Hope and Glory – Forest Green (H)

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.



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Frustration – Braintree (H)

Just one of those days – it has been a long time since those words were uttered when speaking about Grimsby Town.

After defeat in the FA Trophy last weekend, Scott and Hurst’s men were back on League duty this weekend, facing a Braintree side that had embarrassed the Mariners earlier this season.

Sitting pretty a point outside the Play-Off places, Town hadn’t tasted defeat in the Blue Square Premier since their televised home clash with Luton last October.

James McKeown started in goal, whilst Ian Miller was reinstated in the backline alongside Shaun Pearson, Gary Silk and Conor Townsend.

Craig Disley and Andi Thanoj anchored the midfield, whilst Michael Coulson returned from International duty to feature on the right. Louie Soares, who hadn’t yet featured for the Mariners since his January move, replaced the injured Frankie Artus on the left wing.

Rob Duffy and Liam Hearn continued up front.

Kiernan Hughes-Mason was recalled to the bench, alongside Anthony Church, Dayle Southwell, Charlie I’Anson and Scott Garner.

With Blundell Park bathed in glorious sunshine, Town looked to avenge last week’s FA Trophy exit to York as they looked to attack with pace and width. Townsend and Duffy combined well, but the latter’s lay-off for Hearn was well blocked.

Referee Ford attempted to stamp his authority on the game early doors, whistling for an array of free-kicks for both sides; however, both teams struggled to find any real rhythm in the stop-start circumstances.

An early Braintree free-kick struck Town’s defensive wall, whilst Soares’ well timed run into the box was squandered by tentative control.

Gary Silk tested the nerves of his goalkeeper (and the whole of the Pontoon) with a risky back-pass, but McKeown was alert to clear. Thanoj continued to battle hard in the middle with several well-timed slide tackles to regain possession.

Twenty minutes in and the weather had turned flat and grey, a mirror image of events unfolding on the pitch – however Ford, with his continued fussiness, was the main culprit.

Town looked to counter on the break, Disley playing Hearn in on the right who won a corner off the impressive Aswad Thomas. Eventually the ball came back to Town’s talisman on the left edge of the area, where he cut inside the Braintree defence and fizzed Town’s first real effort wide of the far post.

The away side responded, Sean Marks with a driving effort from outside the box that McKeown got down quickly to smother.

Just shy of the half hour mark, the Mariners should really have gone ahead through Craig Disley; Soares broke free down the left, his inch perfect cross only needing a touch either side of the rooted Nathan McDonald – Disley connected, but steered his volley at the Braintree stopper.

Bradley Quinton tried a more-than-ambitious attempt from the Main Stand touchline, volleying the ball comfortably wide of McKeown’s post.

Soares began to feature more prominently on the left, winning the ball in the Braintree box before curling his effort just over the bar.

As the Blundell Park clock ticked over the half hour mark, Grimsby began to up it a notch. Hearn’s close range effort was well blocked after good hold up play from Duffy, before Disley headed the rebound straight at McDonald. Soares then volleyed another shot wide of the near post.

A trademark Thanoj sliding through ball found Coulson, who cushioned the ball first time for Hearn; a poor first touch led to the ball being laid back to Duffy, who was brought down on the edge of the box. Townsend stood over the resulting free-kick, but could only curl it a yard wide of the post.

Soares broke free once more, linking up well with Duffy and Coulson before the Welshman rifled over from just inside the box; referee Ford soon called time on an edgy first half.

The Mariners came out with renewed confidence – Silk’s devilish cross only needed a touch at the back post, before Townsend curled in another beauty that was well cleared; Thanoj eventually volleying a left footer at McDonald.

Hearn then found Duffy’s run with a perfect through ball – however, the target-man opted to hold the ball up rather than unleash an effort at goal.

It was all Grimsby as Disley found Hearn with another pinpoint cross; this time the striker miscued his volley, slicing high into the arms of McDonald.

A minute later, though, and it was the away side who had the ball in the net – albeit it in extremely controversial circumstances.

Britt Assombalonga’s pass deflected off Disley’s knee into the path of Ben Wright, clearly coming back from an offside position; Wright clipped the ball around Pearson for Sean Marks, who raced clear of the appealing Town backline and slotted the ball past McKeown.

One could argue the old adage of ‘playing to the whistle’, but the linesman’s raised flag had clearly caused the Town backline to crucially hesitate.

The outrage clearly sparked Scott and Hurst’s men into life, as they unleashed a barrage of attacks on the Braintree backline.

First Hearn broke free of Matt Paine, but McDonald was out quickly to deny the Town striker.

From the resulting attack, Town were level.

Coulson rose bravely to meet Townsend’s cross, winning a corner for his effort; the former Barnsley man drilled in for Pearson, whose thundering header was brilliantly kept out by McDonald only for master marksman Hearn to volley in from close range.

And Town thought they had taken the lead shortly after; another Coulson corner, this time McDonald flapped the ball to Duffy, who took a touch before rifling into the net. However, referee Ford had rightly ruled it out after a clear handball from the Town striker.


