The Iron made Football League history by stretching their unbeaten run under manager Russ Wilcox to 24 games despite being held to a goalless draw by struggling Wycombe Wanders at Glanford Park.In a testing game for United, who ended the match with 10 men after losing Sean McAllister and Gary McSheffrey to injury, they were forced to dig deep to keep a determined Wycombe side at bay while also threatening to steal the win themselves on several occasions.
In avoiding defeat, United surpassed the record for the longest sequence of matches without a loss by any Football League manager from the start of their reign – with Preston North End’s William Sudell the last to successfully navigate his side through such a run when he did so during the inaugural 1888/1889 First Division season.
The draw also served to keep the Iron within two points of league leaders Rochdale, while also maintaining their seven point gap over fourth-placed Fleetwood Town with just six games of the regular campaign now remaining.
Wilcox opted to stick with the same side for the fourth match in succession as McAllister shook off a minor hamstring scare, with United heading into the game looking to secure four wins on the bounce for the first time since the 2008/2009 season.
Meanwhile, Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth made four changes from the team who began Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Burton Albion, as Anthony Stewart’s absence from a hamstring injury allowed new loan addition Danny Rowe to make his full league debut at centre-half.
Added to that forced alteration was the inclusion in the starting line-up of captain Stuart Lewis, Max Kretzschmar and Steven Craig in place of Marvin McCoy, Reece Styche and Dean Morgan – with Wycombe beginning the contest with a 4-1-4-1 set-up.
Despite their lowly league position, the away side started brightest, and looked set to carve out a decent opportunity as early as the second minute when Kretzschmar’s burst down the left gave the winger the chance to slide across the box. The 20-year-old’s cut-back went into a dangerous zone for United, but Niall Canavan was on hand to clear from deep inside his own area with Craig threatening to latch onto the pass.
The Iron struggled to find a passing rhythm during the early stages, but in the 11th minute a neat one-two between McSheffrey and Sam Winnall earned them their first corner of the afternoon. The subsequent delivery from the United left saw Eddie Nolan first to the ball in the air, but the right-back could only direct his header wide.
Three minutes later, the hosts broke rapidly when Marcus Williams expertly intercepted a debateable Wycombe corner. The left-back advanced down the right flank with support inside, but the Iron saw their progress stalled as they reached the final-third as the Chairboys raced back to offer help to their initially outnumbered defence.
That appeared to settle the hosts somewhat, and just after the quarter-of-an-hour mark a fizzing cross from McSheffrey flew across the face of goal when it appeared any touch of real significance would have seen the ball diverted past Wycombe goalkeeper Matt Ingram.
The away side responded, and on 18 minutes threatened from a free-kick down their right, as Canavan went in the book for a challenge 30 yards from goal. A devilish Kretzschmar delivery caused problems for the Iron, with debutant Rowe just unable to make an effective connection as Sam Slocombe eventually gathered the ball – moments later Craig also going close as he flicked a firm header from a Matt Bloomfield cross narrowly over.
The match was becoming an increasingly end-to-end affair, and midway through the opening period it was United’s turn to go on the front foot; Mirfin’s header from a Terry Hawkridge corner being palmed away by Ingram before Dave Syers was unable to convert the rebound from an acute angle.
As the game edged past the half-hour mark, clever work from McSheffrey won a corner down the Iron left. Once again, Wycombe dealt with the set-piece sufficiently with the home side unable to forge a meaningful opening from the dead-ball situation as the early spark of the contest threatened to flicker out.
With 10 minutes remaining until the interval, a smart cross-field switch from Syers gave McSheffrey the chance to cross after receiving the ball from Williams – the winger’s attempted centre being deflected behind. It would be Syers who met the subsequent Hawkridge corner, but the 26-year-old saw his downward header clawed away low by a diving Ingram.
If that served as a warning for Wycombe, the Iron were to receive an even clearer one of their own just four minutes later. A jinking run down the right by Bloomfield culminating in the midfielder pinging back across the face of goal. The ball was cleverly dummied by Josh Scowen, allowing it to reach Kretzschmar, but the Chairboys academy product could only blaze over from close-range after turning Mirfin.
On 41 minutes, Wanderers midfielder Scowen joined Canavan in the book when he caught Williams late in a 50-50 battle – the Iron left-back taking a heavy knock for his efforts in attempting to revive a faltering United attack.
In the first of two minutes of additional time, the Iron had arguably their best chance of the half when McSheffrey was slipped through on goal by a precise Winnall pass which dissected the Chairboys back-line. The Coventry-born McSheffrey raced towards goal, but could only curl his effort from just inside the area wide to bring an end to the opening period.
