Match Report: Grimsby Town 4 Alfreton Town 2
IT'S the mark of a good team if you can play badly and still win – that's according to the well-worn football cliché anyway.
But the thing about clichés is that occasionally they're right.
And Saturday was just one of those instances, as the Mariners spent most of the first period in their own half before inexplicably wandering off at the break 2-1 ahead.
True, Town were playing into a strong headwind in the opening 45 minutes. And, also true, the hosts were massively improved after the break with that stiff breeze behind them.
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But even the Mariners bosses couldn't deny that their charges were well below their best against an Alfreton line-up that mirrored manager Nicky Law's character.
The Reds were first to almost every ball in the opening stages and, even after falling behind, came storming back at the league-leaders to give them another scare or two late on.
Impressively, though, Town also refused to take a step back in the face of their latest physical test.
And that ability to 'mix it' with the likes of Alfreton in the same week as outplaying the likes of Luton, shows that this Mariners side are genuine title contenders.
The major talking points prior to kick-off at Blundell Park revolved around Ross Hannah and Andi Thanoj.
The top scorer dropped to the bench, as Richard Brodie returned up front to partner Andy Cook. Young midfielder Thanoj retained his place in the side, though, following his fine display against Luton.
Elsewhere, deadline-day signing Lenell John-Lewis was the second forward among the Town subs.
Familiar faces Phil Barnes and Darran Kempson lined up for Law's Reds, who ran out in blue.
The opening 20 minutes of the encounter are best forgotten, with the hosts put straight on the back foot by their determined visitors.
Cook did see an effort blocked short of the goal-line after Marcus Marshall's low eighth-minute corner, but that was it for the opening stages.
Things gradually picked up and the Mariners finally looked a threat as Sam Hatton's cross had to be tipped away by Barnes, and then Brodie tested the stopper with a header.
Within seconds, Jamie Devitt's cross from the right picked out Cook in acres of space in the box, but the centre-forward was disappointed with his tame shot.
For all their possession, Nathan Arnold registered the visitors' first shot on target in the 21st minute, with James McKeown right behind the 20-yarder.
That proved to be a warning shot for the Mariners, as five minutes later they were behind.
Dan Bradley was the Alfreton scorer, sending McKeown the wrong way from the penalty spot.
It was Brodie's clumsy tackle on Scott Boden in the home penalty box that, quite rightly, saw referee Karl Evans point to the spot. It was a centre-forward's challenge and gave Boden all the encouragement he needed to take a tumble.
Cook volleyed Thanoj's corner over the crossbar, before Brodie quickly made amends as he turned inside from the left flank, powered into the box and was hauled down by Leigh Franks. It was a stonewall penalty and Evans agreed once again.
Devitt, spurred on by his successful spot-kick at Welling last month, side-footed the ball into the bottom corner to level things up and give the Pontoon End something to cheer.
Marshall's excellent run and cross was almost met by Craig Disley three yards out as the half neared its conclusion.
But there was still time for Brodie to complete his transformation from villain to hero.
Devitt's free-kick dropped to the frontman in the box, and he turned his marker superbly before poking the ball past Barnes and into the bottom corner.
It would have made for a tricky half-time team-talk from the joint bosses, who may have been ready to unleash the 'hairdryer treatment', but instead had a precious lead to celebrate.
After the break, Town had the wind behind them and knew the next goal was crucial.
In the 57th minute, Brodie was involved again, failing to lift his lob high enough to beat Barnes after Cook's pass sent him through.
That partnership continued to thrive in the next attack when Brodie burst clear down the left and centred for the onrushing Cook.
The ball looked to be half-a-yard behind the striker as he ran towards the near post, but his flicked, back-heel finish was sublime and left Barnes rooted at his near post.
It was 3-1 and the points were in the bag, surely? Not quite – Aswad Thomas had to be on his toes to clear a Kempson header off his own goal-line, following an Alfreton corner.
And after Brodie became the first player booked and left the field for John-Lewis, another sub made an immediate impact.
Alfreton's Paul Clayton lashed home at the second attempt within two minutes of coming on, ensuring the Mariners couldn't take their foot of the pedal just yet.
Town couldn't afford to sit back with such a precarious lead – and they didn't. There were appeals for a third spot-kick of the match when Cook went down under pressure, but Evans waved them away this time. A 'Hatton special' then had Barnes at full stretch to keep his blistering free-kick out, but Town had their fourth before long.
Marshall clipped a cross in from the left and, after John-Lewis' effort was brilliantly saved by Barnes, Disley lashed home the rebound to make it 4-2. It was no more than the Mariners' second half display merited and finally knocked the stuffing out of their visitors.
Events elsewhere helped Town move three points clear of their promotion rivals with 17 matches between them a possible return to the Football League.
It's becoming increasingly hard not to look too far ahead, but – if you can excuse another popular cliché – let's just take it one game at a time, for now.
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