Then came the moment that summed up Town’s afternoon; Hearn slipped the ball through for Disley, who dribbled through the defence before scooping an effort at McDonald. The Braintree stopper could only push it up and with the ball bouncing perilously towards goal, defender Matt Paine somehow flicked the ball over when under his own bar.

In all truth, it was a remarkable piece of defending.

Soares was booked for a rash tackle, before the Town debutant wasted a chance at goal when hesitating for a second too long. It was the winger’s last contribution, Kiernan Hughes-Mason replacing him shortly afterwards.

Hughes-Mason could only slice his first effort wide after a neat one-two from Townsend and Coulson.

However, the substitute expertly found Hearn with a perfect through ball which Town’s top scorer uncharacteristically wasted; instead of taking it on with his left, Hearn cut back onto his right which allowed the brilliant Aswad Thomas to clear.

Hearn instantly looked to atone for his error, threatening the Braintree defence with a pulsating run into the box; he laid the ball across goal for Hughes-Mason, whose first effort got caught under his feet before the second was somehow deflected over the top. It was just one of ‘those’ days for the home side.

With five minutes added on, Gary Silk launched a last-gasp free-kick into the box as Town looked desperately for a winner. McDonald advanced, getting nowhere near it before blocking Pearson’s effort; the ball ricocheted to Hearn, who lashed his volley agonisingly wide of the post -half of the ground thought it was in.

True to form, the game ended in controversial circumstances too; referee Ford seemingly blowing the full time whistle as Marks bore down on goal unchallenged. Perhaps it was Ford’s attempt at an apology for a distinctly lacklustre performance.

Braintree, for all of their effort, deserved a point – Alan Devonshire’s side have a solid set up; more firepower up front and they would most certainly be challenging for a top half finish.

However, the Mariners will no doubt see this as two points lost and will be licking their wounds ahead of Tuesday night’s trip to table topping Fleetwood.



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England C 1-1 Italy

With much of England football’s attention being focussed on a managerless first team, Paul Fairclough’s C-side played out a spellbinding International Challenge Trophy draw against Italy in Fleetwood.

Federico Angiulli’s lavish opener was cancelled out by a late Adam Watkin’s equaliser – and it was no less than what the home side deserved.

A bumper 4628 Highbury crowd was ultimately treated to a fantastic end to end game, full of attacking flair and battling England performances across the pitch.

With two late withdrawals, manager Fairclough drafted in both Ashley Chambers and Junior Brown as eleventh hour replacements.

Tamworth’s Jonathan Hedge was preferred in goal behind a back four of Kevin Roberts, Junior Brown, Jamie Turley and Eddie Oshodi.

Kenny Davis and Kieron Forbes anchored the midfield, with Michael Coulson and Matty Blair on the flanks.

That left Hyde’s Scott Spencer, the only player to be called up outside the Blue Square Bet Premier, up front with Captain Danny Rose.

Adam Watkins, Preston Edwards, Adam Boyes, Andrew Owens and Chambers completed a strong bench for Paul Fairclough’s men.

The Azzuri started with trademark flair, an early effort from Simone Corazza comfortably caught by Hedge.

England soon began to settle, passing the ball neatly between the midfield but ultimately lacking a killer pass – Rose’s free-kick much too easy for goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli.

Matty Blair, so influential for York City this season, encouraged the crowd with a pulsating run from midfield on the quarter hour mark, but couldn’t find Coulson at the crucial moment.

However, that sparked the game into life; after a beautiful quintet of passes on the right hand side, Raffael D’Orsi crossed deep into the England box. Junior Brown rose highest to clear, but his header found Fabio Meduki on the edge of the box whose exquisitely timed volley crashed against the post with Hedge flailing at full stretch.

England responded, this time Blair firing a shot inches wide of the far post before Italy broke once more. Striker Carmine De Sena should really have done better when one-on-one, but he scuffed his low shot straight at Hedge.

Italy continued to caress the ball across the slippery Highbury pitch – Federico Angiulli crossing deep for De Sena, who expertly cushioned a header back to Corazza. After a smart turn, the Pisa youngster could only slide the ball wide.

The England crowd roared into life; Kieron Forbes drove through the Azzuri defence before pulling back for Rose, but the Fleetwood winger smashed his shot straight at Brignoli.

De Sena squandered another one-on-one, before Matty Blair perfectly slotted the ball through for Coulson; Brignoli forced the Grimsby winger wide and seemingly did enough as Coulson could only poke into the side netting.

The lively Corazza unfortunately suffered an early injury – Lorenzo Benedetti came on to replace his countryman.

England, clearly rattled from another wasted De Sena one-on-one, sprung into action; Rose tried his luck from range before Scott Spencer’s 30 yard drive flew inches over the bar.

Blair and Coulson shone on the England flanks; the latter firing over from just outside the box after another good Lions move.

