The Iron left it late to rescue a deserved point at high-flying Chesterfield in a pulsating game at The Proact Stadium.
Chesterfield had taken a lead into the half-term break after Marc Richards lashed home early om following a slip by full league debutant Luke Waterfall, but the Iron defender responded superbly to put in a commanding performance before nodding home an equaliser three minutes from time.
Iron manager Brian Laws made four changes from the side which went down 4-1 at York City on Tuesday night, with three of those enforced as Niall Canavan, Matt Sparrow and Deon Burton missed out through injury. The absence of Canavan presented Waterfall with the opportunity to make his first league start since joining United this summer, with Terry Hawkridge and Jimmy Spencer also recalled to the starting line-up.
Having admitted his tactical gamble of 5-3-2 hadn’t worked in midweek, Laws also opted to revert to a more classical 4-5-1 formation with Etienne Esajas taking the remaining starting berth as Christian Ribeiro dropped to the bench and Cliff Byrne switched to right-back. There was some positive injury news among the substitutes however, with regular captain Michael Collins deemed fit enough to take a place on a youthful bench having been side-lined since August.
Meanwhile, Chesterfield manager Paul Cook also made four changes from the side which drew 0-0 at Bristol Rovers last weekend; a combination of injuries, suspensions and tactical preferences seeing Marc Richards, Ollie Banks, Jay O’Shea and Drew Talbot start in the places of Eoin Doyle, Armand Gnanduillet, Tendayi Darwika and Sam Morsy.
The home side started brightly, and forced the first corner of the game in the third minute after a collective effort to manoeuvre the ball forward down the left flank as O’Shea’s trickery caused the Iron problems early on. The resultant in-swinging corner from Devitt found Richards in space on the edge of the six-yard-box, but the front-man could only direct his header wide when well placed.
Richards would not have long to wait to atone for that miss however, as he put his side ahead less than five minutes later following a jinking run down the right from Ritchie Humphreys who then cut the ball back across the area. Luke Waterfall appeared alert to the danger, and initially intercepted the bass before stumbling at a crucial moment to send a weak clearance only as far as Richards who promptly controlled the ball before smashing past Sam Slocombe from the edge of the area.
The hosts appeared determined not to simply consolidate their lead, and another excellent move in the 13th minute gave O’Shea the opportunity to attack the box from the left-wing. Having beaten his man, O’Shea pulled the ball back across the face of goal, but Slocombe read the danger well to pounce on the ball.
The Iron responded, and two minutes later forced their first corner of the match when a long throw from the left was headed behind by the Chesterfield defence under intense United pressure in a crowded penalty area. The set-piece offered no immediate danger to the Spireite’s goal, but they were more troubled when the ball finally fell back to kick-taker Esajas – whose left-footed cross was headed back across goal before being claimed by Tommy Lee.
On 21 minutes goal-scorer Richards latched onto Banks’ lofted ball into space but found himself isolated and was forced to hold possession until he could be supported by his team-mates. In pushing numbers forward to join the attack, Chesterfield then found themselves at the risk of being countered on when United stole possession in midfield; Sam Winnall controlling a direct pass and holding the ball up expertly before laying back to David Syers who in turn picked out Esajas – only for the Dutch winger to send a tame effort straight at Lee from distance.
Six minutes later, Hawkridge earned his side a free-kick 30 yards from goal after being clipped as he burst through midfield. The free-kick was only partially dealt with by the Chesterfield back-line, resulting in a succession of corners as the Iron looked to get back on level terms. It was from the second that United came closest, with Winnall sending a left-footed volley over on the turn after Waterfall nodded Esajas’ delivery back across goal.
Chesterfield immediately forced a corner of their own without producing anything meaningful from it, but on 32 minutes exerted sustained pressure on the Iron goal before Gary Roberts sent a skidding effort wide – with the attempt unintentionally almost finding its way to the on-rushing Jamie Devitt at the back-post. Moments later, Roberts tried his luck again from a similar distance, this time fizzing a shot wide of Slocombe’s left-hand post.
On 40 minutes, Sean McAllister was fortunate to escape a booking as referee Scott Duncan showed leniency following a poorly-timed tackle in midfield. The game slowed in tempo as the half-time interval neared with neither side willing to over-commit in attack, as the Spireites displayed their self-confidence by enjoying a lengthy passing move which encompassed the majority of their team. The move culminated in a 30-yard shot from O’Shea, but Slocombe got down low well to beat the ball away in the last action of the first period.
