FA Trophy match report: Welling United 1 Grimsby Town 2
THREE penalties, six bookings, two goals – and that was just the first half of a remarkable FA Trophy clash.
True, the second period didn't quite match up, with just the Mariners' winning goal and four more yellow cards to report.
But it was certainly a long way from the drab cup battle against lower league opposition that could have been expected on a freezing January afternoon in East London.
The hosts are chasing Conference South promotion and went into the clash on the back of ten successive wins in league and cup.
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Hence the Third Round encounter was never going to be an easy task for Rob Scott and Paul Hurst's men.
And so it proved as Jamie Day's side gave as good as they got, hitting the woodwork twice and forcing Town keeper James McKeown into a series of excellent saves.
That said, the Mariners missed a penalty and, over the course of the 90 minutes, did what they had to – remain professional and win the game.
Any thoughts of easing new signing Ross Hannah back on the substitutes' bench were dismissed at 2.15pm as the team-sheet arrived with the striker's name in the starting line-up.
The unfortunate Andy Cook was the man to make way, with Richard Brodie partnering Town's new signing up front.
Another loan ranger, Jamie Devitt was also in, as Joe Colbeck dropped to the bench, and Shaun Pearson returned at centre-half to face former Mariner Kiernan Hughes-Mason.
Welling gave their visitors a wake-up call in the fifth minute as Jack Oberstellar's inswinging free-kick evaded everyone and cannoned back off McKeown's right-hand post.
Hannah had a low drive blocked in the area moments later as Town responded.
But the prolific striker had an even better chance, from the spot, in the tenth minute after home defender Anthony Acheampong needlessly handled a corner from the right.
The Wings man was booked for his indiscretion, under pressure from Pearson, and Hannah – looking for a dream start to his second debut – seemed destined to net his tenth Mariners goal.
However, the forward blasted his low effort off the bottom of the post and the Welling supporters celebrated the miss.
The Conference South title chasers were buoyed and flashed two efforts over the Town bar from the edge of the box – including one excellent volley from Fraser Franks.
Both sides were intent on avoiding a replay tomorrow evening, and it was an open contest with plenty of attacking play to enjoy.
In the 23rd minute, Hannah had a chance to atone for his spot-kick miss as Devitt cut the ball back 15 yards out, but the frontman sliced his effort over.
The striker and his team-mates were made to pay two minutes later when a clumsy challenge from Pearson on Ross Lafayette encouraged the Welling man to take a tumble in the area.
Referee Nicholas Kinseley immediately evened things up, pointing to the spot and booking Pearson. Joe Healy calmly side-footed the ball home to put the hosts ahead.
Amazingly, the third penalty of the half followed on the half hour as Devitt had his legs taken from under him by Loui Fazakerley. Once again a spot-kick and yellow card was the result. Devitt picked himself up to grab the ball from Brodie, place it and guide it into the bottom corner past Sam Mott.
Lafayette smashed a speculative left-footer wide in the 35th minute as the entertainment continued, before Fazakerley tested McKeown with a bobbling drive from 20 yards.
Brodie and Scott Kinch then went head-to-head, literally, and became the fourth and fifth players into the referee's notebook as a result.
There were appeals for a fourth penalty three minutes before the break when Brodie and co thought they had seen a handball in the home box. But Kinseley decided things were getting silly and finally waved one away.
Kurtis Guthrie was the next to be booked, for a late challenge on Bradley Wood after the Town left-back cleared superbly under pressure.
Derek Niven then planted a shot down Mott's throat from distance and Pearson was pole-axed by a shot from Lafayette as a remarkable half drew to a close.
From the restart, Town put together a flowing move as Marcus Marshall, Sam Hatton and Hannah linked up well to allow the marauding right-back to fire over.
Kinch looped an effort onto the top of McKeown's bar, before the stopper parried Lee Clarke's fierce effort away and then watched Acheampong's header fly over from the corner.
Disley – and the 200 or so Town fans in attendance – thought they were in front when his volley was deflected wide of the post. However, the Mariners' second goal did follow.
Ian Miller recycled a corner well at the far post and after his centre-back partner Pearson picked up the pieces, his lay back to the edge of the box was arrowed home superbly by Marshall.
The hosts responded, and Town were indebted to McKeown for fine saves from Kinch and Clarke before Franks thrashed another effort over the bar on the hour.
Joe Colbeck replaced a tiring Devitt as the visitors looked for an all-important third goal. But it was Guthrie who had the next effort – McKeown saving well again, low down.
Hannah picked up a booking for a forward's challenge before the hosts' manager, and second half sub, Day sliced a decent opportunity a yard too high.
It was four bookings-apiece when Wood joined the list for a typically robust challenge and Welling had more penalty shouts – albeit unsuccessful – before Day was the ninth booked.
All the pressure was coming from the hosts, but the Mariners were comfortable, although booking number ten arrived when McKeown was punished for running down the clock.
Cook replaced Brodie for the last ten and saw the ball taken off his foot by Mott after muscling his way past two defenders. And the striker was close to poking home Colbeck's low cross following an excellent run by the winger.
The hosts had run out of steam, however, and Town were heading into the quarter-finals after a bruising, but entertaining, encounter against their lower league hosts.
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