The Iron were forced to settle for a point against Bristol Rovers at Glanford Park as a late Steven Gillespie strike prevented them from making it three wins on the bounce.United had led at half-time courtesy of a Sam Winnall header midway through the first half, and could have doubled their advantage in the second period when Winnall struck the bar from another header.
However, Rovers rescued a late point in a game of few chances when substitute Gillespie stole in unchecked at the back-post to convert a Michael Smith cross with just two minutes remaining.
The result sees United fall two points behind league leaders Chesterfield after the Spireites secured a convincing 4-1 win away at Cheltenham.
Despite that, the Iron remain unbeaten in 17 matches under the guidance of manager Russ Wilcox, and still have automatic promotion in their own hands going into the final 13 games of the campaign.
Wilcox understandably chose to stick with the same side which romped past Portsmouth last time out, with Hakeeb Adelakun deemed fit enough to start after limping off with an injury in the closing stages of Saturday’s game.
Rovers also lined up with an unchanged side, with boss John Ward sticking with the formula which had seen his side pick up seven points from their previous three matches – including an impressive 2-0 win against high-flying Burton Albion last Friday.
The home side began in positive fashion, with Rovers goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall called into action against his former club in the opening minute as he stooped low to collect an ambitious Gary McSheffrey effort from distance. United continued to make the early running, and in the 6th minute Adelakun won a corner off the shins of Lee Brown having been found wide on the right by Sam Winnall.
From the subsequent set-piece, the Iron almost took an early lead; McSheffrey swinging a dangerous ball onto the head of Niall Canavan only for the defender’s flicked attempt to be clawed away superbly at full-stretch by Mildenhall.
In an opening period of play which was largely disjointed, both sides struggle to carve out meaningful opportunities until the 12th minute when Kaid Mohamed sent a speculative drive wide of Sam Slocombe’s left-hand post. Better was to come from the visitors five minutes later, when a neat one-two in the area led to David Clarkson’s fierce shot being palmed away expertly by Slocombe from close-range.
United were struggling to find the passing rhythm which they had discovered with such ease against Portsmouth just three days earlier, but things were to change in the 22nd minute as they went in front arguably against the run of play. Having been penned back in their own half for a prolonged spell, United broke down the left with McSheffrey, and the ex-Coventry winger’s pin-point centre was met at the near-post by Winnall who flashed a header past Mildenhall for his 18th of the season.
Despite going in front, the Iron continued to struggle as the Pirates looked to restore parity in a game which failed to spark into life as the half progressed. It took until the 34th minute for either side to create any sort of other chance, when determined play from Marcus Williams earned a corner – Mirfin rising highest to meet the ball but being just unable to make the necessary contact to send his header goal-wards.
Rovers were next to threaten five minutes later when a dangerous floated cross from the right required Mirfin to take drastic action and head behind his own goal with Clarkson lurking. United cleared their lines sufficiently from the corner, but soon found themselves facing another when Williams dealt with a free-kick from deep in similar fashion to his defensive colleague.
Once again, Rovers’ set-piece came to nothing, and it was United who then went forward when a sublime flick from Adelakun opened up the pitch for his advancing team-mates three minutes before the interval. After a stead build-up, a McSheffrey delivery from the left eventually reached Eddie Nolan who lashed at goal only to be denied by an excellent Mildenhall save.
The away side would have one final chance to level things before the interval, but were prevented from doing so by sterling defensive work from Adelakun as he tracked the advancing Alan Gow across the pitch before out-muscling him in the area seconds before the whistle; the Rovers attacker twisting in his knee in the process and having to be replaced by Steven Gillespie.
Pirates manager Ward responded to his side trailing at the break by also introducing Ollie Clarke in favour of Tom Lockyer, but following the restart the away side found themselves initially pushed back by an Iron team looking to play with greater purpose than they had in the first half.
As had been the theme of the first 45 however, United found clear-cut opportunities hard to come by; with a pair of attempts from first Dave Syers and then Paddy Madden which each cleared the bar comfortably the only danger the Iron posed in the opening 10 minutes of the second period.