The hosts began the second-half with intent, winning a corner down the left within 60 seconds of the restart as they looked to build upon the advantage they had gained from the opening 45 minutes. However, the corner came to nothing, and the Iron launched an attack of their own soon after - culminating in Esajas slicing wide from the edge of the ‘D’ on 47 minutes
With 52 minutes gone, a seemingly innocuous long ball down the left-wing gave Chesterfield their second corner of the half, and a move straight off the training ground found former Iron midfielder Jimmy Ryan in space but he could only blaze over. Two minutes later – with the rain starting to teem down – the hosts forced another corner, but once again were unable to profit from the set-piece opportunity.
Despite that, they came close to doubling their lead less than 60 seconds later; O’Shea cutting in from the left and seeing his fierce drive kept out by the fingertips of Slocombe as the United ‘keeper showed excellent agility to tip over. The home side then opted to make their first substitution of the afternoon, bringing on Sam Hird in place of Liam Cooper in the 56th minute.
Having gone close to a second goal barely minutes earlier, the Spireites could consider themselves unfortunate not to double their lead on the hour-mark as Devitt whipped a free-kick off the bar with Slocombe well beaten. The Iron cleared the rebound, and battling play from Hawkridge on 61 minutes earned a corner as he looked to manoeuvre himself a shooting opportunity inside the penalty area.
Lone forward Jimmy Spencer had found himself isolated at times throughout the match, and Iron manager Brian Laws responded by instructing Winnall to move forward into a more central striking role and replacing Esajas with Hakeeb Adelakun on 68 minutes. The home side also made a change, as the lively Devitt was withdrawn in favour of Darikwa with the game entering the final quarter.
United continued to push for a leveller, and Waterfall’s flick-on from Hawkridge’s chipped free-kick reached Winnall – but the forward wasn’t able to find the space required to get a clean shot away. However, they kept pressing for an equaliser, and Syers was next to go close as his deflected effort on the turn bounced agonisingly wide.
Not long after, Chesterfield appeared to have doubled their lead; a driving run and pin-point cross from deep on the right by Roberts found Richards unmarked in the area to head home from close-range, but they were denied by the linesman flagging for offside.
On 77 minutes, a deflected cross from Roberts left Slocombe beaten, but dropped onto the drop of the bar much to the relief of the stranded ‘stopper. The resultant corner evaded everyone in a crowded penalty area, before eventually being cleared, and Chesterfield used the break in play to make another change – with Gnanduillet replacing O’Shea.
Brian Laws responded in turn, bringing on target-man Chris Iwelumo in place of Jimmy Spencer as he tried to navigate a way back into the match for his side with ten minutes left to play. Iwelumo was immediately involved, finding himself in the middle of a crowded penalty-area pinball session following a Hawkridge free-kick – which also saw Banks being cautioned for dissent – with Chesterfield eventually scrambling clear.
United began to throw caution to the wind in the final moments, and won another free-kick with three minutes left on the clock. They would, finally, get their reward for a resilient second-half performance as Luke Waterfall – who had connected with a number of set-pieces throughout the afternoon – rose highest to meet Hawkridge’s excellent delivery to flick into the corner and bring his side level.
Not content with the point they had appeared to rescue from the game, the Iron kept pushing forward as four minutes of injury time were indicated. A further free-kick from the right – this time swung in by Andy Dawson – was flicked on before being diverted wide by a stretching Waterfall.
Chesterfield were next to threaten from a dead-ball situation as each side looked for a winner, but United escaped unharmed as Evatt headed wide at the back-post when left unmarked by the Iron defence. In return, United launched one final attack of their own, but the fearless Adelakun scuffed low at Lee after ducking and diving his way into the penalty area.
That marked the final major event of the match, with the Iron leaving it late to rescue a point which moves them up to the cusp of the Play-Off places in League Two once more.
The Iron now face a two week break from league action, with their attention now set to turn to their trip to Blundell Park to face Grimsby Town in the FA Cup First Round next Saturday.
Chesterfield: Lee; Humphreys, Evatt (capt.), Cooper (Hird, 57), Talbot; Roberts, O’Shea (Gnanduillet, 78), Banks, Ryan, Devitt (Darikwa, 68); Richards.
Substitutes not used: Chapman, Togwell, Porter, McSheffrey.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe; Dawson (capt.), Waterfall, Mirfin, Byrne; Winnall, McAllister, Syers, Hawkridge, Esajas (Adelakun, 68); Spencer (Iwelumo, 81).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Collins, Howe, Wootton.
Referee: Scott Duncan (Tyne and Wear.
Attendance: 6,346 (688 away).