A dramatic last-minute equaliser saw Grimsby Town begin 2022 with a draw against high-flying FC Halifax Town at Blundell Park.
In an entertaining contest in front of the live BT Sport television cameras, the Mariners created several good chances but found themselves behind when midfielder Kian Spence opened the scoring for the visitors.
Town kept pushing forward but were kept out by a resilient Halifax defence and it started to look like their considerable efforts would be for nothing.
But deep into stoppage time, they grabbed a deserved leveller when Jordan Maguire-Drew headed home at the far post to make it 1-1 and secure a share of the spoils.
Town returned to action for the first time since December 18 after a Covid-enforced break, with Max Crocombe, Adam Crookes and Ben Fox the only players to start both this game and the FA Trophy defeat at Stockport County last time out.
Crocombe began in goal behind a defence of Michee Efete, Shaun Pearson, Luke Waterfall and Crookes, while Maguire-Drew, Giles Coke, Fox and Harry Clifton made up the midfield and Erico Sousa supported Ryan Taylor in attack.
The substitutes were David Longe-King, Seb Revan, Alex Hunt, Sam Bell and Max Wright.
Halifax arrived in Cleethorpes as one of the form teams in the National League and looking for a win which would see them rejoin league leaders Chesterfield on 43 points, although an inferior goal difference would keep the Shaymen off the top of the table.
They would look to the likes of leading scorer Billy Waters to add to his tally of 11 league goals so far this season, while a familiar face in the away squad was former Mariners midfielder Luke Summerfield, who was named on the bench.
Halifax were the quickest to settle and they won a free kick on the right five minutes in, after a foul by Clifton on Jordan Slew. Harvey Gilmour’s ball into the penalty area was cleared.
Clifton then won Town’s first free kick when he was brought down by Jay Benn and Maguire-Drew’s ball was met at the far post by Waterfall, whose header was blocked for a corner.
Waters saw a shot blocked as Halifax found a way into the Grimsby box on nine minutes, before more patient build-up play led to an away corner on the right, which was cleared for a throw-in.
Sousa did well to work some space inside the penalty area at the other end and send a cross over from the left but the ball was caught by keeper Sam Johnson.
Efete set off on a driving run down the right soon afterwards as the Mariners continued to come into the game but after reaching the edge of the box, the right-back’s shot lacked power.
A good cross from Maguire-Drew on the right was then headed away by Halifax captain Niall Maher before the ball could reach Sousa.
Both sides found genuine chances hard to come by over the opening half-hour, with Taylor letting fly from 25 yards with a drive which was deflected out for a corner, before a shot by Sousa was blocked after an attempt by Clifton broke for him.
A foul by Waterfall on Waters gave the visitors a free kick in a promising position on 30 minutes but it came to nothing and Town counter-attacked through Sousa, although the hosts were also unable to create a chance in front of goal.
Waterfall then did well to get back and win a challenge with Waters after a ball over the top from Benn looked to have given the striker an opening.
Town were forced into making the first substitution of the game on 37 minutes when Coke went down with an injury and was unable to continue. Hunt was sent on in his place.
Efete won a free kick after drawing a foul following a cross-field ball from Pearson and Maguire-Drew’s free kick led to an opportunity when the ball broke for Hunt on the edge of the box, although he could only fire wide.
Sousa then had a shooting chance after a good pass from Hunt and his curling effort was deflected away for a corner, which was cleared.
Another chance came soon afterwards when Efete sent a cross over from the right but Fox could not get a good enough connection on his header to trouble Johnson in the Halifax goal.
Town were enjoying their best spell of the game so far as half-time approached and they had the ball in the box again when Sousa crossed from the left but it proved too high for Taylor.
Good defending by Tom Bradbury prevented Sousa from giving the Mariners the lead as the half moved into one added minute, with the Halifax man throwing himself in front of the ball to block the shot.
That meant it remained goalless at the break, with the momentum now with Town after their visitors had made a confident start.
No further changes were made before the restart and an early cross from Maguire-Drew was headed away, before the Mariners were inches away from breaking the deadlock when Maguire-Drew’s superb curling effort from 25 yards bounced off the bar.
Seconds later, a Town corner brought another chance but a flicked header from Taylor was scrambled clear after Pearson had won the initial header.
Waterfall was shown the first yellow card of the game on 51 minutes after bringing Waters down in a central position, 30 yards from goal. Matty Warburton’s free kick looked like it was heading for the top corner of the net but Crocombe was equal to the shot, diving full-length to make a great save and tip the ball over the bar.
Sousa was fouled near the left corner flag at the other end soon afterwards and Hunt’s delivery from the resulting free kick was missed by Johnson but nobody in black and white could connect with the ball.
Seconds later, a breakthrough was made but it was the away side who took the lead. Waters found Jordan Slew with a great ball over the top and after his powerful shot was parried by Crocombe, SPENCE was in the right place to slam the rebound into the net.
Town’s response was good, with Fox firing over the bar from 25 yards, before a volley from Pearson bounced just wide.
Maguire-Drew did well on the hour to work some space on the edge of the box before chipping a cross to the far post but the ball was just too high for Sousa to connect with it.
Another chance came when a smart, quickly-taken free kick saw Hunt find Sousa on the edge of the box. His cross was headed down by Taylor but again, the ball was cleared off the line.
Martin Woods replaced Warburton as Halifax made their first change on 66 minutes, before a foul by Maguire-Drew gave the away side a free kick in a dangerous position on the left. They did not take advantage of it though, as Woods’ delivery was straight at Crocombe.
A foul on Maguire-Drew brought a free kick on the Grimsby right on 74 minutes but after Johnson could only punch the ball as far as the edge of the box, Fox volleyed off-target.
Appeals for a penalty came when Efete went down under a challenge inside the box but the referee ruled the tackle was a fair one and waved play on.
Wright replaced Sousa for the final 13 minutes as the Mariners continued to push for an equaliser, with Maguire-Drew seeing a shot blocked before another one was saved by Johnson.
Maguire-Drew won a corner on the right on 80 minutes but the ball was cleared after it had been played short.
Another corner came soon afterwards as Town kept pushing forward but again, it came to nothing as the referee blew for a Halifax free kick.
Matty Stenson replaced Slew for the away side, before another Maguire-Drew shot was blocked.
Another corner came on 85 minutes but Maguire-Drew’s delivery was claimed by Johnson, then Bell replaced Fox in Town’s third and final substitution.
A foul on Taylor gave Town a free kick on the halfway line and Hunt’s delivery to the edge of the penalty area was met by Waterfall but again, the ball was cleared.
Three added minutes was signalled by the fourth official and in the first of them, the Mariners finally got the equaliser their performance had deserved. A cross from the left found MAGUIRE-DREW at the far post and he nodded the ball back across goal, past Johnson and into the net.
There was still time left and Town set out in search of a winner but Hunt could not find a team-mate with a free kick from the left and so the game ended honours even.
Town are next in action on Tuesday, January 11, when they travel to West Yorkshire for the return fixture against FC Halifax Town.