SCUNTHORPE United might be known as the Iron but it was York City’s steely resolve that impressed most during a 2-2 draw at Glanford Park.
The Minstermen’s mettle has been hailed on many occasions during an unbeaten run stretching back to February 1 and culminating in the team securing a play-off place prior to Saturday’s trip to their promoted North Lincolnshire hosts.
Nine of the 11 victories achieved during that 16-game sequence had been won by a single-goal margin with Nigel Worthington’s teams demonstrating their dogged ability to defend leads, conceding just three times in as many months.
City did not, however, fall behind in any of those fixtures and, before the Scunthorpe trip, had only avoided defeat after trailing in a league game once this season – during the 2-2 draw at Cheltenham back on November 2.
Worthington’s decision, therefore, to field a full-strength side at the weekend, while play-off rivals Fleetwood and Burton rotated their squads, proved a very useful exercise as his players answered perhaps the only two question marks that might have been levelled against them since the end of January.
How will the team respond to a losing position and are there enough goals in the squad?
The Minstermen had not netted more than once during any of their past eight games but, having gone 2-0 down after 38 minutes, scored twice against a strong Scunthorpe team still harbouring title ambitions but unable to get out of their half for long spells of the second period.
Calvin Andrew’s name on a scoresheet for the first time in 17 outings was also a welcome sight and the 71st-minute equaliser was reward for his selfless shifts in attack since arriving at Bootham Crescent six weeks ago.
On-loan winger Ryan Brobbel, meanwhile, reminded City’s 1,389 travelling away fans and, indeed, some Scunthorpe supporters, of his capacity to provide spectacular match-changing moments.
His 20-yard strike into former York College keeper Sam Slocombe’s top left-hand corner seconds before the interval represented his first goal since a brilliant brace helped sink Scunthorpe during a 4-1 triumph back in October.
In the absence of crocked leading marksman Wes Fletcher, City have been a little over-reliant on Michael Coulson for goals during the run-in to the end of the regular season but, with Adam Reed also continuing to get into promising scoring positions, Worthington’s side will go into the play-offs carrying an adequate attacking threat.
At the other end of the pitch, the Minstermen shipped their first goals from open play in 17 matches at Scunthorpe but, with Championship recruit Paddy Madden and League Two golden boot winner Sam Winnall leading the hosts’ attack, Saturday’s game was always going to prove a stiff test defensively.
Winnall was well shackled and did not get a sniff of the visitors’ goal before being withdrawn in the second half but ex-Yeovil forward Madden opened the scoring on 19 minutes with a predatory header.
After Andrew warmed Slocombe’s hands from 25 yards on six minutes, Madden had the home side’s first opportunity when he darted from one penalty box to the other after dispossessing Lewis Montrose but his low shot lacked the power to extend Nick Pope.
He was more clinical, however, moments later when he rose high to meet Eddie Nolan’s left-wing cross and beat City’s on-loan Charlton shot-stopper from four yards.
At the other end, Montrose’s 30-yard low drive was comfortably gathered by Slocombe, who then reacted sharply to smother an excellent Reed chance after the former Sunderland midfielder had sidestepped Niall Canavan’s challenge eight yards from goal.
That save looked pivotal on 38 minutes when Russell Wilcox’s men doubled their advantage.
Winger Terry Hawkridge burst into the penalty box and skipped past John McCombe, leaving the towering City centre-half on his backside, before his low ten-yard shot caught a deflection off Ben Davies to finish in Pope’s bottom right-hand corner.
As any disciple of football’s biggest clichés would testify, though, the visitors pulled a goal back at the best possible time.
Almost a minute of first-half stoppage time had been played when Reed played a square pass to Brobbel, who rifled his team back into the match.
A tactical switch then contributed to City carrying that momentum into the second period.
Worthington replaced Montrose, who had struggled to impose himself on proceedings, with Will Hayhurst at the break, choosing to employ two out-and-out wingers as Reed was restored to his more familiar central-midfield role.
