The Iron were once again denied all three points late on as a Chris Zebroski strike restricted them to a draw against Newport County at Rodney Parade.United had trailed at the break courtesy of a controversial Lee Minshull header in an opening period which County largely dominated on a difficult surface.
However, the Iron rallied after the break, and goals from Paddy Madden and Dave Syers had seemed set to guide them to a much-needed win.
That was not to be the case however, with the dangerous Zebroski netting a goal he thoroughly deserved to deny the away side the win they desperately craved.
Iron manager Russ Wilcox responded to Tuesday evening’s 1-1 draw with Bristol Rovers by offering recalls to Christian Ribeiro and Terry Hawkridge, with the pair taking the places of Gary McSheffrey and Hakeen Adelakun in the starting line-up.
Those changes saw Marcus Williams revert to the left of midfield, with Eddie Nolan switching across the back four to take up the vacant left-back position and Ribeiro dropping in at right-back.
Meanwhile, County boss Justin Edinburgh made three alterations from the team which fell to a late 2-1 home defeat to AFC Wimbledon in midweek, as Adam Chapman, Christian Jolley and Harry Worley dropped to the bench.
Their places were taken by Minshull, Rene Howe and Ryan Jackson respectively, with Newport starting the afternoon in a 4-4-2 set-up. One final matter of note was the inclusion of home-grown midfielder Michael Flynn on County’s bench, despite the 33-year-old being informed earlier in the week that his contract will not be renewed at the end of the season.
The home side got the game started, and began in positive fashion when a long clearance in the opening minute reached the physical Zebroski in attack. The County forward looked to bring the ball down, but
found himself outmuscled by a determined David Mirfin, allowing the United defender to clear the danger.
Two minutes later, the hosts were on the front foot again, this time breaking down the Iron left to earn a throw. A long delivery was hurled into the box and onto the head of Ismail Yakubu, but the Nigerian-born defender could only flick harmlessly into the arms of a grateful Sam Slocombe.
United then looked to break, and had their first opportunity of the contest when Ribeiro intelligently switched play cross-field to the marauding Williams on the left flank. The Iron midfielder’s attempted cross was knocked behind by the County defence, leading to the first corner of the game – with Howe fulfilling his defensive duties by nodding Hawkridge’s delivery to safety.
Having successfully defended a corner, County would then force one of their own on seven minutes as they built steadily from a throw-in. The set-piece was delivered dangerously towards the near-post, with Nolan racing across the box to put pressure on what would have otherwise been a free header; the United defender doing enough to avert the immediate threat and eventually earn a goal-kick.
Three minutes later, Newport continued their confident start as Jackson burst down the flank before cutting inside of Nolan and into the area. The County right-back looked set to pull the trigger until sterling defensive work from Sean McAllister nicked the ball off his feet, and offered a welcome reprieve to his side.
That respite would not last long however, and on 14 minutes County were only denied an early lead thanks to the excellence of Slocombe. Energetic work from Rene Howe down the left created space for the onrushing Ryan Burge centrally, and the midfielder drove low at goal through a crowded penalty-area, with the Iron goalkeeper diving at full-stretch to divert away.
Within four minutes Newport were on the attack again, Zebroski using his physicality to great effect once again to earn a corner off Niall Canavan. That set-piece came to nothing, but on 20 minutes the hosts looked more likely to break the deadlock when a fizzing ball across the face from Minshull evaded everyone until Burge sent an effort just over.
Five minutes later, County got the lead their play deserved when Canavan conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position for a foul on Max Porter – which earned him a yellow card for his troubles. The ball was swung into the area and headed back across goal by Zebroski, with Minshull on hand to arrow a header past Slocombe and put his side in front; although Slocombe protested vociferously that the ball hadn’t crossed the line.
Having taken a well-merited lead, Newport maintained their attacking approach as they dominated the aerial battle in crucial areas. As the game edged past the half-hour mark another free-kick caused concern in the United box until the ball was finally scrambled away amid a flurry of activity in the away penalty-area.
The Iron were looking rattled by the aerial bombardment, and with 10 minutes to go until the interval faced yet another set-piece when Syers was forced to put behind his own goal for a corner. United dealt with the delivery sufficiently to clear through McAllister, but soon found themselves penned back in their own half – with Madden booked shortly after for dissent.
United then made a rare foray forwards in the 40th minute when Williams intercepted before breaking up the pitch. Williams fed the ball to Madden, who won a corner down the left; the in-swinger from Hawkridge finding the head of Canavan, only for the centre-back’s header to loop harmlessly onto the roof of the County net.
