Otis Khan grabbed the only goal as Grimsby Town made the perfect start to 2023 by securing a hard-earned home victory over Stockport County.
In a tight New Year’s Day clash at Blundell Park, good chances were at a premium for both sides, with defences on top for the majority of the game. But after two consecutive defeats over the festive period, the Mariners recovered well to produce a solid, hardworking display which got its reward as Khan’s close-range strike six minutes after the break won a big three points.
Town boss Paul Hurst made two changes to his starting XI after Thursday’s loss to Salford City, with Niall Maher and Danny Amos returning to the team in place of Danilo Orsi and Anthony Glennon. There was also a change of shape in front of goalkeeper Max Crocombe, with Luke Waterfall, Maher and Andy Smith forming a centre-back trio as Michee Efete and Amos operated in wing-back positions. Gavan Holohan, Kieran Green and Harry Clifton were the midfielders, with Khan behind John McAtee in attack.
Orsi and Glennon were both named on the bench, where there was also a return from injury for Lewis Richardson alongside Bryn Morris, Sean Scannell and Brendan Kiernan.
Stockport arrived in Cleethorpes looking for a fifth consecutive win in all competitions, with an FA Cup replay victory over Charlton Athletic coming among league successes against Walsall, Crewe and Hartlepool in their four previous fixtures. Manager Dave Challinor made one alteration to his team after Thursday’s away win at Walsall with Joe Lewis replacing the injured Fraser Horsfall, although an injury to Ryan Johnson in the warm-up meant a further change as Callum MacDonald came into the line-up.
An early cross from Khan on the left was headed clear, before a foul by striker Kyle Wootton gave Town a free kick inside the Stockport half. McAtee’s chip into the box was headed as far as Waterfall, who saw a shot blocked.
Another home free kick came moments later but this time, Khan’s ball into the penalty area had too much power on it and bounced out for a goal kick.
A Myles Hippolyte cross drifted past the far post at the other end, before a Stockport free kick was headed clear by Waterfall as the 10-minute mark passed without either goalkeeper being called into action.
An attempt by Khan was blocked after he had worked an opening on the edge of the box and a follow-up effort from Green had the same result.
A push on Maher brought a Town free kick on the halfway line on 16 minutes but Amos’ delivery was eventually cleared after both Waterfall and Efete had headed the ball on.
The visitors won the first corner of the game two minutes later but Efete was in place to head it clear.
The first good chance of the afternoon came on 21 minutes when a Mariners corner was cleared but the hosts retained possession and a cross from Holohan on the right found Amos unmarked at the far post, although he could not beat keeper Ben Hinchliffe, who dived to stop the wing-back’s header.
A foul by Clifton on striker Paddy Madden gave the away side a free kick inside the Grimsby half and Ryan Rydel’s delivery initially caused problems inside the box until the danger was cleared for a throw-in.
Wootton went down inside the penalty area after Smith had lost possession to Madden but the referee waved play-on and Town launched an attack of their own which led to McAtee lifting a shot over the bar from 20 yards.
Rydel won a corner on the away left just after the half-hour and Phil Bardsley’s delivery was headed away for another one, this time on the right. Rydel’s ball was flicked on by Madden and a sliced volley from 20 yards turned into a good pass for Rydel, although his cross led to a Town free kick for a foul on Crocombe.
Town were using the long throw of Maher as an attacking weapon but were still struggling to test Hinchliffe, who was making his 300th appearance in the Stockport goal.
Rydel volleyed wide after Madden beat Efete to a cross from the away right, before the hosts built a spell of pressure around a series of Maher throws into the box, the last of which led to Waterfall flicking a header which was caught by the keeper.
Madden fired just wide from 20 yards on 42 minutes, before McAtee did well to chase down a ball from Clifton and pull it back across goal, although nobody in black and white was there to convert the opportunity.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the first half and Maher beat Madden to a low ball across the Town penalty area to get it away for a throw as the visitors attacked in search of an opening goal before the interval.
A late challenge by Efete led to a free kick on the Stockport left but it caused no problems as the ball fell for Madden on the right and his chip towards the far post was caught by Crocombe, meaning a tight half ended goalless.
No changes were made before the restart and Town were straight on the attack with a slick move, although nobody could get on the end of Efete’s cross from the right.
Maher was adjudged to have brought Madden down two minutes in but MacDonald’s shot from the resulting free kick was comfortably saved by Crocombe.
Holohan fired over the bar as the lively opening to the second half continued, before the breakthrough came for Town when a Maher long throw from the right was headed on by Waterfall into the path of KHAN, who half-volleyed past Hinchliffe.
Crocombe produced a brilliant point-blank save to deny Hippolyte from a volley as Stockport looked for a swift response.
A cross from Hippolyte on the left was claimed by the keeper as the visitors continued to come forward.
Town won a corner on 62 minutes after Clifton had sent McAtee clear down the right and his low cross was put behind at the near post. Amos’ delivery to the far post was missed by Hinchliffe but the ball was cleared, although good play by Holohan saw the hosts win it back and a shot by Clifton went over the bar.
A corner came at the other end soon afterwards and Bardsley’s delivery to the near post was sliced behind by McAtee for another one. This time, Bardsley sent it high towards the far post but the ball was claimed by Crocombe.
A cross from Rydel deflected off Efete for another Stockport corner but it led only to defender Joe Lewis heading over the bar.
Maher’s long throw was still being used to good effect and it led to a Town corner on 70 minutes. The ball was played short from the flag and when it was eventually sent into the box, Waterfall’s header went just above Hinchliffe’s target.
The away side then made a triple-substitution, with Connor Evans, Antoni Sarcevic and Ollie Crankshaw coming on in place of Rydel, Ryan Croasdale and Bardsley.
Another Stockport corner came when a cross from Will Collar on the left was put behind at the far post but the ball from the flag was headed off-target by Akil Wright.
Kiernan came on for McAtee in Town’s first change on 75 minutes, before Green was shown the first yellow card of the game for a shirt-pull.
Clifton followed his team-mate into the referee’s notebook for a foul inside the Stockport half, then another long throw from Maher caused problems but the pressure eventually came to an end with a foul and an away free kick.
A strike by Khan was blocked, then Hippolyte drilled an attempt wide at the other end after a scramble inside the Town box.
James Brown replaced Hippolyte with a minute to go and the fourth official then signalled six added minutes for the Mariners to survive if they were to secure a prized victory.
Crankshaw won a corner on the right in the first of the extra minutes but it was headed wide by Lewis.
Waterfall headed behind for another corner as Stockport continued to attack but the ball from the flag was headed clear and the home side’s lead remained intact.
Morris came on for Clifton as the seconds ticked down and his first contribution was to block a cross from MacDonald on the left.
And that proved to be the last opportunity for the visitors to get the ball into the Town box as the referee’s final whistle confirmed a welcome and deserved three points for the Mariners.
Town are next in action on Saturday, when Burton Albion will be the visitors to Blundell Park for a 5.30pm kick-off in the third round of the FA Cup.