Table-topping Grimsby Town FC share spoils at Cambridge
TWO points dropped, or one point gained?
That was the question on most Grimsby Town fans' lips as they made their way back up to North East Lincolnshire after watching their side's 0-0 draw at Cambridge.
However, on reflection, many would have agreed that it was definitely the latter.
While Town probably did enough to leave Cambridge with the honours, ultimately they were made to settle for a decent away point that could yet prove crucial in the Blue Square Bet Premier title race.
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After sealing his return to Blundell Park this week, Marcus Marshall returned to the side at the expense of Joe Colbeck, who dropped to the bench.
James McKeown recovered from illness in time to reclaim his place in goal, while Aswad Thomas was also back in the Town side after completing his protracted three-match suspension.
And, after coming off the bench to score a match-winning brace against Hyde in midweek, Andy Cook was rewarded with a starting place up top alongside Ross Hannah.
The hosts started with purpose and could have gone ahead inside two minutes when Curtis Haynes-Brown shaped a cross that just evaded the forehead of Michael Gash, while from their first corner of the game U's debutant Matthew Fletcher volleyed over.
It had been a sluggish start for the Mariners, but they had their first real sight of goal on seven minutes when Cook found Devitt on the left flank and, after turning his marker inside out, the Irishman returned the favour to find the frontman in the box.
Cook's first header crashed back off the bar before his follow-up effort was nodded over on the line by Josh Coulson.
After surviving that scare, Cambridge were nearly gifted a chance to open the scoring themselves.
The impressive Haynes-Brown was set free down the left-hand side and fired in a low cross that McKeown fumbled unconvincingly before collecting at the second attempt with Gash waiting to pounce.
After making a promising start, Cook was forced off the field following a nasty clash of heads with Hatton, and eventually had to be replaced by Richard Brodie with less than half an hour on the clock.
That enforced change broke the rhythm that Town had started to build, allowing Cambridge to grow in confidence.
The Mariners were indebted to first Shaun Pearson and then Craig Disley who blocked two goal-bound efforts from Fletcher with ten minutes to go before the break.
Town were certainly not at their fluid best, with most in the blue change kit having struggled to make a telling impact as referee Brett Huxtable brought the half to a close.
The first real chance after the restart fell to the hosts and Derek Niven had to be alert to clear his lines from six yards out after Gash's downward header.
But Town hit back and when Brodie was allowed to pull out to the right- hand side, he turned on the corner of the box and lofted a cross that hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down onto the line before being hurried away.
Belying the heavy pitch, Thomas then burst forward and won a free-kick on the left-hand side. Marshall took the ball quickly and skipped past the challenge of a defender before unleashing a drive that deflected off Brodie and bobbled into the bottom-corner past a helpless Ross.
The Mariners had their opener, or so they thought; the linesman had his flag raised for offside and the goal was promptly chalked off.
But that passage of play had lifted the visitors who had their hosts penned in their own half.
Devitt found some space on the left and drove at the Cambridge back-line before firing a low shot that Ross did well to keep out at his near post.
Town were keeping the ball much better than they had in the first half and almost fashioned a goal of real quality 71 minutes.
The ball was rolled into Devitt whose clever touch and turn allowed him to nip past his marker and find Brodie, who lifted the ball into the Dubliners' path.
But with the goal at his mercy, the nimble winger dragged his shot agonisingly wide, denying Town what would have been a picture-book goal.
That was to be Devitt's last action of the game as Town joint bosses Rob Scott and Paul Hurst replaced him with Joe Colbeck minutes later.
But after what had been a promising spell, Town were beginning to lose their impetus again and at the other end, Cambridge saw their best chance of the half come and go when Ross Jarvis blasted just wide of McKeown's far post.
With five minutes to go, Town made a final push in search of the goal that their second-half showing had deserved.
Hatton's free-kick fell to Pearson at the back post, but the centre half could only drag an overhead effort into Ross' side-netting.
While, on what had been a largely frustrating afternoon for the forward, Hannah again went close – but Town's race was run.
On an afternoon when their rivals were out of league action, Town would have wanted – and in truth did enough to earn – more.
But, after all, a point on the road is never a bad one.