Substitute Benedetti had his first sniff at goal shortly before the interval, taking advantage of a Kenny Davis slip before wastefully scooping the ball into the crowd.

Federico Angiulli rounded off a slick Italian move by squirting a low rasper just wide of Hedge’s near post before referee Kalklavan called time on an electric, but somehow goalless, first half.

However, it didn’t take long from the restart before the deadlock was broken. Hesitancy in the England backline allowed Angiulli enough time to pick his spot, carefully curling the ball over the stranded Hedge and into the top corner.

Reminiscent of the great Alessandro Del Piero, it was a superbly taken goal which had the home crowd respectfully applauding its genius.

Fairclough’s lions roared in response; Coulson with two darting runs down the right wing, the second born from some intricate one touch passing between Davis and Forbes. However, the final ball eluded Spencer at the far post.

England began to turn the screw, robbing the Azzuri of possession in the centre before Jamie Turley’s powerful shot clattered off Spencer and inches clear of the post.

This was better from the home side; knocking the ball with seem-less ease, Davis hit powerfully towards goal, but an unlucky deflection from the helpless Spencer sent it inches wide of the near post.

Coulson spearheaded the attack down the right, two beautiful runs had D’Orsi scrambling in his wake, but again the delivery was slightly behind the advancing England strike force.

Italy boss Georgio Veneri brought on Manuel Marras to sure up his midfield, replacing the tiring Bencivenga.

Jamie Turley headed just wide from a deep England corner before Fairclough considered the first England changes.

Barrow’s Adam Boyes replaced Spencer up front, before Rose made way for York’s Ashley Chambers – Forest Green’s Jamie Turley handed the captaincy by the departing Fleetwood man.

With constant changes from the bench, the game wasn’t allowed to live up to the pulsating heights of the first half.

Luca Strizzolo came on for De Sena, before Fairclough issued two more from the bench; Adam Watkins of Luton and Southport’s Andy Owens were introduced in place of the lively Blair and Forbes.

Boyes broke free following a lapse of concentration from D’Orsi, but again his cross could only find  Brignoli.

Coulson frightened with another jinxing run, eventually latching on to a return ball from Chambers; the Mariners man took a touch before smashing wide of the top corner.

Then, out of nothing, came England’s most clear cut chance of the half. Coulson somehow brought down Oshodi’s high, looping clearance on the edge of the Azzuri box and when the ball broke through for Boyes, the Barrow striker calmly slotted towards goal – somehow Brignoli managed to stick out a leg and divert the ball wide of the far post.

Angiulli relieved the pressure, sending a rare shot wide of the post as the Italians looked to punish on the counter.

However, it was all England second half and the reward duly came deep into stoppage time. Kevin Roberts sent in a deep ball towards the back post and when the otherwise faultless Brignoli advanced into no-man’s land, it was left to substitute Adam Watkins to coolly lob the ball into the net.

It was nothing less than Paul Fairclough’s men deserved, ending a rip-roaring spectacle on the Lancashire coast.

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How Times Change – York (H) (FA Trophy Quarter Final)

And so, as all good things eventually do, Grimsby’s impressive unbeaten run has finally come to an end.

A resurgent York City, hurt by their midweek loss to Gateshead, arrived at Blundell Park and duly spoilt the party; Scott Kerr’s late header enough to settle a deceptively even FA Trophy Quarter Final tie.

In truth it was not a match for the purists, but a fascinating tactical tussle between two sides that, for 83 minutes at least, cancelled each other out.

With the eagerly anticipated League match between the two falling foul of the weather earlier this month, the air of expectancy had quietly shifted to yesterday’s Trophy tie.

Rob Scott and Paul Hurst faced several selection problems in the build-up; with seven players out (some cup-tied, some injured) the Mariners were down to the bare bones.

Scott Garner and Frankie Artus suffered knocks from the trip to Southport, whilst new signings Kiernan Hughes-Mason, Louie Soares and Ian Miller had already represented other clubs in the competition.

Striker Anthony Elding started his two match ban following punishment from the FA for a misconduct charge.

James McKeown started in goal, behind a back four of Conor Townsend, Gary Silk, Shaun Pearson and Charlie I’Anson.

Craig Disley and Andi Thanoj continued their midfield partnership, with Michael Coulson on the left and Anthony Church coming in on the right.

Rob Duffy, impressive from the bench of late, started up front with League top scorer Liam Hearn.

Serge Makofo, Bradley Wood, Dayle Southwell, Josh Freeman and Steve Croudson completed an under-strength Town bench.

York boss Gary Mills opted for a strong side including former Town loanee Ashley Chambers and striker Jason Walker, who scored a wonder goal when the two sides met at Bootham Crescent earlier this season.

The visitors started strongly, exerting heavy pressure towards the Pontoon; Disley, Pearson and Silk all alert to clear the early aerial bombardment.

Michael Coulson, called up to the England C squad this week, probed the York backline with a cutting run but could only shape his effort wide of Michael Ingham’s near post as the Mariners began to settle.

