Pirates Sink Mariners to Close the Gap at the Top

Grimsby Town 0 Bristol Rovers 1 A SOLITARY second half goal from Tom Lockyer was enough to secure a vital win for in-form Bristol Rovers in the Vanarama Conference title race, as they came away from Blundell Park with a 1-0 victory. With leaders Barnet losing 1-0 at Wrexham, the gap at the top of the division has been cut to just four points and it is very much a three-horse race for the championship with Macclesfield Town keeping up their charge too. Another home defeat for Grimsby surely means that their title aspirations are over and they will have to settle for a play-off place, although there is still work to do in that regard with Eastleigh, Halifax, Woking and Kidderminster forming the chasing pack. Manager Paul Hurst was forced into one change from the team that lost 2-1 at Forest Green Rovers last weekend. Jack Mackreth came in for injured striker Ollie Palmer, which meant Christian Jolley was pushed up top alongside top scorer Lenell John-Lewis. The visitors named former Mariners’ stopper Steve Mildenhall between the sticks and he lined up against ex-Pirates’ midfielder and current Town skipper Craig Disley. It was the home side who settled the quicker of the two sides, fashioning the first real opening of the match on 14 minutes. Jolley released Mackreth on the right and his cross was collected by John-Lewis on the penalty spot. He turned superbly to leave Mark McChrystal standing and poked a shot towards goal, which Mildenhall did well to get out and smother – the goalkeeper requiring treatment following the striker’s follow through. Mackreth and John-Lewis combined again eight minutes later, the winger crossing to the near post for the former Bury man to fire in a volley that he couldn’t direct on target. Then the visitors began to get the upper hand and the hosts were indebted to goalkeeper James McKeown for keeping them level. Aaron Brown crossed deep from the left, it drifted through to winger Stephen Dawson who forced a fine one-handed save out of McKeown, with Nathan Blissett firing the rebound widly over. Just after the half hour, Dawson had another good opportunity to put his side in front. Matty Taylor knocked down a free kick for the wide man but he got his angles all wrong from the left touchline and fired into the stand. There was a real let-off for Town five minutes before half time when Taylor missed a penalty. The Mariners gave the ball away in midfield and a long prod forward was misjudged by Toto Nsiala. Blissett was quick to capitalise on it and collided with McKeown as he came out for the ball. The referee hesitated and awarded a harsh spot kick to the Pirates. Taylor stepped up to take the kick and rolled it confidently to McKeown’s right. The ‘keeper guessed correctly but was not needed as the ball rolled against the post and was cleared to safety by a combination of Disley and Nathan Arnold. It was more of the same in the second half as McKeown pulled off a fine save to deny Taylor after the ex-Forest Green man latched onto a flicked header from strike partner Blissett. There was nothing the Mariners’ keeper could do to keep Lockyer out on 67 minutes though. It was bad goal for Town to concede. Craig Clay lost the ball in midfield and this meant Carl Magnay was caught out of position and Mackreth couldn’t get back to get goalside of Brown. In fairness to the Mariners, it looked like the Rovers’ left back carried the ball out of play but the whistle never sounded and the cross deflected off Nsiala to Lockyer, who threaded a shot through the legs of Gregor Robertson to beat McKeown at his near post. Hurst brought Ross Hannah and Paddy McLaughlin into the mix for Jolley and Clay, before throwing Hamish Watson on for the last five minutes in place of Gregor Robertson and going with three men at the back. The New Zealander’s cumbersome style unsettled the visitors’ defence and he was unlucky not to set up Hannah for an equaliser soon after his introduction. Watson flicked on a deep Magnay free kick perfectly for Hannah who carefully lobbed his effort over Mildenhall and into the net, only to see the goal ruled out for offside. There was one more chance for the Mariners’ frontman though and it was gift-wrapped for him by Mildenhall in injury time. The former Town stopper dropped a cross at Hannah’s feet but, with players crowding around him, the striker could only lift the ball into the stand. Mariners: McKeown; Magnay, Pearson, Nsiala, Robertson (Watson); Mackreth, Disley, Clay (McLaughlin), Arnold; John-Lewis, Jolley (Hannah). Subs not used:Bignot, Parslow Pirates: Mildenhall; Leadbitter, Brown, McChrystal, Parkes; Lockyer, Mansell, Monkhouse, Dawson; Taylor, Blissett. Subs not used: Trotman, Gosling, Wakefield, Balanta, Harrison.

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