BENNY Couto scored a Christmas cracker for Latics, but Ryan Loft delivered the knockout blow on Boxing Day.

It was a must-win game for Oldham in their battle to get out of the bottom two. And when Couto arrowed an outrageous shot into the top corner things were looking up.

At that point they had climbed to fourth bottom. By the end, Latics were in 92nd place, three points from safety having played a game more, after half-time substitute Loft came off the bench to change the game in scoring two and making the other.

Latics have shown their powers of recovery recently, most notably in coming back from 4-1 down to draw 5-5 with Forest Green Rovers in their last outing.

But it would have taken another staggering comeback to salvage something after Loft’s intervention, and it always looked beyond them, despite Scunthorpe arriving at Boundary Park winless in eight and without an away victory this season.

A postponed fixture with Crawley the weekend after the 10-goal thriller with the League Two leaders meant Latics had gone more than a fortnight without playing.

In the meantime the club had endured a terrible PR week with three fans being served three-year bans only to have them rescinded three days later, albeit replaced by final written warnings which prompted the trio - who usually follow the club home and away - to take the tough decision to stay away in any case.

Covid had also posed a dilemma for much of the Football League, but not this game - one of only three to go ahead in League Two. The others involved Latics’ next two opponents in Barrow and Hartlepool, so that at least bodes well for those fixtures, because they need to shake this one off, and fast.

After the off-field events it was refreshing to put the focus back on football. And Latics were glad of the go-ahead when Couto fired them in front in the 12th minute.

Receiving the ball from fellow academy product Harry Vaughan, Couto arrowed a shot across Rory Watson. A superb finish for his first senior goal.

But despite plenty of possession, and chances, they were unable to build on what would always be too slender a lead in such an important game.

Vaughan was the instigator of another good opening, flicking the ball between two defenders to lay on a chance for Hallam Hope, but the forward fluffed his lines and bent the ball disappointingly wide

At the other end Harry Bunn, son of former Latics player and manager Frankie, brought a save from Jayson Leutwiler with ashot on the turn. Carl Piergianni then blocked two shots from Tom Pugh, before Bunn called Leutwiler into action again with a low save.

Latics responded well to that spell of Scunthorpe pressure and Dylan Bahamboula’s clever backheel set up another chance for Couto, but Watson was a match for his low strike this time.

Bahamboula then linked with Nicky Adams, but his cross was too far behind Vaughan and the chance went begging just before the break.

It was a game of two halves, with Scunthorpe seizing control of the second after the half-time introduction of Loft.

The powerful striker had an instant impact, equalising soon after stepping off the bench to replace Aaron Jarvis.

Receiving a cross from the right Loft hit it on the volley, and although a deflection off Carl Piergianni diverted it past Leutwiler, who had committed to the dive, Loft’s initial strike was on target and he was rightly credited with the goal.

Latics’ interim head coach Selim Benachour immediately made Latics more defensive, with Sam Hart replacing Vaughan. But Loft was a man on a mission and hard to stop. He slipped a ball through to create a one-on-one for Tom Pugh, who pulled his shot across Leutwiler a fraction wide of the far left post, before bullzdozing this way through the defence and crashing a shot off the top of the bar. They were warning shots.

Bahamboula had a couple of attempts at goal while Couto brought a fingertip save from the keeper, but Loft was more assertive. After Hart glanced a header from a corner wide the centre forward was influential on the counter, setting up Myles Hippolyte to slot the ball through Leutwiler’s legs in a one-on-one with the keeper.

Loft’s second of the match - Scunthorpe’s second in three minutes - sealed it.

Hayden Hackney won the ball in a sliding challenge, and Bunn set up Loft to drill home.

At the final whistle Bahamboula sank to the canvas, as Latics slipped to the bottom.