Iron midfielder Matt Sparrow believes two ‘freak goals’ were to blame for his side being held to a draw by Southend United at Glanford Park on Tuesday night.United made a dream start when Sparrow himself lashed them in front after just three minutes, and they doubled their advantage before the break when Sam Winnall diverted a Gary McSheffrey free-kick past visiting goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.
However, the Shrimpers were given a lifeline just after the hour-mark when centre-back John Egan produced a contender for goal of the season by volleying home from just inside the United half.
That goal shook the Iron, and just seven minutes the Southend comeback was complete seven when captain John White notched his first career goal with a miscued cross.
The Shrimpers fight-back left United having to settle for a fourth straight draw, and Sparrow told The Iron Player: “It’s bitterly disappointing, having been 2-0 up.
“We played well first half, but in the second half it was the manner of the goals really; two freak goals. The first one he’s hit it from 40 or 50 yards and Sam [Slocombe] is unlucky not to save it.
“Credit to him, but who is going to normally shoot from there? It’s a great strike, and it’s looped in, but the way it’s swerved in the air you would do well to save it if I’m honest.
“I think the last time someone hit one like that was for Exeter here too, and normally they would have gone into the stand. The second is a cross that’s gone in, and it’s knocked the stuffing out of us a bit.
“We tried to win it. They tried to win it. It was an open game, but we’re very disappointed.”
Having gone into the interval two goals to the good, the Iron never really got going in the second period, and Sparrow added: “They [Southend] came out flying second half, which we knew they would.
“I thought we rode the storm for the first 15 or 20 minutes, but then they’ve scored halfway through the second half and they’ve got on top a bit. Their goals were the only two shots they have had on target but we’ll have to put it to bed now and go again.
“We knew it would be a hard game. They [Southend] are a good team even though they aren’t on the best run. They’ve got some good players, but we were in the driving seat at 2-0 up so it’s bitterly disappointing.”
One major positive United can take out of the result is the creation of a new club record by stretching their unbeaten run to 20 matches, thus bettering the 19 game sequence set during the 2006/2007 season – which culminated in the Iron being crowned League One champions.
Sparrow, who was part of Nigel Adkins’ title-winning side back in 2007, said: “We try and win every game, but obviously we’ve broken the record tonight by going 20 unbeaten.
“We now have 10 huge, cup final games now, starting with Plymouth. It [promotion] is within touching distance now to be honest. It’s important not to get nervy.
“You could feel it in the atmosphere tonight. When they scored the first goal people got a bit edgy, but we try not to let that translate onto the pitch.
“I don’t think the players looked edgy out there at all. We tried to play, but like I say we need to give credit to the opposition.”
Opportunities for Sparrow have been few and far between in recent months, largely due to the impressive form of midfield duo Dave Syers and Sean McAllister.
However, the 32-year-old took full advantage of McAllister’s enforced absence through injury on Tuesday by putting his side ahead to cap an impressive individual performance.
It has proven to be a challenging time for the Iron favourite, and Sparrow admitted: “It was great to be back out there, and to get 90 minutes under my belt.
“To get a goal was a great start, but the draw has taken a bit of the icing off the cake really. I think my only chance was to hit it first time, and being on my left foot I just tried to hit the target really and luckily it’s gone in which is a great feeling.
“I’d like a few more games. I’ve not played for four months so my match-fitness isn’t there. Hopefully I’ve given him [Russ Wilcox] food for thought.”
Having such strong competition within the squad can only serve to benefit the Iron as they move into the most crucial stage of the season so far.
With just 10 games of the regular campaign remaining, it is set to be a case of all hands on deck for the final charge as United look to complete a return to League One at the first time of asking.
The first of those 10 matches sees the Iron make the arduous trip to face Plymouth Argyle at Home Park on Saturday, and Sparrow added: “We’ll dust ourselves off tomorrow, come in Thursday, then go down Friday and prepare.
“It’s a huge game. They’re on a good run so it will be a difficult game, but we can beat anyone on our day.
“We’re not losing. We haven’t lost in 20, so we’re full of confidence. We just need to try to create a bit more going forward, and improve on seeing out games.
“We need to keep believing and remain confident, as it’s within touching distance now. If we lose self-belief we’ve got no chance.”
See much more from Matt Sparrow, Russ Wilcox and Gary McSheffrey on The Iron Player.