Football League Two | Blundell Park | Saturday 10th February 2007 | 5,883
DESPITE a 6-0 hammering of local rivals Boston United at York Street the previous week, Alan Buckley’s Grimsby Town side were in big trouble at the foot of League Two.
Just nine months earlier they had been 90 minutes away from League One but, following the departures of first Russell Slade and then Graham Rodger, the club turned to Buckley to guide the side to safety.
His third reign had got off to a great start – three straight wins fired the Mariners up the League Two table – but a run of seven games without win, six of those without a goal, plunged Town back into the danger zone.
The 12th Man campaign had started in fine fettle with that half dozen at fellow strugglers Boston, deploying an unusual 4-5-1 formation with on-loan Rovers man James Hunt as the anchor in midfield.
But the job was far from done. Hunt was of course ineligible for this game and striking sensation Martin Paterson (on loan from Stoke) was on international duty.
So Buckley was forced to reshuffle. In came youngster Danny North up front, his energy and enthusiasm being the closest to Paterson’s livewire style of play.
Scottish midfielder Gary Harkins also came in to the holding role, less than a month after a cameo appearance at centre half in a home defeat to Darlington.
It was the visitors who were ruing their luck inside the opening ten minutes though; right back Ryan Green pulling up to be replaced by Aaron Lescott.
That did not deter the away side and they duly took the lead on 14 minutes. Future England international Rickie Lambert placed a delicate ball through for the run of current Mariners’ skipper Craig Disley and he drove home a great left-footed finish from 18 yards.
Harkins was waning in the Town midfield and former Mariners’ skipper Stuart Campbell was relishing the challenge – pulling the strings for his side. The former Dundee man is more accustomed to the ‘quarterback’ role, sitting deep and spraying the ball at will but the hosts were not seeing enough of the ball for that to happen – they were desperately in need of someone to break up the play.
So it came as no surprise to see the visitors double their lead on 20 minutes. Richard Walker peeled away to the far post at a Campbell free kick and he collected the set piece to cross low for Lewis Haldane to hammer into the roof of the net from inside the six-yard box.
Buckley needed to make a change and he rolled the dice in dramatic fashion, bringing Gary Jones on for Harkins. The former Tranmere man’s aerial ability and physicality would act as the perfect foil for young North.
And the response came within ten minutes of Jones’ introduction and it was a goal made in Grimsby but scored in Cleethorpes. Matthew Bloomer battled his way down the right flank and dug out a cross that was flicked on by Peter Bore for North to stoop and bundle a header home past the grasp of Steve Phillips in the visiting goal.
After 20 minutes it looked like a Pirates’ cricket score was on the cards but Town went into the interval just one behind and they knew they had a chance shooting to their own fans in the second half.
No one could have predicted what happened in the next 21 minutes though. It all started within 30 seconds of the restart. A deep Tom Newey free kick was met by the head of Justin Whittle and his flicked effort drifted into the far corner of the net to draw his side level.
Better was to come nine minutes later. It was a typical Buckley move, flowing football involving Bore, Jones and North – the latter weighting a superb pass through the middle of the park for the run of Danny Boshell who finished with aplomb to put the Mariners in front.
Town were rampant now and midway through the second half their fourth arrived. North and Bore were again involved, the midfielder teeing up opposite winger Ciaran Toner, who swivelled on a sixpence and fired into the bottom corner from ten yards.
The Blundell Park faithful were in dreamland now but their side’s frailties would still return in the closing stages. Assistant manager Stuart Watkiss remarked in the post-match discussions that he felt ‘the scoring wasn’t over’ and it was his former charge Disley who reacted quickest to volley home a loose ball in injury time.
Buckley’s side did enough to hang on though and, from one goal in seven games, they had now scored ten in two matches and the 12th Man campaign was truly in full swing as the Mariners went from relegation candidates to unlikely play-off contenders in the space of seven weeks.
Mariners: Barnes; Bloomer, Whittle, Fenton, Newey; Bore, Boshell, Bolland, Harkins (Jones 24), Toner; North (Rankin 90). Subs not used: McDermott, Murray, Grand.
Pirates: Phillips; Green (Lescott 9), Hinton, Elliott, Carruthers; Disley, Campbell, Igoe; Haldane (Sandell 70), Lambert, Walker (Nicholson 71). Subs not used: Lines, Rigg.