Match Report: Grimsby Town 1 Kidderminster Harriers 3
GRIMSBY Town's joint bosses insisted that their title chances were never going to be determined by the result of Saturday's clash with Kidderminster Harriers.
And while they were undoubtedly right, the 3-1 home defeat, at the hands of one their main promotion rivals, would certainly have stung.
Few would deny that Town played well enough in patches, but they conceded three near identical goals to Steve Burr's slick and impressive side who came to Blundell Park with a game-plan – and executed it to perfection in order to leave with three priceless points.
Anthony Malbon struck twice, either side of a goal from loan-signing Michael Gash, to inflict only the Mariners' sixth league defeat of the season.
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But thankfully for Rob Scott and Paul Hurst's side, the Blue Square Bet Premier table does not look quite as grim as it may have done – mainly thanks to slip-ups from fellow title-chasers Wrexham and Newport.
Before the game, home fans enjoyed the welcome sight of Liam Hearn back on the Blundell Park pitch once again, exercising alongside Shaun Pearson, who continues his own recovery from a knee injury.
Of the players that were available, the management duo made two changes to the side that started the victory against at Forest Green in midweek. Ross Hannah came in for Richard Brodie to partner Andy Cook up top while Andi Thanoj replaced the injured Derek Niven.
Meanwhile, Frankie Artus was named in a match-day squad for the first time since January.
As kick-off approached, an almighty cheer went up after news of Wrexham's defeat to Dartford in the lunchtime game filtered through.
That result presented both Town and the Harriers with a welcome, if unexpected opportunity, to gain ground on the leaders – and everyone inside Blundell Park knew it.
With that in mind, the game started at a decent pace, with the hosts forcing much of the early play – Cook was flagged offside as he looked to nod home after strike partner Hannah's mis-kick from a Joe Colbeck set-piece while, at the other end, Keith Briggs flashed a drive wide from 20 yards for the visitors.
Other than those early flashpoints, it had, as expected, been an even start as the title rivals sized each other up in the opening half hour.
But that all changed shortly before the half-hour mark when Bradley Wood lifted in a cross to the near post from the right. Hannah nipped in to get there first, but Harriers' stopper Danny Lewis pulled off a stunning point-blank save to keep out his glancing header.
That would have given both Hannah and the Mariners the goal they both so desperately needed, but the unrewarded attack had left the hosts vulnerable to the break.
Almost instantly, Kidderminster broke down the left-hand side and, when Mickey Demetriou flashed a superb ball across the box, an unmarked Malbon stole in at the back post to tap home and open the scoring.
It had been the visitor's first real attack of note, and the manner in which they sprung from defence would prove to be an ominous sign of what was to come.
However, three minutes before the break, Town thought they had got themselves back on terms.
Marshall picked up the ball on the right and burst past two before finding Hannah with a low cross that the frontman flicked towards goal. However, Lewis sprung to his right to parry away and send the ball bobbling agonisingly across the goal-line.
With the equaliser seemingly not forthcoming, Scott and Hurst would have wanted their side to keep the deficit down to one before the break.
But when they surrendered the ball deep in Kidderminster's half, the visitors broke with deadly effect once again.
Uncharacteristically naïve defending meant that Aswad Thomas found he was the only one left back in defence as the ball was worked across to the spare man, Lee Vaughan. His pull-back from the right presented Michael Gash with the simplest of tap-ins to give his side a commanding lead at the break.
It was clear that the Mariners needed something special in the second half if they were to take anything from the game.
And after, they won a free kick four minutes after the restart; they had the early goal they so desperately needed.
Colbeck clipped a cross to the edge of the area, Craig Disley helped the ball back in and Ian Miller's cool side-footed effort flew into the roof the net to half the deficit.
After that goal, the hosts were buoyant, but once again, the need to push on for an equaliser left them exposed at the back.
Gash flicked a long ball on to Malbon, but the outrushing McKeown did superbly to spread himself and smother the effort.
Colbeck was replaced by Jamie Devitt on 53 minutes as the hosts looked for renewed impetus on the flanks. And it was the Irishman's cross-shot that nearly presented Hannah with a chance to equalise, but the lively striker couldn't latch on to it.
By now, the Mariners were enjoying their best spell and Blundell Park responded. Amid the roars from the home crowd, Cook lashed over a half-volley from just inside the area.
With 20 minutes remaining, things were beginning to heat up, not only on the pitch but also on the touchline. John-Lewis was shown a yellow within minutes of replacing Hannah while Rob Scott had heated exchange with the Harriers' backroom staff in the dugout.
Although Town had looked like the team more likely to get the next goal, a move of real quality from the visitors saw them extend their lead on 77 minutes.
Slick passing allowed the free-flowing Harriers to exploit an overlap on the right hand side. The ball was steered towards the back post and, once again, Malbon was on hand to bundle home and kill-off Town's hopes of a comeback.
Devitt slashed an effort into the side-netting late on and blasted another over the bar seconds later as the hosts limped home with a whimper.
It had been a miserable afternoon for the Mariners, who had lost to the better team – and certainly one of the more impressive sides to visit Blundell Park this season.
Scott and Hurst must now to regroup their squad for the increasingly important trip to in-form Mansfield Town tomorrow evening.
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