It’s never dull, is it?
Once more, Grimsby fans suffered feelings of frustration, anxiety and pure euphoric glee at Blundell Park yesterday afternoon, as once more they were pushed to their limits.
An injury time free-kick from Conor Townsend sealed victory against a resurgent Forest Green side after Liam Hearn’s opener was cancelled out by a Yan Klukowski penalty.
Town remained unchanged from Tuesday night’s controversial defeat to League leaders Fleetwood.
James McKeown started in goal behind a back four of Gary Silk, Conor Townsend, Ian Miller and Shaun Pearson.
Anthony Church was preferred alongside Craig Disley in the centre, with Louie Soares on the left and Michael Coulson on the right.
Anthony Elding and Liam Hearn continued up front.
Rob Duffy, Bradley Wood, Andi Thanoj, Charlie I’Anson and new loan-signing Peter Winn had to settle for a place on the bench.
Forest Green, boasting two recent England C internationals in Eddie Oshodi and Keiran Forbes, included ex-Mariner Tommy Wright on the subs bench.
Blundell Park was bathed in sunshine as two form teams came to blows on a warm Cleethorpes afternoon.
A cagey opening ten minutes quickly passed, before the home fans were singing the name of their idolised talisman once more – Liam Hearn’s name was read over the tannoy to rapturous applause after the striker bagged his 26th League goal of the season.
After a patient, probing passing move from the Mariners, Gary Silk sent in a deep cross towards Elding, who had peeled away from Oshodi; the Town striker nodded back across goal before Hearn looped the ball past spirited goalkeeper Sam Russell and into the net.
Coulson threatened with a driving run into the box before a stray hand halted the ball’s path – a huge shout from the Town faithful, but referee Wigglesworth waved play on.
However, two minutes later and the Doncaster based referee had no option but point to the spot; unfortunately for the Mariners it was at the wrong end. The impressive James Norwood received the ball just outside the box before skipping inside of Silk, who caught the Rovers midfielder with a clumsy challenge.
Yan Klukowski showed no nerves, dispatching the ball into the top corner and silencing the Pontoon.
The momentum shifted as Town became largely impatient; the frustration clearly making its way from the stands as more and more misplaced passes dominated the remainder of the first half.
Louie Soares arrowed a fine pass for Disley, who broke clear of the Rovers defence but could not slide the ball past Russell.
However, it was the away side that were beginning to impress; moving the ball with pace and looking to hit on the break.
And Norwood should arguably have put them ahead shortly before the interval; after bursting through the Town defence, the midfielder only had McKeown to beat, but the Town stopper was down quickly to block the shot with his leg.
The Mariners were holding on for the half time whistle and were lucky not to go in behind; Townsend misjudged a back header that allowed Norwood to break free, McKeown again down quickly to deny him before Norwood went close with a glancing header from a corner.
Scott and Hurst responded during the break, making a double change at the start of the second half. On came Thanoj and Peter Winn, replacing the injured Church and the largely absent Soares.
Town started much brighter, clearly focussed on increasing the tempo. Rovers were pegged back in their own half and looked to hit the Mariners on the counter.
A brilliant deep cross from Winn found Hearn at the back post – the Town striker doing well to angle a tight volley back towards goal and forcing the save from Russell.
However, it was the away side that should really have gone ahead after a precision counter-attack; Stokes bust a gut in getting forward down the left and when Taylor found him it looked to be curtains for the Town defence. However, the left back’s first touch was poor and he shot weakly wide of the far post.
Pearson, immense with Miller at the back, almost found the net after rising high to meet a Coulson corner but once again Russell was equal to it.
Winn proved to be a useful outlet on the left, often beating his marker to deliver a cross. The Cleethorpes born winger, on-loan from Stevenage, marvellously cut inside before firing right footed across the box; Hearn inches away on the slide from converting.
With that, Hearn departed for Duffy as Rovers looked to Tommy Wright – who has played against Town for three different teams this season.
And it was almost the perfect script for the journeyman striker as he headed narrowly over McKeown’s bar – the same end which he converted for Luton earlier this season.
Coulson advanced towards the Pontoon and was seemingly halted in his tracks; again Town appealed for a penalty, again it was turned away.
It looked to be another frustrating afternoon for Town, much like Braintree last Saturday, with no luck in the final third.
Elding wasted a glorious opportunity after Russell had misjudged a Disley cross; Duffy headed down for his partner, who blasted high into the Pontoon.
Cries of frustration echoed through the Park – however, they soon turned to cheers as referee Wigglesworth pointed to the spot following an unfair challenge on Pearson in the box.
An air of expectation rested on Elding’s shoulders as he confidently stepped up to take it; miss and the Play-Off dream could be over.
Russell guessed the right way, brilliantly saving Elding’s well-hit penalty to his left before somehow keeping out Coulson’s follow up. Anguished cries of despair filled the atmosphere; it appeared to be another one of those games for Town.
Town continued to bombard the Rovers box with pressure, Forest Green were holding on for dear life. Another deep cross was headed clear by Oshodi, this time Duffy latched onto it with a rasping volley that clattered the inside of the post and bounced back out.
But just when it appeared all hope was lost, up stepped a cool head on young shoulders; Conor Townsend, the youngest player in the Town squad, stood over a free-kick just outside the box.
With images of Beckham against Greece, the Hull loanee curled the ball over the wall and towards the top corner. Russell was rooted and could only watch the as the net bulged and the crowd roared.
Finally, deep into stoppage time, the pressure had paid off through the unlikeliest of sources. Town players swarmed the youngster in front of the Pontoon, punching high into the air; they could dream again.
With a minute to play, it appeared confidence had been restored to this Town side. Elding brilliantly freed Winn down the left, before chasing another lost cause and winning a throw in to waste time. It was a classic case of defending from the front, before referee Wigglesworth signalled the end prompting a roar of relief around Blundell Park.
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t the best or most convincing of performances; but it was three points instead of one. Not one player had given up hope, even after ninety four minutes – perhaps the most commendable trait that Scott and Hurst have hammered into this squad.
Next up is York on Tuesday night. Words cannot describe just how big this match could be.