ANOTHER important goal from skipper Craig Disley earned the Mariners an excellent 1-0 home win over Vanarama National League form side Wrexham at Blundell Park on Saturday.
The midfielder’s seventh-minute strike was enough to seal the win for Paul Hurst’s side, who turned in their best performance of 2016 so far.
There were two changes to the side that secured an FA Trophy Final place with victory over Bognor Regis last weekend as Toto Nsiala replaced Shaun Pearson at centre-half and Craig Clay came into the midfield for Danny East.
Town lined up with an unorthodox 4-4-2 formation that saw Nolan on the left side of the midfield but drifting inside to allow Evan Horwood to get up on the overlap, whilst Richard Tait was a lot more conservative going forward than in previous weeks.
New signing Jordan Stewart had to be content with a place on the bench following his loan arrival from Swindon Town.
The Mariners got off to the perfect start and were in front from their first real attack on seven minutes. A corner was swung in from the right by Nolan, Nathan Arnold peeled off at the far post and cushioned the ball back for Disley to hammer home his fifth goal of the campaign so far.
Gary Mills’ side almost made an instant response. Mark Carrington advanced down the right and his cross was cleared to former Mariner Jamal Fyfield, who cleared the crossbar with a right-footed effort from 18 yards.
But it was the hosts making all the early running and both Patrick Hoban and Clay saw 20-yard shots go over in the first 20 minutes.
With the Red Dragons keeping close tabs on top scorer Padraig Amond, it was strike partner Hoban who was enjoying space in the final third and he was close to opening his Mariners’ account on 26 minutes.
Horwood rescued a deep cross from the right with a clever back-heel that found Hoban 10 yards out, he took a touch but Emanuel Smith got across well to block.
The same pair combined again ten minutes later, this time down the left channel. Hoban took the ball beyond Carrington and fired across the face of goal, only for the ball to roll agonisingly wide of the far post.
And Hoban made a vital contribution at the other end five minutes before the break. The visitors won a corner after a Rob Evans shot was deflected wide of the post.
The Mariners failed to clear the corner and both Josh Gowling and Conor Jennings went up for a high ball. It was hooked back across goal and, with James McKeown beaten, Hoban was in the right place to nod the ball away from danger.
Gowling and Jennings were involved in the last action of the half, the latter picking up a yellow card for a late challenge on the Mariners’ defender.
Visiting boss Mills shuffled his pack at half-time with Wes York coming on for the ineffectual Lee Fowler. This saw the Red Dragons switch to three up top with York and Kayden Jackson either side of Jennings, who took up the number ten role.
And it almost paid dividends at the start of the second period. Tait was booked for a foul on Jackson on the touchline and the visitors kept the set piece moving. The ball eventually came out to the left side and was clipped to the near post where the unmarked Jennings sent a deft header just wide of the mark.
On 57 minutes the Red Dragons broke at pace with Simon Heslop switching the ball cleverly from right-to-left for the onrushing Sean Newton to hammer a 20-yard volley just past the far post.
Hoban picked up a loose ball in midfield just past the hour and smashed a shot over the crossbar from 25 yards as Town looked to relieve the pressure.
Mills made his second change of the afternoon on 64 minutes when another former Mariner, Javan Vidal, replaced Carrington, as the Red Dragons looked for further penetration down the right flank.
But the more the North Welsh side pushed forward, the more the Mariners were able to exploit space themselves.
A loose header from a Horwood centre found Clay in the centre of the pitch, 12 yards, out but he blazed over with just Rhys Taylor to beat on 66 minutes.
Just two minutes later it was Town’s turn to see an effort cleared off the line. Again it was a corner from the right side, Gowling went up on and got something on it but it was Disley who swivelled onto the loose ball, only to see Evans clear into the grateful arms of Taylor.
Town were enjoying a good spell and they came close again on 69 minutes. A long ball from Nsiala found Amond running the right channel, he squared for Nolan who took it on, beat Taylor but saw hit shot settle into the side netting.
Still Town pressed for a second goal and it was the woodwork that denied them on 76 minutes. Clay swung in a delightful ball from the right that was met by a thunderous header from Hoban, he beat Taylor but saw the ball smack back off the face of the crossbar.
Mills made his final roll of the dice on 77 minutes, introducing giant striker Mark Beck for midfielder Evans, whilst Hurst responded by bringing Omar Bogle into the fray for Amond.
The Mariners were still creating the better chances and Arnold was next to test Taylor with a clever back header from Horwood’s left wing cross on 82 minutes.
With two minutes of the game remaining, Hoban burst through from the centre of the park, took the ball past Taylor and appeared to be caught near the touchline by the ‘keeper but he was adjudged to have dived and booked for his action.
There were four minutes of time added on and it was a nervy time for the Mariners. Clay was booked for kicking the ball away before Hurst introduced Pearson for Hoban in a bid to shut the visitors.
But deep, deep into stoppage time the Red Dragons forged their best opening of the game. Jackson got in on the right and crossed for Beck, who could only get a glancing header back across goal. The ball fell kindly again for Jackson and he fired in a shot that was kept out by a combination of McKeown, Nsiala and Gowling, with the final whistle going shortly after.
Mariners: McKeown; Tait, Nsiala, Gowling, Horwood; Arnold, Clay, Disley, Nolan; Amond (Bogle 80), Hoban (Pearson 90+2). Subs not used: R Jennings, Stewart, Robertson.
Red Dragons: Taylor; Carrington (Vidal 65), Smith, Hudson, Newton; Jackson, Heslop, Fowler (York 46), Evans (Beck 78), Fyfield; Jennings. Subs not used: Moke, Gray.