Match Report: Grimsby Town 3 Braintree Town 0
THE chorus of "we are top the league, say, we are top the league" that rang around Blundell Park on Saturday evening told you everything you needed to know.
Grimsby Town's victory over visiting Braintree – combined with Newport's slip-up on home turf – ensured the 3,704 Mariners fans in attendance were able to enjoy an all too rare occurrence in recent years.
And who could blame them for enjoying the moment? It's been a long time coming after all.
Making it all the sweeter was the manner of the hosts' victory over their toothless opponents. The Iron managed just one effort on target all afternoon as the Mariners' defence again looked solid as a rock.
From an attacking perspective – while Town were not at their most ruthless – Alan Devonshire's men just weren't able to handle them.
The trickery of Scott Neilson on one wing was complemented by the raw pace of Marcus Marshall on the other.
Forward Andy Cook continued his progression, and strike partner Ross Hannah showed again that there are few better finishers at this level, with his sixth and seventh goals for Town.
Throw in the added creativity of Andi Thanoj in the middle of park, and skipper Craig Disley's lung-busting runs from end-to-end, and you begin to feel a little sympathy for the visitors!
Bosses Paul Hurst and Rob Scott resisted the urge to start with a three-man central midfield, despite being impressed with it in the 5-1 crushing of Woking seven days earlier.
So Thanoj retained his place alongside Disley and, as expected, Neilson returned from his three-match suspension to step in for the injured Joe Colbeck.
Full-back Bradley Wood was missing from the match-day squad with an illness.
An early flowing move involving Cook and Hannah gave Marshall the chance to slice a shot over from just inside the area. Good work by Thanoj then saw the ball canon off Hannah's feet in the box, but visiting keeper Daniel Naisbitt was quick to claim it.
The hosts' very own 'Beckham', Sam Hatton, followed up his two goals from free-kicks against Woking with another wicked set-piece delivery into the box – Naisbitt punching it away uncertainly.
Disley went in for two crunching tackles in the Iron half to present Hatton with another opportunity, and his cross-shot from 35 yards was inches from bending into the net.
Former Town trialist Luke Daley then carved a left-footer well over the home bar from distance as a scrappy encounter neared the half hour mark.
The Mariners were staying patient as their visitors defended with five across the midfield and looked to cut out any space.
And Town almost had their reward in the 34th minute when Neilson's corner was headed back across by Shaun Pearson and Nathan Pond nodded into the net from a couple of yards out.
However, referee Anthony Backhouse had spotted a push and ruled the 'goal' out immediately.
Moments later and Hannah had the gilt-edged chance the home side were craving. A long punt forward was inadvertently nodded on by Braintree defender Alan Massey, setting the striker clear. But his attempted lob sailed wide and Hannah was left pounding the ground with frustration.
Cook nodded Hatton's raking cross just wide, before the pressure finally told in the 43rd minute.
After Braintree had half-cleared a corner, Pond's superb clip to the near post was begging for someone to attack it. Always on his toes, Town's fox in the box, Hannah, was first to react, and planted a cracking header past Naisbitt to open the scoring.
There was still time for Hatton to test the same man with a stinging drive from 30 yards, which the stopper beat away to bring the half to a close.
Neilson dragged an effort wide of the near post from 15 yards and Marshall forced Naisbitt into a flying save as the Mariners went in search of a killer second after the break.
That wasn't long in coming as Neilson's stunning free-kick from the left was met at the near post by Disley, who glanced the ball home to send the Pontoon into raptures.
It was fully deserved for the Town captain who was offering the complete midfield performance – and it gave the hosts a vital two-goal cushion.
They almost needed it in the 56th minute when a Braintree corner dropped to Dean Wells six yards from goal, but his finish was indicative of a centre-half as he blazed over the bar.
Disley and Cook linked up well to present Neilson with another shooting opportunity, but Naisbitt was equal to it this time. He couldn't do much about Town's third in the 65th minute, though.
Cook was again involved in the build-up and when Marshall's pass broke for Hannah just inside the box there looked little danger.
However, the frontman only had one thing on his mind and, with virtually no backlift, his instant left-footed shot arrowed across the goal and unerringly into the far corner.
The finish was pure class, but with Hannah, it's becoming standard practice.
Cook almost teed-up a fourth after a superb run down the right but his low centre was brilliantly cleared off the line by Daley.
James McKeown had enjoyed a quiet afternoon in the home goal, and had to be on his toes to grab a low cross after good work down the left by substitute Kaine Sheppard.
Yet another Town corner then caused mayhem in the visiting box and, after a melee, Disley's header glanced off the post and the rebound was scrambled off the line.
Massey had appeals for a penalty turned down when Hatton appeared to clip the Braintree defender in the box, and Dan Holman had a late shot deflected wide. But the game was over and any response would have been little more than a consolation.
The only blot on the copybook was Pond's late booking, for kicking the ball away, which rules the big defender out of this weekend's FA Trophy First Round encounter.
The final whistle and the announcement of the result from South Wales meant that was soon forgotten, as Town finally hit top spot.
Now all the Mariners have to do is stay there for the next six months.