The Minstermen responded when Captain Chris Smith’s header looped over the bar after a smart cross from Chambers.

Both sides were showing enormous respect for their counterparts as the game became concentrated in midfield.

Conor Townsend tried his luck from range after Duffy had been brought down 30 yards from goal; the Hull youngster curled it beautifully over the wall, but Ingham was equal to it all the way.

A succession of counter attacks followed. Townsend was at his best to read an exquisite Kerr through ball, before issuing one of his own; over the top for Hearn, who beat City’s static offside trap. However, Ingham was alert to deny Town’s talisman.

The Mariners had suddenly found their footing and, with York on the back foot, carved several chances to edge ahead.

First Liam Hearn’s fierce volley was well blocked by Ben Gibson, before Charlie I’Anson found himself centimetres away from converting Coulson’s drilled corner.

York, in their trademark red shirts, reacted through Chambers; his long range effort had McKeown worried as it flew wide of the near post.

Duffy and Hearn showed glimpses of a partnership, combining well before the latter laid off for Church; the midfielder’s effort curled wide, prompting shouts of frustration from the former Boston man.

Thanoj, arguably keeping Church out of his preferred central role, set Hearn free with a trademark diagonal through ball – again Ingham was out quickly to deny the home attack once more.

Referee Bratt, fussy at best, awarded York a free-kick on the edge of the Town box; a well worked routine straight from the training ground almost paid dividends with McLaughlin firing just wide.

It was end to end football in Cleethorpes, for Grimsby broke back immediately – Hearn bringing the ball down in the York box before firing another rasper towards the near post. Ingham was down superbly to push the ball onto the post and out for a corner.

Jason Walker, who had been surprisingly quiet throughout the first half, found Matty Blair with a beautifully crafted pass. Blair raced clear but wastefully pulled his effort wide of the far post.

However, it was Chambers who wasted the better chance just before the half time whistle; racing clear of I’Anson, the former Leicester player took a slightly heavy touch which allowed McKeown to block his toe-poked effort.

The Mariners began the second half brightly, knocking the ball around with plenty more pace. Pearson rose brilliantly to connect with Townsend’s long free-kick, but could only muster enough power to head the ball at Ingham.

Town attacked intently, Hearn breaking into the box on two occasions before crossing for Duffy who, leaning back, volleyed his effort over the bar and into the Pontoon.

Walker mimicked his counterpart, blasting over after Disley could only flick on York’s long throw-in.

Church then overstretched for a tackle, injuring himself in the process; Bradley Wood was preferred to replace him.

Thanoj, who boasts an effortless range of passing, found Hearn once more with a scything through ball, but the Town striker couldn’t control when seemingly clear of the York defence.

Pearson, monumental in the air once more, cleared again before the sprightly McLaughlin caught a volley clean; this time Disley put his body on the line to block it, his effort epitomising the nature of the game unfolding in front of the 3600-strong Blundell Park crowd.

Chambers, a bundle of talent at this level, snuck past Townsend before chipping one over McKeown’s bar; the danger was still there.

Chris Smith suffered the game’s first yellow card after a late challenge on Duffy, before York brought on Adriano Moke in place of Blair.

Then came Town’s major talking point; Townsend swung in a cross which clattered Alnre Oyebanjo’s outstretched shoulder, prompting huge cries for a penalty around Blundell Park. By the letter of the law, it should have been given – but referee Blatt waved play on.

Oyebanjo was then cynically brought down by Silk – Town’s right back had no arguments with the yellow card that followed.

Serge Makofo was introduced in a late cameo, replacing an ineffective Michael Coulson.

Duffy found Hearn with a precise through ball as Town looked for the winner; Hearn’s effort well parried by Ingham with nobody in the box to pounce on the rebound.

McLaughlin was replaced by Jon Challinor before the away side found a crucial cutting edge.

Moke laid the ball back for Oyebanjo on the far side, the right back swinging in a delightful cross which left the Grimsby backline motionless. Kerr ghosted in unmarked, deftly flicking the ball across goal and into the side netting. Without doubt, it was a fantastic header fitting to win an enthralling cup tie.

York held firm, keeping the ball in the corners before Chambers should have finished it in style – racing clear from Townsend, the striker blasted high into Osmond.

Town committed more forward, Duffy going down far too easily in search for a penalty much to the goalscorer’s disapproval. Kerr shoved the Welshman in the chest in full view of Blatt, who promptly issued a caution; in truth, it could have been worse for both Kerr and Duffy.

It was all in vain for Town as York kept the ball and saw out the clock, inflicting defeat on Town for the first time since December.

However, despite the result, there are no doubt plenty of positives for Mariners fans to consider. Full attention can now be focussed on the League with a stronger squad to choose from; cup matches will no longer disrupt a settled starting eleven – something which could be paramount with no less than nine League games next month.

The performance from a depleted squad held their own against a strong York side; with the rearranged League fixture coming up in March, Town will no doubt fancy revenge with a full strength team to choose from.