Rovers looked more troubled in in the 56th minute when Mildenhall misjudged a free-kick whipped into his box. The Pirates goalkeeper raced off his line to collect above his head, but found himself stranded as the ball sailed over him – the stopper being forced to rely on his defence to clear.
Barely minutes later, the away side raced forward following referee Mark Haywood waving away strong calls for handball against them in the midfield area. Having been given permission to continue by the officials, Gillespie charged down the right before knocking back across the box; a certain Clarkson goal only being denied by a last-ditch Mirfin block.
Buoyed by that, the away side began to put sustained pressure on the United back-line as the match edged past the hour-mark as Mohamed charged down the right. The winger jinked past a couple of players, skipped inside from the right, and curled narrowly wide courtesy of a deflection.
Having survived that scare, the Iron then came within inches of doubling their advantage in the 67th minute when Winnall leapt to head a Nolan cross off the crossbar at the end of a flowing move. From the rebound, a combination of Winnall and Syers frantically attempted to knock the ball across the line, but desperate defending from Rovers saw the ball somehow scrambled to safety.
United then made their first change of the evening with just over 20 minutes remaining when Winnall earned a rest to be replaced by Paul Hayes. The Iron favourite was almost immediately involved, going down in the box just a minute later under what appeared to be illegal pressure from his marker following a McSheffrey free-kick which had been nodded back across the area by Canavan.
The Iron then had their second penalty appeal of the night waved away in the 78th minute when McSheffrey’s free-kick from deep was bundled behind by the Rovers defence; unsuccessful calls for a combination of hand-ball and a push on Mirfin being made vociferously by the United support behind the goal to no effect.
Referee Haywood then did little to endear himself further to the home fans in the aftermath of the subsequent corner, as he blew up for unfair pressure on Mildenhall as the goalkeeper climbed above a number of players to punch away.
With eight minutes remaining the away side rolled the dice for the final time in their pursuit of an equaliser, brining on Seanan Clucas in place of Clarkson. Barely seconds after Clucas’ introduction United came within inches of ending the game as a contest when a pin-ball session in the Rovers area saw the ball eventually fall the way of Syers 20 yards from goal. The midfielder struck instinctively on the volley first-time, but unlike Saturday found his luck thin on the ground as his effort fizzed just wide.
Iron manager Russ Wilcox then looked to tighten things up for the final stages by bringing Matt Sparrow on in place of Adelakun in the 86th minute with the intention of seeing the game out. They were to be unable to do so however, as a United attack broke down at the crucial stage a minute later, allowing Rovers to storm forward through Mohamed.
The lively winger fed the ball to the rampaging Smith out wide, who in turn burst to the by-line before squaring for Gillespie to stroke past Slocombe at the back-post and level things with just three minutes of regular time remaining.
Having suffered that late set-back, the Iron went in search of the win they had previously seemed destined to achieve, and came close to finding it as the game moved into injury-time when Madden blasted millimetres wide from the edge of the box with Mildenhall a spectator.
United continued to press, and would earn one final opportunity to steal victory when Sparrow was illegally felled on the edge of the box only. However, the chance was wasted as McSheffrey blazed the free-kick miles over the ball, with the referee calling time shortly and forcing the Iron to settle for a draw.
The solitary point sees the Iron lose ground on leaders Chesterfield ahead of United’s visit to Newport County this weekend, while also extending their undefeated run since Wilcox took charge to 17 matches.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Williams, Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; McSheffrey, McAllister, Syers, Adelakun (Sparrow, 86); Madden, Winnall (Hayes, 69).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Dawson, Hawkridge, Waterfall.
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall; Brown, McChrystal, Parkes (capt.), Smith; Gow (Gillespie, 45), Lockyer (Clarke, 46), O’Toole, Mohamed; Clarkson (Clucas, 82), Beardsley.
Substitutes not used: Gough, Woodards, Harrison, Harding.
Referee: Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire).
Attendance: 3,318 (136 away).