GRIMSBY TOWN 1 FOREST GREEN ROVERS 1
Grimsby Town’s Blue Square Bet Premier Play Off hopes suffered another setback on Tuesday night as they were held to a 1-1 draw by struggling Forest Green Rovers at Blundell Park, writes Bernard Johnson
It had looked good for Neil Woods’ much-changed side when Michael Coulson fired them into an eighth-minute lead but the visitors responded superbly and deserved their equaliser through Reece Styche’s 36th-minute strike.
The Mariners penned Rovers back for long periods in an action-packed second half but, not unlike their last home outing with Cambridge, they failed to find the breakthrough.
Woods had promised changes going into the game and he was true to his word. Captain Rob Atkinson was the big surprise, dropping to the bench in favour of Steven Watt. He was joined in the dugout by fellow contract rebel Peter Bore and new signing Serge Makofo – Bradley Wood and Rob Eagle being restored to the starting XI. There was also a run-out for Dean Sinclair in the centre of the park, in place of the suspended Micky Cummins.
Dave Hockaday named an adventurous attacking line-up for the visit to the East Coast, with the quartet of Yan Klukowski, Reece Styche, Liam Enver-Marum and Ross Dyer all in advanced positions. Kieron Forbes (younger brother of ex-Mariner Adrian) was penned as one to watch in midfield, whilst former Grimsby defender Craig Armstrong had to settle for a berth on the bench.
Town were out of the blocks the quicker of the two side and Rob Duffy had the evening’s first shot on target inside 15 seconds and with less than half-a-minute on the clock the Mariners had the ball in the net. Mark Hudson slipped a pass through for top scorer Alan Connell and he fired home emphatically only for the offside flag to curtail his celebrations.
There was a scare for the Mariners when Sinclair sloppily gave the ball away on halfway to Styche and he advanced to power a 30-yard effort at goal, which goalkeeper Kenny Arthur did well to parry.
From their next attack, the hosts took the lead. Just eight minutes had elapsed when Lee Ridley launched a long throw into the Forest Green box from the left. It was partially cleared to the edge of the 18-yard box where Coulson was on hand to fire into the top left corner of the goal.
With their noses in front before the ten-minute mark for the second successive home game and their inability to punish Cambridge fresh in their minds, Mariners’ fans can be forgiven for expecting an onslaught from their side. It never materialised though and the visitors upped the tempo, creating several good opportunities.
Styche, as he had been in the reverse fixture at the New Lawn in October, was the main threat. He again tried his luck with a speculative long-range effort – Arthur electing to tip over on this occasion – before wasting a glorious chance from the resulting corner. The home side failed to clear their lines and a looping header from Chris Stokes presented Styche with an opening but he fired his volley over from six yards.
The duo combined again as the game approached the half hour mark. This time Styche laid off for Stokes, who outpaced the Town defence but was denied by a fantastic save from the feet of Arthur.
There was no such let off on 36 minutes though. The Mariners’ back line was caught hopelessly out of position and this allowed Styche to stride away and clip the ball over the advancing Arthur to level matters.
Indeed, it could have been even better for the visitors had Ross Dyer made the most of his opportunity two minutes later. Styche was again the supply line, playing in his team-mate on the right-hand edge of the box but the shot ruffled the side netting, much to the relief of the Blundell Park faithful.
Woods responded by making a double switch at the interval – Bore for Ridley and Michael Leary for Sinclair. Bore slotted in at right back with Bradley Wood moving over to the opposite flank, whilst Leary lined up in the centre of midfield.
The turning point of the half came on 51 minutes. Duffy slid in on the edge of the area as visiting stopper James Bittner dallied on a long ball. The ‘keeper went down in installments, clutching his forehead – only to subsequently receive treatment on the back of his head. It was only then that Duffy was booked, only for the referee to inexplicably call for a drop ball, from which he allowed Bittner to stand in front of Duffy and collect in his hands inside the area.
This infuriated both Town fans and bench and it stirred the atmosphere inside Blundell Park and that transferred to the eleven men out on the field. The Mariners’ first chance of the half fell to Eagle. Bore played a ball into Connell, who tantalised the visiting defence with a series of flicks before laying off the winger, who only succeeded in pulling his effort well wide of the target.
Just past the hour the hosts should have been celebrating a second. Eagle fired in a corner from the right and Watt stole a march on his marker. The header was a powerful downward one but the momentum of the ball saw it bounce off the turf and over the crossbar.
Bittner was again infuriating the Mariners’ fans with his blatant timewasting and tendency to exit his area when kicking the ball from his hands and on one such occasion he was punished by the assistant referee on the Main Stand side of the ground. A free kick was awarded right on the 18-yard line and Connell drifted an effort in, which only needed a touch to edge the home side in front.
The introduction of Steve Guinan, goalscorer when Cheltenham defeated the Mariners in the League Two Play Off Final in 2006, was greeted with a chorus of boos but the experienced frontman was just what the visitors needed – taking the sting out of Town’s tail by holding the ball up well and drawing fouls from the home defence. Although Forest Green barely made inroads into the final third – a solitary effort from Styche, which trickled into the arms of Arthur being all they had to show for their efforts.
Woods’ last roll of the dice was the introduction of Makofo for Hudson and a change in formation to 4-3-3. The Congolese attacker was at the heart of the Mariners’ final chance of the match – deep into six minutes of added time. He linked up well with Eagle on the left and the ball across ran all the way through for Duffy, sliding in at the far post. He managed to hook his foot around the ball but it cannoned off the post and to safety.
The final whistle was greeted by boos from the 2,400-strong home crowd, whilst the visitors acknowledged the 14 hardy souls who had made the journey from Gloucestershire.