On British Steel Family Day, Scunthorpe were beaten 2-1 by Rotherham United at Glanford Park in a keenly-contested local affair.
The Iron fell behind to a Joe Newell goal in the first-half, and the visitors doubled their lead in the second period through Semi Ajayi; before Lee Novak pulled one back 20 minutes from time.
Entering the match at the busy and atmospheric Glanford Park, the Iron named an unchanged eleven from the side that had won at Fleetwood one week beforehand. That meant Matt Gilks between the sticks, with a defence of Conor Townsend, Rory McArdle, Murray Wallace and Marnick Vermijl. Josh Morris, Funso Ojo, Neal Bishop and Duane Holmes formed the midfield, with Tom Hopper and Ivan Toney up top.
Wearing their special edition molten-orange blast-furnace-themed kit, the Iron were welcomed onto the pitch through a line of enthusiastic flag-bearers (children of local British steel employees) on a very chilly Lincolnshire afternoon. For the opening period, United elected to kick towards the away end – jam-packed with Rotherham fans who had made the short trip across the M180.
In the opening exchanges, it was the visitors who saw more of the ball, yet on five minutes the first half-chance of the day fell the way of the Iron. After forging himself a yard of space on the left-wing, Morris floated a cross into the box which Toney and Hopper were both quick to move for, but it was plucked confidently out of the air by Millers’ goalkeeper Marek Rodak.
After that, Rotherham continued to take the game to the Iron, as they forced Scunthorpe to drop deep into their own half in order to absorb a few spells of pressure. The most dangerous of these came to a climax when Josh Emmanuel darted down the right-flank before arrowing a cross in for Michael Smith, who headed over with the goal gaping.
Fifteen minutes in, the home side seemed to be getting more of a foothold in the game as they won their first corner. However, after taking it short, the ball was chased back down the field and the move itself transformed into a fruitless Millers’ counter attack. One minute later, Holmes drove into the visitors' box and centred for Hopper. Rotherham turned behind for a corner and another soon followed – yet both were eventually cleared.
The game had opened up a little bit by this stage, and Rotherham were no longer dictating things from the comfort of the Iron’s half. Bishop and Ojo were starting to see more of the ball, although just as Scunthorpe seemed to be reaching their typical rhythm in the 25th minute, play was interrupted when Tom Hopper required treatment following a tackle in the centre circle.
Five minutes later, promising play by Duane Holmes resulted in what seemed a good chance for United. The winger slalomed into the pretty crowded box at pace, before firing powerfully at the near-post. Goalkeeper Marek Rodak got down to the ball and gathered it safely in his arms – eventually.
It was the away side who took the lead in the 27th minute. Attacker Joe Newell side-footed a knee-high ball past Gilks and into the roof of the net from around 12 yards after Scunthorpe had been unable to clear a long-throw into the box.
Responding immediately, Scunthorpe upped their tempo and started to move the ball around confidently in the Rotherham half. Eventually, Hopper managed to draw a foul on the left-wing and Morris popped the ball perfectly in for McArdle at the back-post, but nobody could get on the end of his knock-down. After a second of frantic play in the box as Rotherham tried to clear, the ball then dropped back for the Iron captain to strike at goal with his feet, but his half-volley was sliced off-target.
Forty minutes in, and United had another good chance to draw level. Funso Ojo had the ball on the edge of the box and managed to squeeze through a low shot which goalkeeper Rodak saved but spilt, right into the path of Ivan Toney. From behind, and keen to atone for his error, Rodak then threw himself at the momentarily loose ball – seeming to catch and bring Toney to ground in the process – but no penalty was awarded.
Over the next few minutes, up until the interval, United continued to press and to zip the ball quickly around the final third but were unable to carve out any more clear-cut chances. Rotherham, to their credit, were still trying to give the Iron as little time on the ball as they could even though they had dropped deeper, and as the final whistle of the half went, remained a goal ahead.
For the second half, it was Scunthorpe who got the game back underway, this time attacking towards their own fans housed in the Britcon Stand. After only a couple of minutes, Scunthorpe signalled their attacking intent when Ivan Toney won a free-kick wide on the edge of the box; but the loanee smashed it into the wall with the angle not particularly in his favour.
In the 50th minute, the home side again came close to levelling things up against the Yorkshire side. Josh Morris took possession on the edge of the box, hitting a low effort on his right-foot that crept tantalisingly wide of both Toney’s outstretched foot and the goal itself. The game was heating up, and Scunthorpe were looking determined to haul themselves level as quickly as possible.
Over the next ten minutes or so, Scunthorpe continued to try and turn the screw. Pass after pass they completed in the opposition half, however they were unable to carve out any opportunities of note. Then, they were nearly hit with a sucker-punch on the hour mark, as Will Vaulks volleyed a 25-yard effort relatively close to goal.
With time ticking away, Graham Alexander decided to make his first change with around 25 minutes to go and Rotherham creeping back into the game again. Tom Hopper was withdrawn and Lee Novak brought on in his place. Rotherham then made a change of their own: Williams on for goalscorer Newell.
But the alteration didn’t have the effect Scunthorpe had hoped for, and with 70 minutes played, Rotherham extended their lead, seemingly putting the game out of the reach of the home side. Semi Ajayi made it 2-0, heading home at the back post after a sustained spell of pressure. United had been unable to fully clear a corner, and the Millers’ man was able to send the ball crashing into the back of the net.
However, just when all seemed lost in terms of the match, Lee Novak offered Scunthorpe a ray of hope in the 74th minute. After a delicious ball from Connor Townsend released Lee Novak, the Iron striker then beat the offside trap, rounded the goalkeeper and slotted coolly home. 2-1. Soon afterwards, both managers made further changes. Adelakun replaced Bishop for Scunthorpe; and Lavery replaced Ball for Rotherham.
The next passages of play were eventful. United had to rush the ball clear after Matt Gilks was caught out of his goal, and Semi Ajayi was shown a yellow card after his tackle floored Ivan Toney in the corner. However, with five minutes left, United still trailed 2-1 – despite pushing, pressing and persevering.
On 90 minutes, further hope was also offered when the referee signalled that there was to be eight additional minutes added – a decision which drew one of the loudest cheers of the day. Luke Williams was also introduced in one final throw of the dice; with Townsend replaced.
With the final kick of the match, Duane Holmes entered the box and lobbed the goalkeeper and it went just wide.
Scunthorpe United: Gilks, Townsend (Williams, 87’), Wallace, Ojo, Toney, Morris, Bishop (Adelakun, 75’), Hopper (Novak, 66’), Vermijl, Holmes, McArdle.
Substitutes: Watson, Goode, Burgess, Yates.
Rotherham United: Rodak, Emmanuel, Mattock, Vaulks, Ajayi, Wood, Forde, Ball (Lavery, 75’), Towell, Newell (Williams, 68’), Smith.
Substitutes: Price, Palmer, Taylor, Yates, Ihiekwe.