LINCOLN CITY 0 GRIMSBY TOWN 0
The Mariners and the Red Imps played out a stalemate at Sincil Bank in the Lincolnshire derby. It was a game packed full of action and passion, although neither side really troubled their opposing goalkeepers with Peter Sweeney’s goalbound clearance from an Adam Watts’ header being the closest either side came to breaking the deadlock.
In his last game in caretaker charge of the Mariners, Neil Woods handed debuts to loan duo Nicky Featherstone and Michael Coulson.
Hull winger Featherstone lined up on the right of midfield with Coulson partnering Danny North up front. There were recalls for Joe Widdowson at left back, who came in for Jammal Shahin, with Plymouth loanee Damien McCrory taking the Town youngster’s position on the left wing.
Paul Linwood also returned to the fold in a direct swap for the suspended Rob Atkinson. The Mariners lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Peter Bore continuing at right back, Olly Lancashire partnering Linwood at the heart of the defence, Michael Leary and Peter Sweeney continuing their partnership in centre midfield; Nick Colgan continued his role as captain in goal.
The hosts were saddled with a long injury list and manager Chris Sutton could only name six substitutes from the allotted seven. Dangerous striker Rene Howe had to settle for a berth on the bench but there was a starting role for former Scarborough midfielder Scott Kerr, he partnered former Mariners’ loanee Anthony Pulis. Neil Woods will no doubt have told his troops to be wary of lively forward Jamie Clarke, who scored a hat trick against the Mariners for Accrington last Christmas.
Town, playing in all blue, kicked off towards to the Stacey West stance. They were backed by a vociferous following from the East Coast. Also in the stand was former Town assistant manager Stuart Watkiss.
After a scrappy opening, the first real glimmer of a chance came on six minutes when Coulson flicked on a long ball, which ran away from North as he looked to pressure home stopper Rob Burch.
The Mariners then lost possession on the edge of the Red Imps’ area and, in a flash, Clarke was away. He was clipped by Bore around 40 yards from goal, resulting in a caution for the Town man. The resulting free kick was easily claimed by Colgan as the assistant referee on the far side flagged for offside.
Clarke was looking dangerous for the home side and Lancashire had to be alert to get a challenge in on 11 minutes as the former Blackburn man looked to get in behind the Town defence. At the other end, North became the first player to test a goalkeeper, but he fired straight at Burch from inside the area.
Town had appeals for a free kick turned down on 14 minutes when Coulson felled Kerr. The Lincoln man was then clattered into by Leary and, when the ball went out of play, he was promptly booked by referee Steve Tanner, the Mariners’ second caution of the afternoon at an early stage.
Coulson was looking lively up front for the Mariners and, after some patient build-up, his left wing cross was just too high for the onrushing Leary on 18 minutes.
The Mariners won the game’s first corner on 22 minutes and it came after some tremendous build-up on the left. McCrory and Widdowson worked some space on the left and the ball was flicked inside to Coulson. He turned his man well and his low ball across the box was scrambled away by big Janos Kovac as North looked to pounce. Unfortunately for the visitors, the set piece came to nothing.
The Red Imps had a fantastic chance in the 27th-minute when Khano Smith crossed from the left. The ball was deflected by Linwood into the path of Leary, who got the ball stuck under his feet. This allowed Pulis to step in but he fired well over from 20 yards.
City were starting to enjoy long periods of possession and they won their first corner on 32 minutes when Widdowson slid in on Michael Gordon. The set piece eventually went out for a throw on the near side and when the ball returned into the area, Gordon saw a half volley charged down by Leary.
Smith won another corner for the hosts and McCrory cleared for a second consecutive piece. The left-sided Plymouth man then had to clear when the second attempt came flashing across the area.
In the 42nd-minute the Mariners put together their best move of the half when Featherstone fed Sweeney who went down under a combination of challenges by Burch and Cian Hughton. There were loud shouts for a penalty but referee Tanner disappointed the travelling faithful by pointing for a goal kick.
City responded when Gordon sped away from Widdowson, the former West Ham man timing his tackle to perfection to give the home side another corner. At the second attempt, Gordon floated in a cross that Adam Watts headed wide, although the assistant referee had again flagged for offside.
HALF-TIME: LINCOLN CITY 0 GRIMSBY TOWN 0
Neither side made changes at the interval as the driving rain that had begun midway through the first half began to subside.
The second period started scrappily until Clarke won City their first corner on 52 minutes, which the Red Imps wasted. Town responded by forcing three corners of their own. Lancashire came close to getting a connection on the second set piece.
The third kick was cleared as far as Featherstone who whipped in a great cross, which the unmarked Linwood glanced just wide of the far post. The effort raised the volume level in the away end and Imps’ boss Sutton responded by bringing on the dangerous Howe for Chris Fagan on the hour mark.
The substitution almost paid dividends as Gordon advanced to cut the ball back for Clarke in the box. He tried to place his shot but Colgan was equal to the effort and palmed away to safety.
Woods then made his first change of the game on 64 minutes, bringing on Ivorian striker Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro in place of North. The official attendance was announced as 4981, with a magnificent 1252 travelling down the A46.
Meanwhile Featherstone sped down the flank and was flattened by Hughton in the area, referee Tanner pointing for a corner. From the set piece, Sweeney gave the ball away and Howe sped forward but inexplicably screwed wide of the target instead of taking advantage of four Lincoln attackers against two Town defenders.
With 20 minutes remaining, referee Tanner signalled to the touchline and was duly replaced by fourth official Russell Fletcher.
Within moments the Mariners were nearly behind. Town gave away a sloppy corner, from which Watts powered a header goalwards that Sweeney flicked off the line with the Red Imps’ centre half already celebrating.
The Mariners responded well and McCrory was inches from giving the visitors the lead with a stinging 30-yard drive that just cleared the crossbar on 76 minutes. Woods then threw Barry Conlon into the equation for Coulson.
Akpa Akpro won the ball from Nathan Baker and appeared to be tugged back in the area but again the appeals for a spot kick were turned down. Moments later Akpro again got in down the left channel and his cross appeared to be handled by Watts but again there was no penalty forthcoming.
There was a long stoppage inside the last ten minutes as Imps’ centre half Watts was stretchered off to be replaced by Moses Swaibu. Woods made his last roll of the dice by bringing on Jammal Shahin for Widdowson, McCrory moving to left back.
Pulis was next to have an effort on goal for the hosts but he dragged his shot well wide after a pull back by Clarke. There was then a face-off between Burch and substitute Shahin at the other end as the Town youngster looked to get in on the blind side after a Conlon flick-on.
Akpro then got in on the right channel but his lobbed cross found no blue shirt running onto the ball as we moved into the last two minutes of the game. The Ivorian was looking like Town’s most dangerous outlet and he saw Burch flap at another cross. The ball broke kindly for Lincoln though and they broke at pace, Sweeney eventually being booked for clipping Smith as he charged down the left.
The resulting free kick was cleverly worked but Bore was alert enough to head away Kerr’s shot as the fourth official signalled four minutes of added time. It was getting frantic now and hesitancy between Baker and Burch nearly allowed Akpro in.
Lincoln attacked through Howe who skipped away from McCrory, the ball being cleared by Linwood for a throw. The hosts then won a corner that was gathered by Colgan from Kovacs’ header.
It was City who looked like snatching it. A clever move involving Gordon and Howe resulted in the Mariners frantically clearing their lines before Pulis thundered an effort over the bar. This was the final effort of the game with both sides settling for a point.
The Mariners return to action on Tuesday night against Bradford at Blundell Park with a 7.45pm kick-off when they are expected to be under new management.