lev Yalcin was immediately introduced for a disgruntled Mitch Ward, who headed straight for the dressing-room instead of the bench, but it was not until Bell's arrival that City received some much-needed attacking inspiration.

First, the former Blackburn Rovers forward challenged Evans after Yalcin had headed Darren Edmondson's well-aimed cross into the ground, creating a second chance that the Turkish Under-18 international blasted wastefully wide.

Bell then competed with Evans again after Stuart Wise's long ball forward and, when the ball broke loose, he expertly chipped the ball over the backtracking Scunthorpe goalkeeper and under the crossbar from 15 yards.

His contribution appeared to also lift his team-mates in the closing stages with Cooper's well-struck volley bouncing narrowly wide and Dunning testing Evans with a last-minute free-kick.

It is to be hoped Bell can have the same impact on Saturday as City aim to halt their slide with an improved performance against Torquay.

York City 1 (Bell 76); Scunthorpe 3 (Groves 17, 55, MacLean pen 32)

Ovendale 5, Wise 5, Wood 5, Davies 5, Edmondson 5 (Coad 74min), Cooper 6, Ward 5

(Yalcin 56, 5), Dunning 6, Merris 5, Bullock 5, Nogan 5 (Bell 69, 7)

Key: 10 Faultless, 9 Outstanding, 8 Excellent, 7 Eye-catching, 6 Good, 5 Average, 4 Below-par, 3 Dud, 2 Hopeless, 1 Retire

Subs not used: Porter, Smith

Star Man: Bell - brought a positive approach and made things happen, culminating in excellently-taken goal

Scunthorpe: Tommy Evans, Wayne Graves (Jamie McCombe, 46), Nathan Stanton, Andy Butler, Lee Ridley, Cleveland Taylor, Paul Groves, Darren Holloway (Terry Barwick, 41), Kevin Sharp, Steve MacLean, Steve Torpey. Subs not used: Paul Hayes, Peter Beagrie, Lee Featherstone.

Yellow cards: Ovendale 32, Cooper 45, McCombe 48, Stanton 78, Sharp 89.

Red cards: McCombe 51.

Referee: Mick Fletcher (Worcs)

Rating: No complaints with many of his decisions.

Attendance: 2,676.

Weather watch: Cool and dry.

Game breaker: If Lee Nogan's second-minute lob had crossed the line it could have been a different story but Mark Ovendale's mistake for the penalty was costly.

Match rating: Poor. City cannot afford to keep throwing away points in such a disappointing manner.

Updated: 11:33 Wednesday, March 10, 2004