Following the restart, United immediately look to assert themselves on the clash with McAllister starting to dictate play from deep. Despite the home side attempting to predominantly thread passes along the floor, it was a long clearance which brought them a 48th minute corner after Rowe misjudged a back-header. As had been the case in the first half however, United failed to profit; Canavan nodding over from six yards out after attacking the ball from the edge of the area.
The Iron forced yet another corner six minutes later when trickery from Williams saw the ball knocked behind by the Wycome defence. The theme of United struggling to make the most of set-pieces continued though, and Iron boss Wilcox wasted little time in attempting to find a formula which could get the better of the Wanderers – replacing Williams with Paul Hayes on 56 minutes.
That change gave the Iron a more attacking impetus, but also left them exposed to the counter as they looked to take the game to Wycombe. The prospect of being hit on the break came to pass as little as two minutes later, but a determined diving block from Mirfin prevented Bloomfield for registering a strike on goal after the winger had stolen a march on his marker.
United were then forced into their second change in quick succession just past the hour-mark when McAllister limped off the pitch injured to be replaced by Matt Sparrow. The withdrawal of the energetic McAllister provided Wycombe with a boost, but Rowe again failed to convert from close-range having been picked out by a corner from the Chairboys left.
Wilcox then made his third and final substitution of the afternoon with little over 25 minutes remaining as he introduced Hakeeb Adelakun in place of Hawkridge. The trio of changes made by the Iron represented a clear and positive attempt to win the game, and the match started to become increasingly stretched as a result.
With both teams battling hard to gain authority of midfield, play became fragmented for large parts. However, a charge down the left by McSheffrey in the 69th minute almost led to United taking the lead in unusual circumstances; the winger’s cross clipping the crossbar with Ingram stranded.
A challenging end to the match awaited the Iron, and their task was not made easier by McSheffrey picking up an injury which left the home side down to 10 men for the final 17 minutes – Adelakun helping to fill the various gaps which had opened up as a result of the hosts suffering two second half injuries by dropping into the right-back position.
The away side looked to exploit Adelakun’s inexperience in the role, and won a corner in the 77th minute after forcing the youngster to back-track. Up to meet the flag-kick was Aaron Pierre, but the Chairboys defender sent his header well over from a promising position.
To United’s credit, they remained determined to take all three points, and pushed everyone bar Adelakun up for a Nolan corner two minutes later. Although the initial delivery was cleared, the ball eventually reached Hayes via Paddy Madden. Hayes struck firmly at goal, but goalkeeper Ingram gathered at the second attempt.
Shortly after, the visitors were perhaps fortunate to not see their number reduced to 10 themselves, with Bloomfield cautioned for a late challenge on Sparrow which left the United man floored inside his own half.
The Chairboys sensed they had an opportunity to steal all three points, and a dazzling run from Kretzschmar saw the winger jink his way into the area on 81 minutes. Having reached a dangerous position, Kretzschmar fired at goal, but Slocombe displayed excellent reactions to save low down at his near-post.
Two minutes later, dogged work from Hayes earned the Iron another corner; Adelakun’s subsequent whipped centre somehow evading everybody in a packed area before being desperately hacked to safety by a Chairboys defence who found themselves under growing pressure.
That pressure continued to come, with characteristically industrious work by the tireless Winnall stretching the away back-line with the clocking ticking steadily towards six minutes of injury-time. The desire of both teams to get the result they craved set up a pulsating finale, but neither side was able to find the crucial goal despite intense pressure at either end, leading to referee James Adcock eventually calling time on the stalemate.
The result leaves United with a seven point cushion over the teams outside the automatic promption places, with just six matches of the regular season now remaining as they look to complete a return to League One at the first time of asking following relegation last season.
Next up for United as they continue their promotion bid is an arduous trek to basement club Torquay United next weekend – the reverse fixture of which saw the Iron run out 3-1 winners back in November.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.), Williams (Hayes, 56), Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; McSheffrey, McAllister (Sparrow, 62), Syers, Hawkridge (Adelakun, 66); Madden, Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Waterfall, Alabi.
Wycombe Wanderers: Ingram; Wood, Pierre, Rowe, Arnold; Togwell; Kretzschmar, Lewis (capt.), Scowen, Bloomfield; Craig.
Substitutes not used: Horlock, McCoy, Jeffrey, Kuffour, Morgan, Pittman, Styche.
Referee: James Adcock (Nottinghamshire).
Attendance: 3,867 (116 away).