Buoyed by that, the Iron attacked with a minute remaining in the first half through a neat one-two between Ribeiro and Hawkridge. The combination play next involved Syers, who swiftly switched wide to Hawkridge once more. The winger’s subsequent cross was flicked over by Winnall with the offside flag already raised, bringing an end to a first half in which United had been second best.
United needed an improvement in the second half, and within two minutes of the restart seriously tested County goalkeeper Elliot Parish for the first time when Hawkridge cut inside and fired a left-footed shot at goal which Parish gathered at the second attempt.
After that positive start, the Iron were somewhat fortunate not to be two behind on 51 minutes. A shot from Andy Sandell fell into the path of the troublesome Zebroski, who took a touch before firing inches wide of the post from close-range having sprung the offside trap expertly.
Four minutes later, the impressive Minshull won a corner for his side off the legs of the retreating Ribeiro. The set-piece was cleared by United, who looked to break on their opponents but were unable to do so with any great purpose when interplay between Madden and Winnall amounted to nothing.
The Iron had offered slightly more in the second period, and were duly rewarded just after the hour mark when Madden swept into the net from close-range to level matters. A persistent run down the left from Williams allowed him to release Nolan on the overlap, who in turn cut-back perfectly across the box to an unmarked Madden who stroked home confidently.
That goal gave United a greater impetus, and manager Russ Wilcox looked to take advantage in the switch in momentum by introducing the pacey Adelakun in place of Hawkridge almost immediately afterwards.
The visitors looked to capitalise on a now retreating County, and it was Nolan involved once again four minutes later as he played an excellent long ball into Winnall – the United striker only prevented from taking it in his stride by a fine Jackson interception on the slide.
Newport were still looking to move forward as the game moved towards the final 15 minutes, but found themselves repeatedly thwarted by an Iron defence which had adapted well during the second half as first Mirfin then Williams dealt well with dangerous situations.
County manager Justin Edinburgh responded to the changed nature of the match minutes later by opting to bring Jolley and Chapman on in favour of Howe and Burge in quick succession. Those changes prompted Wilcox to alter things with his own team too, as he introduced Matt Sparrow in place of the withdrawn McAllister.
That change from Wilcox suggested a change in emphasis for United as they looked to complete a turnaround by stealing all three points in the final 10 minutes, but that left the game more open; Zebroski nearly capitalising on 81 minutes when he stung the palms of Slocombe with a fierce drive.
As expected, United soon pressed forward themselves, and three minutes later would get just reward for their adventurous attitude as Syers fired home to put his side in front for the first time. Once more, the goal owed much to persistence, as Adelakun and Williams combined before the former calmly picked out Syers on the edge of the area – the midfielder needing no second invitation to lash past Parish from range.
Having gone ahead, Wilcox then looked to shore things up at the back for the final stages as Winnall left the field to be replaced by central defender Luke Waterfall. Unsurprisingly, that meant each side had their respective stalls firmly set out for what was remaining of the match, and County began to throw bodies forward in a desperate attempt to rescue a point.
That desperation would come to fruition for Newport in the final minute, after the home side forced a corner when Slocombe parried Minshull’s effort just over the bar. The initial delivery was scrambled clear, but only as far as Zebroski, who ruthlessly smashed home from six yards to level things once again.
As had been the case against Bristol Rovers four days earlier, that late goal from the excellent Zebroski was to restrict the Iron to a solitary point when they had appeared on course to win.
The draw sees the Iron move to within a point of leaders Chesterfield, with the Spireites not in action until Monday evening when they face Portsmouth.
The result also sees United stretch their unbeaten run under manager to Russ Wilcox to 18 games, moving to them to within one match of equalling the club record set during the 2006/2007 season when Nigel Adkins’ Iron side stormed to the League One title.
With just a dozen games of the regular season now remaining, the Iron will now switch their attention to their meeting with relegation-threatened Northampton at Glanford Park next weekend as they look to secure a return to League One at the first time of asking.
Newport County: Parish; Anthony, Yakubu, Jackson; Burge (Chapman, 79), Minshull, Porter (Jeffers, 86), Sandell, Wilmott; Howe (Jolley, 74), Zebroski.
Substitutes not used: Crow, Flynn, Naylor, Worley.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Nolan, Mirfin, Canavan, Ribeiro; Williams, McAllister (Sparrow, 80), Syers, Hawkridge (Adelakun, 65); Madden, Winnall (Waterfall, 87).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Dawson, McSheffrey, Hayes.
Referee: Carl Berry (Surrey).
Attendance: 2,782 (300 away approx).