More importantly, though, is that Scott and Hurst’s side look ten times the team that surrendered at Bootham Crescent last October.

A blessing in disguise – possibly, as Paul Hurst mentioned in his post match interview. The loss will still hurt, but Town now have the perfect opportunity to respond; fourteen games remain, more than enough to grind out a more rewarding unbeaten run.

It all starts with the visit of Braintree next weekend.


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Friday Night Lights – Southport (A)

A gritty performance, another gritty win – but at this stage of the season three points is all that matters.

The Mariners continued their impressive unbeaten run last night, defeating a strong Southport side 2-1 in front of the television cameras at a blustery Haig Avenue.

It was far from pretty – manager Rob Scott admitted it wasn’t one for the purists – but victory now means Grimsby sit outside of the Play-Offs on goal difference.

Ian Miller netted his first for the club, cancelling out Anthony Elding’s own goal before Liam Hearn scored late on to clinch the points for Scott and Hurst’s men.

The management duo made just one change to the starting eleven – Miller returning to the heart of the defence after being cup-tied for the Bath clash last week. Latest signing Louie Soares had to settle for a place on the bench.

James McKeown started in goal behind the back four of Miller, Scott Garner, Conor Townsend and Gary Silk.

Town faced a daunting trip to a blustery Haig Avenue

Craig Disley and Andi Thanoj continued in central midfield, with Michael Coulson on the right and Frankie Artus on the left. Liam Hearn and Anthony Elding completed the 4-4-2 formation up front.

With Town losing their last televised game at home to Luton earlier this season, they almost found themselves behind in the opening exchanges after Karl Ledsham marvellously beat the offside trap; however, his shot was well saved by McKeown from a tight angle.

Port captain Alan Moogan tested the Town stopper with a powerful effort on three minutes as the home side settled into their stride.

The Mariners continued to struggle as Ledsham sent another warning shot over the crossbar on the ten minute mark.

Then, a worrying moment for all Town fans as Scott Garner lay motionless following a clash of heads; skipper Disley immediately signalled for the physio, whilst Garner looked all out of sorts as he was stretchered off.

Shaun Pearson was introduced, immediately rising highest and brilliantly heading clear a Southport corner.

A minute later and Pearson was threatening the Port goal – after Hearn had broken the offside trap to pick up another superb Thanoj pass, his cross was deflected for a corner. Artus swung it in, Pearson eventually steering a volley just wide of the near post.

Town began to settle; Elding showing some neat hold up play before laying the ball for Hearn; however, his turn and snapshot was easy pickings for Port goalkeeper Tony McMillan.

Port responded with a spell of heavy pressure – McKeown was busy in the Town goal, as was Pearson in the heart of defence. First, the former Boston man cleared Ledsham’s corner before blocking Mukendi’s effort wide for a corner.

However, he was powerless to stop the opening goal as Southport finally made their pressure tell; another impressive Ledsham corner this time found Mukendi, who headed goalwards before the ball took a wicked deflection off Elding and nestled in McKeown’s net.

In a week the Conference awarded two dubious goals to the Town front man, there was no doubt that the decisive touch had come from him.

Mukendi couldn’t find the net after some tricky footwork had fooled Thanoj and Pearson; his overstretched left footer flew high out of the Avenue.

However, as a scrappy first half drew to a close, the Mariners drew level.

Moments after Pearson narrowly headed over from an Artus corner, Town found themselves in a similar position in first half stoppage time.

This time, Artus curled in and Miller rose highest to head powerfully past McMillan, sending the 331 travelling Mariners into rapture.

Town started the second half much brighter; Artus, Thanoj and Elding combined through some neat passing, but Elding squandered his return ball when it looked easier to shoot.

Pearson continued to play like a man possessed, throwing himself into a last ditch tackle on Gray before Townsend sent the loose ball over for Hearn; once again, the Town top scorer beat the offside trap but his touch around McMillan was much too heavy.

Townsend tried his luck from range, but his effort flew harmlessly into the Town contingent.

Southport winger Shaun Whalley, who had given Townsend a tough time during the first half, almost put the home side back ahead after drilling the ball across goal – Gray couldn’t find the slightest of toe ends to convert.

Disley was rightly booked after hauling down Moogan, before misjudging a routine back-pass and knocking the ball out for a corner. Pearson rose highest to clear once more, before Simon Grand shinned the follow up just wide.

Rob Duffy, impressive from the bench of late, and Anthony Church were introduced for Elding and Disley as Town began to push for a winner.

And it dually came in the 82nd minute; after Gray squandered a great chance from eight yards out, the Mariners broke with pace and seemingly forced the ball into the Southport box through the tireless Coulson.

Liam Hearn’s first effort was well blocked by McMillan, but the rebound fell straight to the Town marksman; this time there was no mistake as the in-form striker chipped the ball scrappily into the net, prompting scenes of pure jubilation from the away end.

Town faced 8 minutes of relentless pressure; Moogan scooped an effort over the bar after more promising work from Whalley, before James Ellison and Sam Sheridan replaced Moogan and Mukendi.

