Match report: Grimsby Town 1 AFC Telford 0
FINDING a way to win when not at your best is often referred to as 'winning ugly'.
But fewer things can be more pleasing on the eye for Grimsby Town fans than seeing their team still sitting pretty at the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier.
Although the Mariners weren't best at Blundell Park on Saturday, once again the table-toppers' resilience and stoic self-belief led them to another hard-fought victory, this time over AFC Telford.
And it's becoming an increasingly handy trait to have because, on another weekend when some of their title rivals dropped points, Town crucially maintained their three-point advantage over the chasing pack.
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All the talk before kick-off was the absence of Jamie Devitt's name on the Mariners' team-sheet because of illness. He was replaced by Joe Colbeck, while Derek Niven came in for Andi Thanoj after the youngster's international exploits in midweek.
Ross Hannah was on the bench for the second week in a row, with Richard Brodie again preferred up top alongside Andy Cook.
The opening ten minutes were forgettable to say the least and, despite a couple of early forays, Town looked disjointed in the opening exchanges – a couple of nervy, scuffed clearances from goalkeeper James McKeown epitomised his side's uncertain start.
Telford, on the other hand, were seeing plenty of the ball but, fortunately for Town, there was little end product from the Shropshire outfit.
With nearly a third of the half gone, Cook skipped past the ailing challenges of two defenders but saw his far post drive blocked on the line while Town skipper Craig Disley's tame follow-up was scurried behind.
Sam Hatton then struck a sharp effort from 18-yards to test the reactions of Telford keeper Ryan Young on 25 minutes before the Bucks stopper was called into action again minutes later by Marcus Marshall as the hosts' improvement continued.
At the other end, Telford won a free-kick from 25 yards out, but debutant Ian Craney ballooned his effort over the Pontoon Stand and out of the ground – much to the home crowd's amusement.
Those ironic cheers nearly turned to ones of delight three minutes before the break when Brodie rolled past his marker on the corner of the box and curled an effort inches wide of Young's far post.
But that was the closest Town came in the first half as referee Anthony Backhouse sent the two sides in for the break.
While the home players didn't need a rollicking, they did need a lift, and it was soon clear that the joint bosses' half-time team-talk had done the trick.
Having re-appeared with renewed intent, the Mariners came close to going ahead within a minute of the restart when Cook drew a point-blank save from Young with a firm header from Aswad Thomas' cross.
The league leaders smelt blood and when Colbeck's superb cross-field pass sent Brodie through on goal, the frontman shrugged off a challenge of the chasing defender and kept a cool head to poke past Taylor at his near post before wheeling away in front of a jubilant Pontoon stand.
After breaking the deadlock, Town began to play with a freedom they had not previously enjoyed in the game and when Colbeck slid Brodie in again, his clever work on the right won another corner – from which Town nearly doubled their advantage.
But Telford reacted well to their host's fast restart and McKeown had to be alert to hold on to Steve Jones' twice-deflected volley from the edge of the area on 54 minutes while, at the other end, Shaun Pearson hooked a speculative overhead kick on target from a half-cleared corner.
Both sides brought on fresh legs on the hour mark, with Town's Lenell-John Lewis coming on for goal-scorer Brodie while Jones made way for Charlie Henry.
The changes didn't stem Town's flow, however, and most inside Blundell Park thought they had a second goal on 65 minutes when Cook headed home Colbeck's superb cross from the right.
But as the frontman looked up to toast what he thought was his eleventh goal of the season, he was greeted by the sight of the linesman flagging for offside.
Town couldn't afford to rely on their slender lead and they were thankful for Niven as, when Telford worked their way into the box, only the Scot's outstretched leg prevented Jake Reid from getting a clean shot on target.
Hannah was thrown into the mix for the last ten minutes as a replacement for Marshall and it was the striker's clever touch that created an opening for Cook to thrash a volley into the side-netting.
He had a sight of goal himself with five minutes remaining when he got on the end of a long clearance from a Telford corner but, with Young out of position, Hannah's attempted lob bobbled past the far post.
The home crowd felt that Town needed a second goal and when that didn't look to be forthcoming, tensions began to grow.
First, they appeared to get away with a late penalty shout when Pearson manhandled substitute Richard Peniket at a Telford corner, and then when the spirited visitors won a free-kick right on the edge of the area, home fans' hearts were firmly in their mouths.
But Jay Smith's woeful effort was more likely to trouble the corner flag than McKeown and the Blundell Park faithful drew a delighted sigh of relief as Backhouse blew for full-time.
Town had retained their spot at the top of the league and the three-point lead they'd opened up with a similarly hard-fought victory over Alfreton the week before.
That ability to grind out results when not at your best is a useful one, particularly with the schedule Town have coming up.
Because if they are going to realise their dream of a Football League return, every win between now and the end of the season will be crucial – but not all of them will be pretty.
Replay the action as it happened with our Big Match Live interactive commentary.