The Iron moved back to the top of League Two despite a last-gasp Danny Rose goal seeing them held to a point by Bury at Glanford Park.United went in front just after the hour-mark when Paddy Madden reacted quickest to divert home a Hakeeb Adelakun strike, but found themselves pegged back on 69 minutes when Tom Soares flicked in a Chris Sedgwick free-kick.
Their lead was restored with 13 minutes later when substitute Paul Hayes converted a penalty won by the outstanding Terry Hawkridge at the second attempt, and with time ticking down they had seemed set to take a crucial three points.
However, deep into six minutes of additional time Shakers substitute Danny Rose curled past Sam Slocombe to rescue a point for the Greater Manchester side.
The draw still proved enough to move United above previous leaders Rochdale, after the Spotland outfit went down 3-0 at Mansfield.
Perhaps more importantly, for the short-term at least, the result also sees the Iron remain seven points clear in the automatic promotion positions with just four games of the season now remaining.
Iron manager Russ Wilcox made two changes from the side who emerged victorious from last weekend’s meeting with Torquay United at Plainmoor, as Adelakun and Hawkridge replaced Michael Collins and Hayes.
In making those alterations, United reverted to a more traditional 4-4-2 set-up – while there was also a place on the bench for Matt Godden, after the forward was recalled from his loan spell at Tamworth United yesterday.
Meanwhile, Bury boss David Flitcroft was forced into one alteration from the Shakers 2-0 win over Exeter City last time out following midfielder Frederic Veseli returning to parent club Ipswich Town in midweek, as Soares came into the side.
The hosts began in positive fashion, and in the opening minute a cantering run down the left by Adelakun earned his side the first corner of the game. Hawkridge’s in-swinging delivery caused concern for the Bury defence, but veteran goalkeeper Brian Jensen was on hand to punch away amid a cluster of bodies in a crowded penalty-area.
Two minutes later, the away side threatened for the first time when they won a free-kick deep on the right which was flicked behind by David Mirfin under pressure from the Shakers attack. Chris Hussey stood over the subsequent corner, and although his initial cross was cleared, he soon collected the ball wide again before sending in a swirling centre which a backpedalling Slocombe was forced to claw away from under his crossbar.
It would ironically be a United free-kick which presented Bury with a clear opportunity to take the lead in the seventh minute when the away side countered having cleared Hawkridge’s lofted set-piece from deep.
The ball fell to Daniel Nardiello in space on halfway, but after breaking towards goal the striker lacked composure as he sent a tame effort wide when well-placed.
The Iron would win another set-piece as the game moved towards the 15-mimute mark; this time forcing a corner after tidy interplay from Matt Sparrow and Hawkridge. On the end of the flag-kick from the right was Dave Syers, who sent an acrobatic effort back into the danger area from the edge of the box only for Niall Canavan to flick over the bar from close-range.
An even better chance for United to go in front would come five minutes later when Hawkridge displayed masterful technique to outwit his man in a defensive position prior to sprinting forward with the ball. Having progressed to the edge of the Bury penalty-area, Hawkridge knocked inside to Madden who skipped into the box and cut across to Sam Winnall – the Iron’s leading marksman firing narrowly over.
On 26 minutes, the Shakers responded when a steady passing move drew a free-kick on their left courtesy of a foul by Eddie Nolan. A typically dangerous whipped delivery from Hussey was met on the run by Soares, but the former Crystal Palace academy product couldn’t find the necessary purchase on the ball to direct his header goal-wards as it flashed well wide.
Having threatened from dead-ball situations, the away side then proved dangerous from open play with half-an-hour gone when a delicately threated through-ball from Andrew Tutte fell invitingly towards the unmarked Nardiello beyond the United back-line. The Shakers striker looked set for a clear run on goal, but just failed to sufficiently control the pass as it scuttled beyond his reach for an Iron goal-kick.
Bury were enjoying the better of it as the game moved towards the interval, and on 39 minutes Hallam Hope capitalised on a loose headed clearance from Canavan to pick up in midfield before running at the home defence. Hope showed fleet of foot to work his way past Mirfin, freeing up the space to unleash a fierce shot which rattled Slocombe’s crossbar.
That served as a warning for the Iron, but they continued to find themselves pushed back by a confident Shakers side looking to end the half with a flourish – Nolan stooping low to clear a testing cross from the right behind his own goal on 43 minutes. Although they survived that set-piece, they felt a greater examination in injury-time through Hussey’s swinging free-kick, but held firm to go into the break goalless.
The second period began with United looking to establish a rhythm through getting the ball on the ground, but they found themselves matched in the midfield department by the desire of their combative opponents to fight for every loose ball.