Pearson stood strong once more, blocking Ellison’s powerful shot as the Mariners held firm, holding the ball in the corner for time.

Ellison sent a late header wide before referee Duncan sounded the whistle that all Town fans were begging for, sending them up to 6th and (after today’s results) just a solitary point off a coveted Play-Off spot.

In stark contrast to previous years, this Town side just doesn’t give up. Back in September, Town were a massive fifteen points off the top five.

Now they’re just one – and whether they make it or not, one cannot deny it has been a fabulous ride.


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The Curse Has Lifted – Bath (A) (FA Trophy)

It is believed the mark of a good team is to grind out a result when not at its best.

That can be said for the performance of Grimsby Town last night, away at Bath City in the FA Trophy. Whilst it was not the same standard that has impressed the Blundell Park faithful of late, the determination of this team, embodied by an incredible unbeaten run, has been paramount in forcing results when needed most.

Case and point was Telford last Saturday – the Mariners were bullied but didn’t stop pushing. Belief, which would have easily been lost in recent years, remained intact. Town had to apply similar last night.

With Rob Scott serving the first of his two match touchline ban, it was left to Paul Hurst to run affairs from the bench.

The management duo was forced into making changes, with four of their squad cup-tied from representing other clubs in the competition; including latest signing Louie Soares.

Ian Miller was the only absentee from the starting eleven – replaced by Shaun Pearson at the back.

Temperatures dropped to -4 at Twerton Park

James McKeown retained his place in goal, behind a back four of Gary Silk, Conor Townsend, Scott Garner and Pearson.

Craig Disley partnered Andi Thanoj in central midfield, with Frankie Artus on the left and Michael Coulson on the right; the latter was making his 100th appearance for the Mariners on the back of an International call up for the England C side.

Liam Hearn and Anthony Elding continued up front.

Rob Duffy, Serge Makofo, Dayle Southwell, Anthony Church and Charlie I’Anson completed the Town bench.

With the original tie falling victim to last weekend’s cold snap, the Mariners wasted no time in imposing their intentions; Michael Coulson spurned a great chance to put Town ahead within the first fifteen seconds.

Conor Townsend looped a long ball forward and when Anthony Elding’s flick-on was misjudged by Paul Stonehouse, the Town winger found himself with a clear run on goal. However, Coulson could only slot his effort wide of Glyn Garner’s far post in front of the 82-strong travelling support.

Elding, who signed a new contract with the club this week, couldn’t convert when he rounded Garner following a terrific (and increasingly trademark) through ball from Andi Thanoj; the young midfielder is continuing to impress, showing a refreshing range of vision from central midfield.

With the temperature dropping around Twerton Park, the match settled into an enthralling, testing cup tie as both teams began to press for the breakthrough.

Following a positive spell of pressure, Bath’s first real chance came on the quarter hour mark – striker Lee Phillips turned smartly just inside the Town box before forcing McKeown to save with his legs.

Midfield veteran Alex Russell tried his luck from range, but his effort flew harmlessly over McKeown’s bar. At the other end, Thanoj continued to probe the Romans defence with another perfectly weighted pass for Hearn – this time Joe Burnell was wise to it, expertly timing his last ditch tackle to thwart Town’s leading scorer.

Coulson then wasted a good chance from a Town free-kick after Thanoj was brought down on the edge of the penalty area; however, his effort was closer to clearing the stand than troubling Garner in the City net.

Exeter Loanee Chris Shephard set himself up with a classy touch after Marc Canham’s cross, but his shot curled wide of McKeown’s post as the home side continued to push; on this showing, it is hard to believe that City prop up the Blue Square table.

With Bath in full flow, it was only a matter of time before they edged ahead.

After Gary Silk misjudged a deep cross, Shephard nipped in to control the ball and slot past McKeown, who had no chance following a deflection off Scott Garner’s arm.

Marc Canham tested McKeown from outside the area, but the Town stopper was down quickly to prevent a second.

The Mariners hadn’t played in ten days and with training disrupted because of poor weather, signs of rustiness were showing.

However, despite a subdued showing Town were still creating chances and could have been level shortly before the interval.

After Townsend’s long free-kick, the ball eventually found its way to Elding who broke free from the City backline – his left footed effort was pushed wide by Garner as Bath went into the break ahead.

Grimsby came out early for the second half as they looked to keep their shape better and push on for the equaliser.

Eight minutes in and Town found it.

After Coulson was brought down inside the Bath half, Artus stepped up to whip in a deep free-kick; and when Garner advanced to punch, Elding bravely rose to glance his header into the empty net.

City right back Sekani Simpson was injured in the clash with his goalkeeper and had to be replaced by club captain Jim Rollo shortly after.

Artus’ long free-kicks were proving dangerous – after another one was loosely cleared, the Town winger latched on to the loose ball but could only volley wide.

The home side responded; Lee Phillips skipped past Pearson with ease before Gary Silk threw himself into a brilliant last-gasp tackle to clear – the Town right back atoning for his earlier error that led to the City opener.

