This was redemption for Grimsby Town FC. Just two months earlier, the Mariners’ players sat in the centre circle at Sincil Bank as manager Russell Slade lambasted them for a shocking first-half performance against local rivals Lincoln City that saw Town trailing 4-0.
The tongue-lashing worked, to a certain extent, the Mariners only conceded one more goal, as they slumped to their worst defeat of the season. To compound matters, Town blew their chance at automatic promotion from League Two by failing to win either of their final two games in the division.
In contrast, Lincoln ended the season like an express train. Languishing in the bottom half of the table when they were beaten 3-0 at Blundell Park in December, the Red Imps regrouped and earned themselves a third successive play-off campaign.
Slade’s side had come under criticism from their own supporters for their agricultural style of football, but Lincoln were on a different plain (almost the aircraft variety!). Led by former Mariner Keith Alexander, the Red Imps were all about percentages; winning the second ball, earning throw-ins, corners and free-kicks, accompanied by an omnipresent air raid siren.
Right from the opening whistle, the hosts threw everything including the kitchen sink at their county rivals. Twice the Red Imps had goals disallowed in the opening exchanges. Jamie McCombe had a header rightly ruled out after a push on Tom Newey and, when Jamie Forrester’s deflected effort fell nicely for Francis Green to slot home, the big striker was correctly flagged offside. The Mariners were then hampered by injury to right-back John McDermott but, undeterred the took the lead on 22 minutes.
Despite their reputation for direct football, Slade’s side crafted a fine opening goal. Andy Parkinson played a neat reverse pass down the right side of the Lincoln defence for Curtis Woodhouse. The former Sheffield United man had struck up an almost-telepathic relationship with striker Gary Jones in the weeks leading up to the play-offs and it came as no surprise that the big frontman was on hand to fire the low cross into the roof of the City goal.
Lincoln responded with Lee Beevers and Jeff Green both stinging the palms of Mariners’ stopper Steve Mildenhall from distance.Red
The Mariners held their advantage to the break and, after the interval, the expected Lincoln charge didn’t materialise. In fact it was Town who pushed forward in search of a second. Paul Bolland cracked the bar with a fantastic, swerving effort from 30 yards, before Parkinson flashed two curling efforts from the left just wide of the target.
It took until the final ten minutes for the Red Imps to really up the tempo. Crosses and set pieces rained into the Town area; Tom Newey hacked off the line from Nat Brown and, with the last kick of the game, Gareth McAuley turned Scott Kerr’s corner onto the post with the goal beckoning.
Cup Final day started in fine fettle for the sold out allocation from further up the A46 and things would get better three days later when the Mariners secured a 2-1 victory in the second leg tie, to complete a 3-1 aggregate win.
Red Imps | Marriott; Morgan, McAuley, McCombe, Beevers (Frecklington), Hughes; Kerr, Brown; Forrester; Robinson (Birch), Green (Yeo). Subs not used: Mayo, Cryan.
Mariners | Mildenhall; McDermott (Croft), Futcher, Whittle, Newey; Cohen (Reddy), Bolland, Woodhouse, Parkinson; Jones, Mendes (Toner). Subs not used: Kalala, Goodfellow.