Match report: Grimsby Town 0 Dartford 2
TWO teams walked off the field after the final whistle at Blundell Park on Saturday – one had been compact, industrious and had taken their chances.
The other, unfortunately for the home fans, was Grimsby Town.
The Mariners were deservedly beaten by a hard-working Dartford side thanks to two second-half goals from Tom Champion and Adam Birchall.
Tasting defeat for only the second time this season will, of course, be a cause of frustration for joint bosses Rob Scott and Paul Hurst.
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But it was the manner of the loss that will leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
Town fell far below the standards they had set for themselves this season, on what was a sobering afternoon for those in black and white.
At times it was hard to believe that it was the same team that had so comfortably brushed aside Luton and Gateshead, during what was an unbeaten run of ten games.
Scott and Hurst named a largely unchanged side for the visit of the Darts, with the only switch seeing Derek Niven replace Frankie Artus, after sitting out the previous game at Newport through suspension.
The managers were hoping to welcome Greg Pearson back from injury. However, his name was missing from the team-sheet once again after pulling up in training earlier in the week.
Dartford top scorer Harry Crawford started on the bench, with Adam Birchall, on loan from Gillingham, leading the line for the visitors.
The Mariners started brightly enough and were rewarded for their early pressure when Andy Cook won a corner inside two minutes, but Nathan Pond – the league's Player of the Month for September – could only nod straight at Marcus Bettinelli.
The game began to settle into a patient rhythm, until it was broken by a moment of controversy on five minutes.
Lee Burns 'spear-tackled' Aswad Thomas inside the box and Scott leapt to his feet inside the Town dugout.
It was a challenge that wouldn't have looked out of place at Twickenham but, to the astonishment of most in attendance, referee Ben Toner was unmoved.
Undeterred, Town looked to press on in what would prove to be their only spell of dominance in the match.
Bradley Wood swung in a free-kick that Ross Hannah flicked on to Pond, who could only head over.
At the other end, Elliott Bradbrook curled a free-kick straight at James McKeown as the men from Kent laboured to get out of their own half in the opening exchanges.
Town had their first real sight of goal moments later when Hannah's clever dummy on the edge of the area ran through to strike-partner Cook, below right. However, the youngster couldn't quite reach on the stretch.
After weathering the early storm, Dartford – who went into the game one point and one place above the Mariners – were visibly growing in confidence, with Birchall working the line well.
McKeown did well to hang on to a low, fizzing cross as the former Arsenal youngster looked to pounce.
Town's lack of fluidity and the ease at which they were surrendering possession was beginning to concern the home fans.
But Niven nearly brought them to their feet ten minutes before the break when his stinging drive from the edge of the area brought a fine one-handed save from Bettinelli.
It had been a tight and nervy first half and one in which Town had failed to capitalise on their spell in the ascendency.
After fending off the Mariners for most of the first half, the visitors were rejuvenated in the second, and registered their first effort on target just minutes after the restart, through Danny Harris.
They weren't to be denied and, five minutes later, they were in front.
When the away side's first corner of the game wasn't properly cleared, Tom Champion struck a low drive from the edge of the area that found its way through the crowd and into the bottom corner past a helpless McKeown.
Town threatened to hit straight back when Joe Colbeck's cross just evaded Hannah at the far post.
But Dartford had their tails up and could have doubled their advantage just minutes later when Harris got past Niven and brought a smart save from McKeown at his near post.
Town's defence had looked rocked solid in previous weeks but, after an untidy mix-up between Pond and Shaun Pearson, the keeper had to be alert once again to deny Birchall.
The home side were off-colour to say the least and Scott and Hurst reacted by making a string of changes, bringing Anthony Elding and Frankie Artus on the hour mark, followed by Dayle Southwell ten minutes later.
Minutes after his introduction, Elding cut in and fired a drive straight at Bettinelli, and then powered a header wide from a Colbeck cross as the Mariners continued to toil.
The home fans' frustrations were heightened when the latest in a string of unsuccessful corner kicks went uncontested and was claimed by Bettinelli.
And when Town were caught napping after winning another promising set piece, Dartford took full advantage.
Wood took a free-kick but when it was cleared, Town were left dangerously out of position and a long forward ball found Birchall in space.
He bore down on McKeown and, with the defenders racing to get back, he showed his class by rounding the keeper and rolling the ball into the empty net with less than seven minutes remaining on the clock.
It was a goal that was greeted with as much joy on the Dartford bench as it was in the stands by their 147 fans.
Tony Burman had avoided the dreaded hangover feared by all bosses after being crowned Manager of the Month. And in doing so, he had led his side to a priceless win that consigned the Mariners to only their second defeat of the season.
Alarm bells will not be ringing at Blundell Park.
But just as was seen after their only other defeat – to Stockport earlier in the season – the joint bosses will demand a reaction when they travel to Alfreton tomorrow night.
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