With the thought of a replay looming, both sides began to exert pressure on the break. Stonehouse showed quality when bursting through the Town defence, but McKeown parried the defender’s powerful shot out of play.

From the resulting corner, Romans-legend Rollo ghosted in and headed down only for the impressive Artus to acrobatically clear off the line; it would have been the defender’s first goal for the club in almost five years.

Liam Hearn, unusually quiet on the night, saw an effort well blocked before his night was brought to an end; Paul Hurst replacing him with a newly rejuvenated Rob Duffy. Anthony Church was also introduced for Craig Disley.

It would prove to be an inspired substitution from Hurst, for two minutes later Town were ahead – and in some style.

Duffy collected the ball outside his own box, turning Russell and off-loading the ball to Townsend on the left.

Townsend, Church, Elding and Artus then combined with a flurry of superb one touch passes before the latter crossed in from the by-line; Elding flicked the ball away from the defender which allowed Duffy, who started the move, to control and lash the ball into the net with his left foot.

Completely out of the blue, the Mariners had produced a moment of supreme quality to edge ahead.

Gary Silk, clearly intent on making up for his mistake, made another timely last-ditch tackle to deny Phillips before Bath introduced Jamie Cook and youngster Josh Egan.

Five minutes were added on due to the injury to Simpson – and Town almost sealed it as the fourth official held up his board. Elding raced clear down the right before looking to cross for Duffy; however, Gallinagh somehow got back to clear out for a corner.

Shephard squandered a last minute chance to send the tie into a replay – his effort was well parried by McKeown.

Southwell replaced Elding in a late cameo to eat up time before referee Robinson blew for time and sent Town marching in to their first competitive Quarter Final appearance since 2007. They face the winners of York and Ebbsfleet after their match fell foul to the weather last night.

Whilst it wasn’t the impressive Town of late, the momentum of the unbeaten run now continues into Saturday’s crunch tie with York.

And in all honestly, it’s in this sort of victory you learn most about a team and their determination to succeed.


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Saturday’s Are A Joy Again – AFC Telford (H)

The gap to the Play-Offs is now just a meagre two points.

The turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular.  Rob Scott and Paul Hurst have transformed this team from a jangling bag of nerves to one which can’t stop winning.

The Mariners now possess a squad of men that are relentless in running themselves into the ground for ninety minutes – whatever the score. Ian Miller was still putting his head where it hurts against Bath City, despite the Town leading six nil.

And it was same attitude on Saturday that saw Town eventually overcome Andy Sinton’s Telford at Blundell Park.

In truth, the visitors had done their homework – the Bucks lined up 4-5-1, a fluid formation that can change from an impenetrable wall of defence into an aggressive counter attack.

For 81 minutes, it worked. Telford didn’t allow Grimsby to settle; when in possession, the Mariners were backed into their own half as yellow shirts towered like a playground bully.

Yet this Town side simply doesn’t surrender anymore. Six months ago, this side would’ve cowered and taken the abuse. It would’ve conceded under pressure. Not anymore – now it bites back with vengeance, coiled like a rattlesnake waiting for the perfect moment to administer its blow.

It’s not just the mentality of the team that has changed, either. The grey cloud that previously sat over Blundell Park has started to lift. Flecks of blue are starting to appear in the sky, the storm seemingly has passed.

For not once during Saturday’s match did the fans turn on the team like they have in previous years. Whilst there were groans of frustration, there wasn’t the abuse born from sheer footballing depression. Gone is the anger if a pass is slightly over hit or wayward, replaced by applauding recognition of the intention.

Perhaps people are scared of Rob Scott; the fear of his icy death-stare, the dread of his hot-headed tirades; the dictator of Blundell Park.

It is either that, or fans are realising the work rate of this team.  As hard as it is to believe, Grimsby fans can take losing – they can recognise being beaten by a better side. All they have asked in return is for those representing the black and white to give everything they have to the cause; to never give up.

Their request has now been granted.

Traditions of the past are slowly starting to return to Cleethorpes. Three stands roaring in unison as Town push forward in search of a decider, the noise has now returned from its sabbatical. ‘Mariners!’ is bellowed to the highest echelon of the Upper Smiths (or whatever it is these days…) as Blundell Park transforms into its alter ego, a fiery cauldron of hostility for the visitors.

Whilst it is not fully transformed, the signs were present on Saturday.

Telford came out fighting, trying to unsettle the mood. Bodies remained behind the ball in an attempt to nudge the Blundell Park faithful towards a familiar mood of the past.

The Mariners had early chances to stifle their opponents. Michael Coulson was scythed down in full flight, but Frankie Artus could only blast the resulting free-kick into the bottom of the Telford wall.

Andi Thanoj continued to impress in the middle, showing great vision to pick out Coulson’s run with another slide pass that is fast becoming a trademark for the young midfielder; it is hard to believe he’s still a teenager.

