The Iron equalled a club record run of 19 games without defeat despite being held to draw by 10-man Northampton Town at Glanford Park.After a frustrating first half, United went in front shortly after the interval when Niall Canavan bundled home Andy Dawson’s corner from close-range.
The visiting side were then forced to play over half an hour with 10 men after captain Ricky Ravenhill saw red for two bookable offences, but a header from Zander Diamond 25 minutes from time rescued the Cobblers a point.
United’s unbeaten sequence now matches the one set by Nigel Adkins’ side during the 2006/2007 campaign – a season which culminated in United being crowned as League One champions.
It also sees the Iron move to within a point of league leaders Chesterfield, after the Spireites suffered a shock reversal away to struggling Accrington Stanley.
United manager Russ Wilcox opted to make two changes from the side which fought their way to a spirited draw at Newport last weekend, with Dawson and Hakeeb Adelakun coming in for Christian Ribeiro and Terry Hawkridge respectively.
The inclusion of Dawson marked the 35-year-old’s 500th career league start and his first return to action since sustaining a hip injury in late November. However, winger Gary McSheffrey missed out on the squad entirely after failing to recover from a back problem picked up in the clash with Bristol Rovers 11 days ago – his place on the bench being taken by Etienne Esajas.
Meanwhile, Northampton boss Chris Wilder made three alterations from the team who held Bristol Rovers to a 0-0 draw at Sixfields in their last outing a week ago. Those changes saw Gary Deegan, John Marquis and former Iron star Ian Morris promoted to the starting line-up in favour of Chris Hackett, Emile Sinclair and Ben Dickenson.
The home side began confidently, and in the fourth minute a clever flick from Paddy Madden released Eddie Nolan into space deep in Northampton territory. The full-back pushed on before dinking a delicate cross onto the head of the advancing Sean McAllister in the area, but the midfielder’s flicked effort flashed wide of the post.
Two minutes later the away side launched their first attack of the contest when a steady passing move brought the ball to the feet of Morris on the left. The winger cut inside from the by-line and lofted a centre to the back-post only for striker John Marquis to find himself unable to meet the ball as it skidded just wide.
With 11 minutes gone, tenacious work from Sean McAllister in midfield allowed United to break, with a seemingly innocuous ball pumped towards the visiting goal. The bounce favoured the Iron however, and Northampton goalkeeper Matt Duke was required to race out and punch clear under significant pressure from Sam Winnall – with home fans claiming Duke had met the ball outside the area.
Just past the 15 minute mark, the hosts countered forward once more and forced a throw-in deep down the right. The ball was returned to play rapidly by Eddie Nolan as he found Madden in space, but the striker’s ambitious chip from distance sailed well over the bar.
Town were next to threaten on 20 minutes when Morris won a corner off the legs of Dawson down the Iron left. The subsequent set-piece caused problems for the United defence, with a back-tracking Sam Slocombe punching clear amid a pack of bodies in the Iron penalty-area.
The visitors were playing with the belief of a team who had taken 10 points from a possible 15 rather than one facing the prospect of relegation to non-league, and displayed such confidence by neatly keeping possession in midfield whenever they had the opportunity. That patience almost released Connell behind the United defence in the 25th minute, but David Mirfin read play well to intercept.
In contrast the Iron were struggling to manoeuvre the ball across the floor, and found themselves resorting to playing direct football on a number of occasions as the game moved into the closing 10 minutes of the opening half.
After a period of limited goalmouth action, Town captain Ravenhill became the first player to go in the book of referee Kevin Wright in the 37th minute for a late tackle on Dave Syers just outside the centre-circle.
With the game moving into injury-time, a slick move from United led to the ball being switched wide right to Adelakun. The youngster ran at his man before sending a low, fizzing drive just past the post to bring an end to a low-key first half in which neither side had created any meaningful opportunities.
As had been the case in the first half, both sides struggled to find a rhythm during the early minutes following the restart until intelligent play from Winnall gave Adelakun the chance to seize possession on the overlap. Adelakun broke to the by-line, but his pull-back into the area was gathered comfortably by Duke.
