LINCOLN CITY 3 GRIMSBY TOWN 2
A LATE goal from Hamza Bencherif secured Lincoln City a first league win over rivals Grimsby Town in eight years after a pulsating local derby at Sincil Bank that featured five goals, two penalties and a string of other chances.
For the Mariners, it was a case of pressing the self-destruct button, conceding three sloppy goals, the last of those coming at the end of a half where it looked like they would be the ones most likely to secure the three points.
Town boss Paul Hurst was able to bring Lenell John-Lewis back into the starting XI, after the striker had sat out the victory over Welling due to suspension; Paddy McLaughlin being the one to sit out.
Also coming back into the Mariners’ fold was skipper Craig Disley, replacing Craig Clay, who was complaining of an ankle problem.
The Red Imps caused problems in the opening exchanges with big Ben Tomlinson using his height and strength to unsettle the visitors’ defence.
But the first real chance went the way of the Mariners on five minutes. John-Lewis advanced into a shooting position and his powerful effort was gathered at the second attempt by home stopper Nick Townsend.
It was the home side who drew first blood though, taking the lead on eight minutes. Tomlinson found himself in acres on the left-hand side and his cross was inch-perfect for the unmarked Jordan Burrow to plant a header beyond James McKeown from ten yards.
And it should have been 2-0 ten minutes later. The Mariners’ defence was all at sea, as first Shaun Pearson lost the flight of the ball and then Toto Nsiala only succeeded in upending Tomlinson for a penalty.
The striker dusted himself off and sent McKeown the wrong way from the spot but he could only watch as the ball cannoned back off the post and out for a throw-in.
City were again a coat of paint away from doubling their advantage on the half-hour. Midfielder Alan Power tried his luck from 25 yards and his shot took a wicked deflection off the hapless Nsiala, looped over McKeown but came down off the crossbar and was cleared to safety.
After those let-offs, the Mariners were not in the mood to look a gift horse in the mouth and when presented with a chance to equalise two minutes before the break, they duly took it.
A long free kick from Brown was fumbled by Townsend to Disley, who did well to hook the ball beyond the three defenders on the line and into the net to draw the Mariners level.
There was still time before the break for Bencherif to test McKeown with a low, fizzing free kick from fully 35 yards – the Mariners’ stopper doing superbly to get down low and tip the ball around the post.
Manager Hurst regrouped his side at the break and they came out for the second half with renewed vigour. Scott Neilson was the man leading the charge and his clever through ball set up John-Lewis for a great chance just three minutes after the restart.
The big striker did everything right, using his strength to hold off his marker, get goal side and curl an effort beyond Townsend but he also curled it beyond the far post.
Then followed a crazy 60 seconds where both sides could have taken the lead. Nsiala inexplicably clipped a ball across his own area that was seized upon by Power. Pearson stepped in for a goal-saving tackle but, as he advanced, he was upended in the centre of the park by Mendy – the challenge would eventually force the defender out of proceedings.
But with Town in possession, the referee waved play on and this allowed Neilson to break at pace. He advanced into the Lincoln third and unleashed a cracking shot that beat Townsend all ends up but unfortunately it came back off the post and the midfielder couldn’t steer the rebound into the empty net.
And the Mariners were made to pay for that miss on 56 minutes, following another crazy 60 seconds in an exciting topsy-turvy contest. Pearson was forced off with a knee injury but Hurst waited to make a change, instead moving Disley to right back and the bandaged Bignot inside to centre half.
That would prove costly as Disley was beaten in the air on a free kick and then Bignot only succeeded in pulling back Tomlinson, when it looked easier to clear the ball out of play.
This time, defender Shaun Newton made no mistake from 12 yards and took plenty of joy celebrating in front of the 1,700 travelling fans behind the goal.
But this time the Mariners’ response was instant. John-Lewis linked up well with Pittman and the latter stepped inside to curl a wonderful effort beyond Townsend and into the top corner from 15 yards.
Now it was the men in black and white pushing to get themselves in front. Pittman fired in another good effort on his left foot that whistled just past Townsend’s near post.
The golden opportunity fell to John-Lewis with 16 minutes of the game remaining. Again Neilson was the supply line, threading a wonderful ball through for his striker.
John-Lewis sprung the offside trap well but with just Townsend to beat he lifted the ball over the ‘keeper and over the crossbar.
As the game reached its closing stages, Townsend was again called into action to deny Nsiala with a flying save from a close-range header.
And it was the hosts who snatched it with three minutes to go. Substitute McLaughlin needlessly gave away a corner and from that set piece, Bencherif was left unmarked at the far post, slotting home with a calm, cushioned finish.
Red Imps: Townsend; Newton, Brown, Bencherif, Diagne; Nolan (Sam-Yorke), Mendy, Power, Caprice; Burrow, Tomlinson. Subs not used: Farman, Jordan, Ledsham, Kabba.
Mariners: McKeown; Bignot, Nsiala, Pearson (Doig), Magnay; Brown, Disley, Clay (McLaughlin); Neilson (Hannah); Pittman, John-Lewis. Subs not used: Mackreth, Walker.