Grimsby Town 1 Hereford United 1: Mariners held to another draw
MOST Mariners fans will have walked away from Blundell Park on Saturday with mixed emotions – but primarily one of frustration.
It was a day that saw Grimsby Town return to the Conference summit and welcome two exciting new loan signings for the remainder of the campaign.
On the flipside, it was most definitely two points dropped for the under-par hosts, who also said an emotional farewell to defender Nathan Pond, and failed to break down a stubborn Hereford back-line for more than 87 minutes.
It had all looked so easy when that man Pond nodded the Mariners ahead after just two minutes. Town looked on track for a comfortable home win and a three-point cushion at the top.
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However, the Bulls charged back at the home side and, once they had got a precious equaliser, rarely looked like relinquishing their point.
Of Friday's loan acquisitions, Richard Brodie went straight into the Mariners' starting line-up, replacing Greg Pearson in attack, while familiar face Jamie Devitt began on the bench.
The only other change to the starting-XI saw Bradley Wood begin the clash at left-back, deputising for the suspended Aswad Thomas who sat out the first game of his three-match ban.
Pond was playing his final game for Town before returning to parent club Fleetwood Town.
And it was written in the stars that it would be the big centre-half who sent the home crowd into ecstasy – with the opening goal after just two minutes.
Brodie earned a free-kick out on the right, and Sam Hatton's set piece excellent delivery allowed Pond to mark his 28th birthday with a powerful downward header into the bottom corner.
It was all too easy for the defender who has made such an impact at Blundell Park during his fantastic five-month stay at the club.
The hosts were in complete control in the opening stages but, surprisingly it was the Bulls who had the next effort on target when Stefan Stam headed into James McKeown's arms in the 16th minute.
Pond nodded another Hatton free-kick wide seconds later but, despite the early goal, it was an inauspicious opening 25 minutes.
It was Hereford who threatened again next, in the 28th minute, when James Musa's drive was superbly blocked by Pond before Harry Pell drew the best out of McKeown with a stunning 25-yarder from the rebound.
The Town stopper did brilliantly to get down, low at full stretch, to tip his effort onto the post and away for a corner.
Joe Colbeck's 32nd minute corner then caused problems for the visitors as Pond headed the ball down and Ian Miller volleyed it over the bar from ten yards out.
The centre-back maybe could have done better, although he has set himself high standards with his superb finish against Lincoln last week.
Pell earned the first yellow card of the afternoon for a lunge on Colbeck, but it was the former who was celebrating with his team-mates in the 42nd minute as Hereford pulled level.
Wood was guilty of giving the ball away on the left, allowing Marley Watkins to scamper down the wing, avoid Derek Niven's lunge and cross to the near post for Ryan Bowman to clip home.
In fairness, the visitors were probably good value for their goal after clawing their way back into the match after a woeful start.
Colbeck headed a Marcus Marshall cross from the right over the Bulls' bar as Town looked to retake the lead, but that proved to be the last action of the half.
Brodie and strike partner Andy Cook had suffered from a lack of service in the opening period, and that theme continued after the break.
The first 15 minutes of the half were entirely uneventful, and the home crowd needed something to lift them.
The introduction of Devitt on the hour – for Colbeck – served as the required shot in the arm, though, with the winger immediately blasting an effort over from 20 yards.
Brodie then followed suit from a more central position but the Mariners were still desperately searching for some fluidity and cutting edge.
Marshall won a free-kick on the edge of the Hereford box in the 70th minute, though, and Brodie went even closer this time with a powerful left-foot strike, which faded just part the post, from Hatton's lay-off.
Not confined to his left-wing position, Devitt was popping up all over the place, and exchanged a one-two with Brodie before hammering another effort over.
Brodie then had shouts for a penalty, but was instead penalised himself for laying a hand on the ball after his tumble.
The big striker turned well in the 78th minute before firing straight at James Bittner in the Bulls' goal.
Dayle Southwell entered the action for the last ten minutes, in place of a disappointing Cook.
Marshall cut inside two defenders to test Bittner with another low drive from just outside the box, but the frustration was building and time was running out.
A further five minutes, plus three more of additional time, couldn't yield an opportunity of note, and the Mariners were forced to settle for a 1-1 home draw for the second game in succession.
Perhaps most worrying, though, was the lack of goalscoring chances for the Town forwards, especially after they had surged into such an early lead.
Brodie, Cook, Southwell, Greg Pearson, and maybe – just maybe – Ross Hannah will need better service if the Mariners are to continue their title charge.
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