Instead it the was the visiting side who created the first meaningful of the half on 51 minutes, when an excellent turn from Danny Mayor allowed him to burst down the left flank before releasing Hussey on the overlap. Hussey’s cross was blocked behind for a corner, and a poor delivery allowed United to break through Hawkridge – the midfielder eventually slipping wide to Sparrow, only for his first-time cross to be knocked away by the Bury defence.
That prompted Shakers boss Flitcroft to make his first change of the afternoon, as he introduced Rose in place of Nardiello two minutes later with both sides struggling to assert any real authority over proceedings in an increasingly scrappy contest.
The stop-start nature of the game continued on the hour-mark when United somewhat fortuitously earned a corner as a long clearance was inadvertently bundled behind by Hussey under pressure from Nolan. The Iron would profit fully from that fortune by taking the lead from the subsequent set-piece; the delivery picking out Adelakun on the edge of the box, whose fixing effort was diverted past Jensen from six yards by an alert Madden.
Bury manager Flitcroft was less than impressed by Hussey’s initial defensive efforts, and soon after made an attacking switch as he withdrew the left-footer in favour of target-man Clive Platt. The change indicated the positive mentality of a Shakers side with distant hopes of gate-crashing the play-off, and midway through the second half Nolan was cautioned for illegally stalling a promising attack from the visitors.
Much like their counterparts, the Shakers took full advantage of their set-piece opportunity by levelling matters through Soares on 68 minutes. The free-kick on the left was taken by Sedgwick, and Soares rose highest to flick on an attempt which just evaded the grasp of a full-stretched Slocombe as it nestled in the bottom corner.
Iron manager Wilcox reacted to the disappointment of that goal by making a double switch on 71 minutes as he withdrew Sparrow and Winnall in favour of Michael Collins and Paul Hayes in an attempt to navigate a formula to restore the host’s advantage.
Those changes further galvanised the Iron in their pursuit of a second goal, and they poured forward a minute later when clever play from Hawkridge saw the tricky winger work a way inside of his marker in the box after being found by substitute Collins. Having manoeuvred the space to trouble Bury, Hawkridge sent a fizzing drive at goal – but found the significant frame of Jensen in his way as the shot-stopped blocked with his legs.
Not to be denied, the ever-dangerous Hawkridge soon had a pivotal involvement as his bursting run won a penalty for his side with 14 minutes remaining when he raced past his marker before being cynically tripped. Hayes stepped up to the spot-kick, saw his effort saved by a diving Jensen, but reacted coolly to smash the rebound past the stranded goalkeeper and restore United’s lead.
United’s substitutions had made all the difference, and Bury’s Flitcroft looked to produce a similar result when he replaced goal-scorer Soares with Andy Procter on 81 minutes. That switch came close to bearing fruit within a minute, but Procter’s flick towards the bottom corner from the edge of the area was expertly tipped past the post by an agile Slocombe.
With the minutes ticking down until injury-time, the Shakers threw everything at the Iron in their attempts of scoring a late equaliser. Their plight was aided by the fourth official indicating a mammoth six minutes of additional time, with Wilcox looking to consolidate for the final stages by giving Deon Burton a brief cameo in place of Adelakun.
Despite seeing out the majority of the time remaining with few concerns, the decision of the fourth official to give so much added time would come back to haunt the Iron in the fifth of those indicated. Launching one final attack, Bury switched the ball wide to substitute Rose, who skipped inside before curling an exquisite effort beyond Slocombe to rescue an improbable point for his side.
Although United were visibly frustrated by the late set-back, the draw was enough to see them return to the summit of League Two thanks in part to Rochdale’s surprise 3-0 defeat at Mansfield.
The result also sees the Iron remain seven points clear of fourth-placed Fleetwood Town with just four games of the regular campaign now remaining as they look to complete a return to League One at the first time of asking having been relegated from the division last year.
Up next for United as they continue that quest is a Good Friday trip to Lancashire to face Morecambe at the Globe Arena in six days’ time.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Williams, Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; Adelakun (Burton, 90), Sparrow (Collins, 71), Syers, Hawkridge; Madden, Winnall (Hayes, 71).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Waterfall, Godden.
Bury: Jensen; Hussey (Platt, 66) , McNulty, Mills, Jones (capt.); Sedgwick, Tutte, Mayor, Soares (Proctor, 80); Nardiello (Rose, 53), Hope.
Substitutes not used: Charles-Cook, Hinds, Grimes, Burke.
Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne and Wear).
Attendance: 4,162 (443 away)