If the Mariners are going to get out of the Conference this season, they’re going to have to do it the hard way. Three times they went ahead against Alfreton, yet three defensive lapses pulled the home side back into the game. Had the referee given Alfreton a last minute penalty when Aswad Thomas blocked a goalbound shot with his hand, it could have been a lot worse. As it was, Grimsby escaped with a draw in a game they could, and perhaps should, have put to bed by half-time.
The Mariners needed a response after a disappointing midweek performance against Halifax and they got it. Despite arriving two hours late and the match kicking off at 4.20pm, Town started the brighter and took the lead early on. I wrote earlier this week that Ross Hannah is a confidence striker who scores in batches and so it proved. Finding himself clear on goal, although at an acute angle, his attempted lob trickled past the wrong-footed goalkeeper and into the empty net. The goal galvinsed Alfreton who drew level when Town failed to clear effectively (not for the first time this season) and Law hammered home from eight yards. The Mariners, however, started to regain control of the game and went 2-1 up when John-Lewis and Ross Hannah combined for the latter to knock home from what looked like an offside position. It was perhaps a little fortuitous – a mixture of luck and appalling defending – but it’s certainly something Town have lacked in recent weeks.
2-1 up at half-time and the message would surely be to keep it tight. Yet within two minutes the awkward Akinde wiggled his way past Pearson and went down in the box after Town’s centre-half stuck out a leg. The striker dusted himself down to fire the spot kick past James McKeown. Once again Town grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and dictated play. Kempson should have been sent off for a professional foul on Ross Hannah yet was just booked, while Neilson saw an effort deflected over the bar. Bradley Wood, himself booked, blocked a shot with his hands in the box (a definite pen and a sending off??) but Town eventually re-took the lead when Shaun Pearson tricked his way past Kempson before being hauled down. It was a penalty and a booking – the spot kick was given but the defender missed out on a double punishment that would surely have killed the game off. Hannah smashed the ball into the net for his hat-tick and that should have been that.
Alfreton, to their credit, looked down and out but in the final five minutes not only drew level but should have won the game. A long aimless ball played into Town’s box should have been allowed to drift out of play, but for some reason Aswad Thomas switched off and headed the ball into his own six yard box. Clayton, anonymous up to that point, knocked home when there was previously no danger at all. Seconds later, Akinde got a shot off which looked as if it was going to sneak into the corner, Thomas handled to stop the ball going in and the referee waved play in. It perhaps evened out Wood’s earlier indiscretion, but Town had got out of jail. In truth they deserved to win handsomely, yet almost lost at the death.
This was a much improved performance. Town played the ball on the floor, Thanoj looked comfortable in possession and the forward movement, particularly after Hannah grabbed his goals, was the best in recent matches. A win against Hyde means that, worst case scenario, Town would need a draw on the final day of the season at rivals Braintree to grab a Play Off spot. If results go for us, a win against Hyde could be enough. Town cannot take Monday’s game for granted – they should do so at their peril. But it immediately becomes the team’s most important game since Burton on the final day of the our last Football League season.