On 51 minutes an in-swinging free-kick from the left by Adelakun caused concern for Town, who were forced to put the ball behind for a corner. That second set-piece would pave the way for United to take the lead, as Dawson’s swirling centre from the right was scrambled in on the line by Canavan.
The goal buoyed the Iron, who began to show greater assurance in possession as they pushed forward in search of a second. One player who appeared determined to double the advantage was Madden, who burst through midfield six minutes later before shooting tamely at Duke with Adelakun unmarked to his right.
However, Madden refused to dwell on the spurned opportunity, and a similar run barely moments later led to the forward being hauled down by Ravenhill – the Town skipper being shown a second yellow card and subsequently receiving his marching orders from referee Wright.
The dismissal of Ravenhill prompted Northampton to make their first change of the afternoon just after the hour mark, with Marquis withdrawn in favour of Sinclair in a like-for-like switch in attack as manager Chris Wilder looked to find a way back into the game for his side.
Wilder’s change would bear almost immediate fruit, when Town won a free-kick on the Iron right in the 64th minute following a foul by McAllister which saw the diminutive Iron midfielder cautioned. A precise delivery from Darren Carter was met by Diamond on the penalty-spot, with the central defending rising highest to flick past Slocombe and bring his side level.
Boosted by that goal, Wilder then made a second substitution as he introduced wide-man Hackett in place of Connell with just under 25 minutes remaining. In stark contrast to the opening period, the second half was becoming increasingly frenetic and ill-tempered, with the game threatening to boil over following a number of firm challenges from both sides.
With 20 minutes left to play, United came close to going in front for a second time when a centre from the right was met purposefully by Winnall. The Iron’s leading marksman looked to have done enough with his header from close range, but Duke spread himself expertly to divert away, with United’s attempts to follow-up overruled by the linesman flagging for offside against Madden.
The Iron remained eager to take the game to Northampton in pursuit of a winner, and on 75 minutes were prevented once more when Syers’ flashed a header from a Dawson corner into the base of the side-netting. That chance was soon followed by an attacking change for United, with Paul Hayes entering the fray just behind the strikers as the Iron reverted to three at the back.
That positive approach from Iron manager Russ Wilcox gave the team even greater impetus going forward, and it was substitute Hayes who fed Madden in the 80th minute before the Dublin-born striker’s rasping effort deflected wide for a corner; the resultant set-piece being wasted by United.
A minute later, Madden appeared to be in again when he raced onto a measured through-ball from Adelakun. The Irishman carried the ball forward and lashed wide, with the linesman adjudging him to be in an offside position regardless.
With seven minutes remaining, United made their second change as Hawkridge came on for Adelakun in another move which reflected Wilcox’s desire to chase a late winner. The winger was immediately involved, picking up the ball deep prior to sending across for Madden who nodded narrowly wide at the back-post.
Such attacking intent from the Iron left the game delicately poised, with Town sporadically threatening on the counter as the match edged into its final throes. One final throw of the dice for Wilcox came with two minutes left to play as Esajas was afforded a brief cameo in place of Williams in pursuit of a late winner.
Esajas was almost the provider of such a moment as the game moved into four minutes of added time; clipping in a perfect cross which a well-placed Madden could only head straight at Duke from close-range.
United were cranking up the pressure, but perhaps saw their best opportunity of taking all three points go to waste when a jinking Esajas blazed wide with seconds left on the clock. Instead it was Town who came close to causing a shock on the break, but United dug deep to deny them and survive with a solitary point.
The result sees the Iron hold on to their place in the automatic promotion positions with eleven games of the regular season remaining as they look to secure a return to League One at the first time of asking.
United will have just three days to wait to continue that bid, with play-off hopefuls Southend United next to visit Glanford Park on Tuesday night.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Dawson (Hayes, 75), Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; Williams (Esajas, 88), McAllister, Syers, Adelakun (Hawkridge, 84); Madden, Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Sparrow, Waterfall.
Northampton Town: Duke; Robertson, Kouo-Doumbe, Diamond, McSweeney; Morris, Ravenhill (capt.), Carter, Deegan; Connell (Hackett, 66), Marquis (Sinclair, 61).
Substitutes not used: Snedker, Tozer, Toney, Roberts, Dickenson.
Referee: Kevin Wright (Cambridgeshire).
Attendance: 3,968 (401 away).