A SECOND-half brace from top scorer Lenell John-Lewis returned Grimsby Town to winning ways against a Woking side led by manager Garry Hill, who branded the hosts the ‘worst Grimsby side he has seen’ in his post-match interview.
That assessment says very little for the Cards, who came into the game looking to highlight their own promotion credentials, as they struggled to get into the game and only threatened a comeback in the final 15 minutes.
In truth it was a miserable night for the visitors, who also lost goalkeeper Jake Cole and top scorer Scott Rendell to injury during the first half at Blundell Park.
Town boss Paul Hurst was obviously stung by Saturday’s home defeat to Kidderminster and he rung the changes, adopting a more orthodox 4-4-2 with Jack Mackreth, Craig Disley and Jon-Paul Pittman coming in for Aswad Thomas, Harry Pell and Scott Neilson respectively.
And the Mariners started the game well with John-Lewis causing problems for the Cards’ defence with his trademark pacy and powerful forays down the channels.
Within ten minutes Hill was forced into an unexpected change. Goalkeeper Cole pulled up taking a goal kick and was forced to throw a subsequent ball out of play so that he could be replaced by Aaron Howe.
The substitute’s first job was to pick the ball out of his net as Disley rose to plant home an emphatic header from ten yards. Carl Magnay, playing at left back, was the supplier with a wonderful curling cross that the midfielder met superbly in the air.
Within two minutes it was nearly two. John-Lewis burst through the middle to latch onto Pittman’s through ball but he was thwarted by a combination of defender and goalkeeper as he looked to shoot.
The visitors had their first passage of play a quarter of the way through the game but Magnay and Shaun Pearson stood up well to keep out Kevin Betsy and James Clark in the wide positions.
Pearson was at it again in the 26th-minute as he threw himself in the way of a Jack Marriott effort and the on-loan Ipswich man could only smash the second attempt over the crossbar.
The Cards’ momentum was halted in the 33rd-minute as Rendell departed with an ankle injury, to be replaced by former Mariners’ trialist Dean Morgan.
This allowed the hosts to get back on top of the game and Mackreth wasted a good opening when he opted to shoot from fully 35 yards with others well placed ahead of him.
Town turned the screw before the break and only the heroics of Howe kept the scoreline at 1-0. First the substitute goalkeeper got across to scramble away a Pittman effort, after fine work by Nathan Arnold, before a fine point-blank save denied Disley a second from another header.
The Mariners started the second half well with Mackreth jinking down the right touchline to cross for Pittman but the striker couldn’t guide his header towards the target.
Marriott wasted a good chance for the Cards after more good build-up play from Betsy before Toto Nsiala had to be alert to clear the danger after James McKeown spilt a cross.
But it was Town who got that all-important second goal on 53 minutes. Pittman did superbly to chase down a lost cause and force Howe into a mistake, before crossing for John-Lewis to stoop and head home from six yards.
The hosts were firmly on top of the game now and they looked for a third with both Mackreth and Pearson going close from Arnold centres.
But, with 22 minutes remaining, the previously toothless visitors found their way back into the game. Morgan cut in from the left and tried his luck from 25 yards – the ball finding its way into the net via McKeown’s far post.
And three minutes later there was a huge let-off for Hurst’s men. Again Betsy was involved, teeing up Josh Payne to fire in an effort that cannoned off the near post and to safety this time.
The nerves were jangling at Blundell Park and Betsy was revelling in it as he twisted and turned before threading a pass through to Theo Lewis, who toe poked his shot narrowly wide of the goal.
And the home fans feared the worst as Hill threw on in-form Giuseppe Sole for the final 15 minutes but Hurst responded with some fresh legs of his own – Ross Hannah and Craig Clay replacing Pittman and Scott Brown.
Within two minutes the Mariners were back on top – the home fans this time being frustrated by the offside flag as Hannah netted only to have his celebrations muted by the officials.
But there was a third for Town with 60 seconds of normal time remaining. This time Hannah chased down a clearance and squared for Arnold, who kept his cool to pull back for John-Lewis and he slotted home from inside the area for his thirteenth of the campaign.
The two-goal cushion allowed Hurst to offer New Zealander Hamish Watson a brief, first taste of English football but the main talking point in injury time was first Betsy and then Hill getting into a ding-dong with the Town bench – much like the climax of this fixture last season.
But the final whistle signalled three precious points for the Mariners, especially as Barnet again slipped up at the top. Perhaps the club’s only concern was the drop in 800 supporters on the gate, although it was a bitterly cold evening on the East Coast.
Mariners: McKeown; Parslow, Nsiala, Pearson, Magnay; Mackreth, Brown (Clay), Disley, Arnold; Pittman (Hannah), John-Lewis (Arnold). Subs not used: Bignot, Neilson
Cards: Cole (Howe); Clarke, Cestor, Jones, Arthur; Lewis; Newton, Payne, Betsy; Marriott (Sole), Rendell (Morgan). Subs not used: Murtagh, Goddard