Grimsby Town cut Forest down to size
AFTER labouring to an uninspiring draw at winless Barrow last time out, taking on unbeaten Forest Green Rovers was always going to provide the Mariners with an altogether different challenge.
Facing a team that went into the game boasting the only unblemished record in the Blue Square Bet Premier, Paul Hurst and Rob Scott needed a response to that lacklustre performance against the Bluebirds.
And they got it, as the Mariners stopped the early pace-setters in their tracks on a rousing afternoon at Blundell Park.
Nathan Pond's headed goal just after the hour mark was enough to give the Mariners the three points their determined display had deserved, extending their unbeaten run to six games and moving them to within three points of the play-off places.
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The joint-bosses made just one change to the side that started in Cumbria on Tuesday, bringing in two-goal hero Antony Elding in place of Dayle Southwell, who dropped to the bench.
Greg Pearson missed out once again with a groin injury.
Rovers lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with former Mariner Ben Wright in a front three that also contained Reece Styche and James Norwood.
Town started on the front foot and, when Aswad Thomas popped up on the right-hand side, he found Derek Niven who lofted a cross to the back post, which Andy Cook just nodded wide.
Minutes later, when referee Seb Stockbridge had played a good advantage after a late challenge on Cook, the ball was worked down the right hand side to the overlapping Bradley Wood who chipped a dangerous ball to Frankie Artus at the back post, however his attempted nod down to the waiting Elding was scrambled away.
Stockbridge brought the play back to book Rover's Aaron Racine for the late challenge on Cook, with Town centre-half Pond following him into the book soon after as things began to heat up on a blistering afternoon at Blundell Park.
The visitors had settled well after their long journey to Cleethorpes and looked forced the issue early on with a passing game that was easy on the eye. However, any serious forays forward were dealt with comfortably by Town.
An anguished Cook limped off after taking that early knock to his ankle from Racine, with Dayle Southwell introduced to the fray with only 20 minutes on the clock.
The youngster started well and showed good strength to compete with Rovers' towering back four, hassling them into early mistakes that visibly lifted the home side.
But the early tempo was broken briefly when a shirtless intruder made his way onto the pitch and momentarily gave the stewards the run around, before being hauled to the ground to cheers from the crowd.
With 10 minutes to go until the break, after another injury to Bradley Wood, summer signing Sam Hatton was brought on, eager to make an impression after a stuttering start to his Blundell Park career.
But when Forest Green won a soft free kick on the edge of the area, they registered the game's first shot on target.
Wright shaped a powerful strike around the wall but James McKeown showed strong hands to parry it wide.
At the other end, the home fans were appealing for a penalty when Southwell went down under a clumsy aerial challenge in the box, but Stockbridge correctly waved the calls away.
The youngster was in irrepressible mood and after some tidy link-up play with Elding found him free in the box, he looked odds-on to score. However, the linesman flagged for offside as he looked to stroke it in the bottom-corner.
Referee Stockbridge was not endearing himself to the home crowd with a host of questionable decisions. His booking of Sam Hatton on the stroke of half time for what looked a clean challenge didn't help.
From the resulting free-kick, James McKeown got down well to keep out another stinging effort from Wright.
But Town finished a tight half on top, and, while the home side trudged off to applause from the home fans, Stockbridge was serenaded by a chorus of boos as he made his way into the tunnel.
The half started brightly enough, but not with the speed and verve that the first had ended. While Town were the more forceful, Forest Green were patient – resolutely sticking to a passing game, that, while attractive, had not troubled Town up to that point.
Minutes later, Southwell was nearly set through by Niven, after good pressing work from Town, but Elding was the better option in space, and the move eventually fizzled out.
But Town were not to be denied, and, when they won a free-kick after Forbes' high tackle on Southwell, just after the hour, they were in front.
Artus whipped in a flat delivery that Pond rose highest to nod past the despairing grasp of Russell, and into the empty net, delighting a raucous home crowd.
The goal was Town's reward for being the side that had shown the greater intent and sense of adventure since the restart.
Rovers' boss Dave Hockaday responded immediately, bringing on Jamie Rowe for a disgruntled Al Bangura, who had played well in the heart of the visitors' midfield.
Town could have doubled their advantage when Craig Disley – who was enjoying his best game of the season – broke up play in the middle of midfield and fed Elding, however, Rovers' back four recovered well and snuffed out the chance.
Having arrived at Cleethorpes as league leaders, Forest Green were not prepared to surrender easily, and when they won a free-kick on the edge of the area with 20 minutes to go, Shaun Pearson had to be alert to see off another testing set-piece delivery.
As the game entered the final stages, Forest Green were finding themselves on the ball more and more, posing questions of Town's back four – Jamie Rowe found himself free in the box on the left-hand side and lashed the ball into McKeown's side netting as the pressure began to build.
When Hatton misjudged his kickafter a Town corner was cleared, Rovers looked to take advantage bu the impressive Thomas got back superbly to deny James Norwood.
Tempers began to flare as the clock ran down and, when Paul Hurst appealed for a throw-in and tangled with Rovers' Ed Asafu-Adjaye, the joint-boss was sent to the stands by Stockbridge as he lostcontrol of the game.
Sensing they could snatch a point, Rovers pushed hard for an equaliser but the hosts stood firm in a fractious last few minutes.
As full-time whistle was blown, Rob Scott roared and punched the air in delight. After all the questions raised after their performance at Barrow, his side had come up with the best possible answer – a hard-fought win and another clean sheet, this time against the early league leaders.