The subsequent second-half improvement will also have proven helpful for Worthington as he contemplates his approach for the play-off games with Fleetwood.
Other than replacing Ryan Bowman with Andrew, the only tactical shuffling Worthington has engaged in since losing the services of Josh Carson and Wes Fletcher in mid-March has been which two of Hayhurst, Montrose and Reed to select in his starting line-up.
Hayhurst certainly pressed his claims for a semi-final place during a lively and purposeful 45 minutes.
He and Brobbel, with their penetration down the flanks, certainly helped win a succession of second-half corners that would eventually lead to Andrew’s leveller.
Shortly after the restart, Lanre Oyebanjo dragged a 20-yard shot wide with his left foot after a strong forward surge.
Pope, meanwhile, was equal to a Madden effort from a similar difference that nicked off Russell Penn’s shin.
On 64 minutes, Reed then fired wide of Slocombe’s near post from ten yards after bursting into the penalty box through the right channel and collecting a Coulson pass.
Coulson went on to see two hopeful long-range drives deflected off target and a Reed flag kick would lead to the chain of events that heralded City’s second goal.
Skipper Penn tumbled in the box under a home challenge but, amid unconvincing appeals for a penalty, Hayhurst picked up the loose ball and aimed a dangerous low cross into the six-yard box that Andrew directed past Slocombe from point-blank range.
The jubilant striker wheeled away to celebrate in front of a packed away end.
Scunthorpe supporters, meanwhile, were left to reflect on an unusual campaign in which their side had become the first Football League team since 1969 to gain promotion having drawn more matches than they have won.
Their attempts at a winning goal were only hopeful with substitutes Deon Burton and Sean McAllister both trying their luck from distance – the former firing straight at Pope and the latter hitting the roof of the stand.
Canavan went on to head over from a long throw but few could have argued that the visitors deserved their point with City completing their longest-ever unbeaten end to a regular league season.
Scunthorpe 2 (Madden 19; Hawkridge 38), York City (Brobbel 45+1; Andrew 71) 2
Pope 7 – displayed strong handling and judgement, whilst having little chance with either goal
Oyebanjo 7 – foraged forward more often than in recent weeks and decent defensively too
Lowe 8 – ensured the division’s top scorer Winnall had a quiet afternoon with shadow-like marking
McCombe 7 – exposed for Scunthorpe’s second goal but did little else wrong all afternoon
Davies 8 – locked down his flank in customary fashion with a determined performance
Brobbel 7 – spectacular goal heralded an energetic second-half display that helped force hosts backwards
Penn 7 – stayed competitive in a controlled manner and drove his team on after the break
Montrose 6 – struggled to force matters from the middle of the park and paid the price with his half-time withdrawal
Reed 7 – used the ball sensibly but, hopefully, saving his goals for coming weeks
Andrew 8 – strong in the air and on the ground, capped by first goal for the club
Coulson 7 – all his efforts at goal were blocked or deflected but plugged away with typical tenacity
Subs: Will Hayhurst 8 – positive (for Montrose, 46), Ryan Jarvis (for Brobbel, 88).
Subs not used: Michael Ingham, Tom Allan, David McGurk, Tom Platt, Ryan Bowman.
Sam Slocombe, Christian Ribeiro, David Mirfin, Niall Canavan, Eddie Nolan, Matt Sparrow, Michael Collins (Sean McAllister, 72), David Syers, Terry Hawkridge (Gary McSheffrey, 87), Sam Winnall (Deon Burton, 72), Paddy Madden. Subs not used: James Severn, Luke Waterfall, Noel Burdett, Paul Hayes.
Star man: Madden – the hosts’ brightest attacker.
Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham).
Rating: 8/10 – sensible and helped by two disciplined teams.
Attendance: 7,482 (1,389 from City).
Shots on target: Scunthorpe 6, City 5.
Shots off target: Scunthorpe 2, City 4.
Corners: Scunthorpe 4, City 14.
Fouls conceded: Scunthorpe 5, City 6.
Offsides: Scunthorpe 4, City 2.