Frankie Artus, a rejuvenated figure on the left, sprinted down the wing before flicking the ball to Liam Hearn – his effort was well blocked as Town looked to breach the Bucks’ defence.

Telford responded, Chris Sharp testing James McKeown with a snapshot from the edge of the box; easy pickings for the Town stopper.

However, two minutes later and McKeown had to be at his best to deny Sharp again – breaking free from the Town defence, the Telford striker rounded McKeown,  who did well to get a touch on the ball and force a corner.

The Mariners continued to knock the ball about neatly, but good football was proving ineffective against the stubborn Bucks’ backline. Conor Townsend found Anthony Elding, who chested down for Artus to volley first time for Hearn – although brought back for offside, the Town faithful applauded in appreciation.

25 minutes in, Marlon Jackson suffered an injury which forced him off – Telford brought on the portly Kyle Perry to lead the attack. Perry, who had played twice against Town for Lincoln only a month ago, wasted no time in ‘warming’ to the home fans – apparently slapping Scott Garner just seconds after coming on.

Artus then found Coulson on the right, who blasted across goal for Hearn; Town’s leading scorer did well to get a foot on it, but couldn’t slide it past goalkeeper Ryan Young.

The scouts had come in droves to watch Hearn, who slowly started to show signs of his class towards the end of the first half. Fooling the defender with a double step-over, Hearn paced through with ease before seeing his cross deflected inches wide of Coulson’s outstretched boot. Promising from Hearn, who jokingly complained over Twitter about the omission of his skills from the Grimsby highlights package.

Former Crewe winger Steve Jones looked threatening for the visitors; a 60 yard run at goal thwarted only by McKeown, who blocked the shot with his chest.

Nathan Rooney then tried his luck from range, but his curling effort was well over McKeown’s cross bar.

A testing first half for both sides ended deservedly even.

Scott Garner, enjoying a purple patch as of late, almost headed Town into an early second half lead, latching on to Elding’s cross as the Mariners began to up the gears.

Conor Townsend progressed forward down the left, finding Hearn who again burst into the box with searing pace – this time his cross-cum-shot flew low across goal, just evading Elding.

Former Mariner Ben Futcher suffered the game’s first caution, cynically bringing down Craig Disley as the Town midfielder charged forward.

The Town skipper showed his determination in defence moments later, expertly timing his sliding tackle to break up a Telford counter attack.

Elding began to drop deeper to find the ball; it almost paid off as the former Stockport man drilled in a tantalising cross for Disley, only for Young to punch clear. Hearn’s follow up effort was deflected wide as the Town faithful began to roar once more.

However, it was Telford who wasted a brilliant chance to edge ahead – after a measured counter, Rooney forced McKeown into a double save before Futcher found himself unmarked at the back post from the resulting corner; somehow the central defender headed wide of the near post.

Rob Duffy replaced Elding shortly after; the latter didn’t have the best of games, but gave everything to the cause.

It would prove to be an inspired substitution; Scott and Hurst have praised the desire to win in recent weeks, particularly from those introduced from the bench.

Duffy didn’t contradict his manager’s comments, heading in Hearn’s superb left-footed cross at the back post before wheeling away in delight. Blundell Park was booming – it looked a simple header, but Duffy (who looks a lot trimmer than he did just months ago) had plenty of ground to make up, plus the pressure of the Telford left back.

Nevertheless the ball nestled in the bottom corner, provoking scenes of jubilation both on and off the pitch. All of the work, desire and refusal to give up were beginning to pay off.

Hearn so nearly doubled the lead a minute later; after picking the ball up on the left, the striker flip-flapped his way past former Mariner Dwayne Samuels before curling an effort against the outside of the far post. It was a breathtaking piece of skill that had many Town fans on their feet – the ghost of Alan Connell seemingly laid to rest.

Duffy brought down Jones just in front of the dugouts – receiving a yellow card for his troubles.

The Mariners needed a second to kill the game off – and with a minute left on the clock, they didn’t disappoint.

Thanoj won the ball on the edge of his own box, before feeding Hearn on the right flank; the young midfielder burst forward, screaming for a return ball to which Hearn responded.

Thanoj waited and waited before finally squaring the ball across the box for Artus, who rounded his marker with a superb turn and slotted past Young to seal all three points.

Kiernan Hughes-Mason replaced the tireless Hearn, a smart piece of management from the duo as talisman Hearn was given another standing ovation; as was Hughes-Mason when he sprinted on.

However, there was little time for Town’s latest signing to make an impact as referee Bond called for time.

By all means, this wasn’t the Town that ripped through Bath City just a week ago. But the mark of a good side is forcing a result without playing their best, which is exactly what Scott and Hurst’s side had done. A trait widely associated with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea and once of Wenger’s invincibles.

With other sides around them dropping points, the gap had been closed – Tuesday’s point at Barrow had been backed up with a home win and now looks as valuable point as any.

Next up, a break from the league as Town travel to Bath City in the FA Trophy – then Tamworth away, before what could be the game of the season at home to York.


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