Fleetwood Town 2, Grimsby Town 1. A LATE change of fortunes helped Fleetwood Town march eight points clear at the top of the Conference in a full-blooded seafaring battle.
Micky Mellon’s Cod Army looked to have met their match in the Mariners of Grimsby, but Jamie Vardy’s last-ditch broadside was enough to seal victory for the home side, who are now unbeaten in 21 league outings.
On paper Grimsby looked a tough nut to crack.
Unbeaten in 15 games, the Lincolnshire side, jointly managed by Rob Scott and Paul Hurst are knocking on the door of the Conference playoffs – keen to secure a swift return to the Football League.
Fleetwood, of course, have loftier ambitions – the Conference title their goal.
And the desire of both teams was evident in a blood and thunder opening period.
Micky Mellon made one change to the side which beat Tamworth 3-0 on Saturday, Junior Brown, coming in at left back in place of Alan Goodall.
Both sides looked to play the game at a high tempo and it was end to end stuff, Fleetwood grabbing the best of the early chances – Jamie Vardy’s stinging shot too much for James McKeown, Gareth Seddon unable to get a boot on the ball with the goal wide open.
But the home side were dealt a blow with just under 20 minutes on the clock – thanks to a comedy of errors in defence.
Steve McNulty’s misplaced pass couldn’t have been more inviting to 27-goal ace Liam Hearn, the young striker driving into the Fleetwood box, and Peter Cavangh’s last ditch tackle hooked into his own net.
Grimsby, not afraid to play football and run at Fleetwood’s fragile defence, quickly set about to double their tally – Anthony Church given too much space to unleash a shot from the edge of the D, which fizzed wide of Scott Davies’s upright.
Town, on the other hand, playing well below their best, struggling to unlock a resolute Mariners back line.
Fleetwood continued to struggle after the restart, forcing Micky Mellon into an early shake-up, Peter Till and Richard Brodie entering the fray at the expense of Seddon and Lee Fowler.
The change did inject new energy into Fleetwood, who launched a wave of assaults on Grimsby’s defence.
And the home side were presented with a great chance to level with half an hour to play – Brodie powering into the box, choosing to take a dive rather than shoot, earning a booking for his troubles.
The big striker was handed another golden chance on the 65-minute mark.
Vardy’s pace was too much for Gary Silk, the striker picking out Brodie, whose shot was blocked on the line.
Fleetwood were beginning to find chinks in the Mariners’ armour, but Micky Mellon’s men seemed short on luck and remained vulnerable to the counter-attack, Hearn a constant menace.
But, the Fleetwood pressure paid off with 13 minutes to play. Jamie Vardy was pushed inside the area by Silk, Andy Mangan blasting home from the penalty spot.
The goal forced Grimsby back onto the attack, opening up space for Fleetwood to exploit.
And, with five minutes left, the home side almost snatched a second, McNulty picking out Brown whose cross was met by a diving Jamie McGuire – the midfielder’s header only inches wide.
Grimsby were on the back foot, and when Till released Vardy, only a last-ditch clearance could keep the home side out.
With the fourth official signalling four minutes of added time Vardy set off on a stunning run down the left flank, cutting unchecked into the box and firing home from the tightest of angles.
Deserved or not, Town’s win gives them an eight point lead over second placed Wrexham, who face a tough test against third-placed Luton tonight.
And, at the business end of the season, it’s points on the board that count, no matter how they are earned.
FLEETWOOD: Davies (GK), Beeley, McNulty (c), Pond, Brown, Mangan, McGuire, Seddon (Brodie 57), Cavanagh, Fowler (Till 57), Vardy Subs not used: Viera, Goodall, Stevenson
GRIMSBY: McKeown (GK), Silk, Church, Coulson, Disley(c), Hearn, Pearson, Townsend, Miller, Elding, Soares (Thanoj, 64)