Grimsby Town began their National League campaign with a win as they beat Weymouth at Blundell Park.
The Mariners dominated the game but they – and the 5,000-strong crowd – were forced to wait until 16 minutes from time until John McAtee broke the deadlock and sparked wild celebrations around the ground.
Town played plenty of good football during the first half as Weymouth offered little attacking threat, although the visitors came into the game after the break but were unable to take advantage during a short spell of pressure.
In the end though, patience was the key to victory for the Mariners and McAtee’s strike meant they were rewarded with a deserved three points.
After last week’s scheduled opener at Bromley was postponed, striker Ryan Taylor won his race to be fit for the first league game as he was named in Paul Hurst’s starting line-up for the first time since picking up an injury in the opening friendly of the summer at Cleethorpes Town.
He was one of nine close-season signings to make their competitive debuts in the black and white stripes from the start, with James McKeown and Harry Clifton the only two in the XI to have played for the club last season.
McKeown started in goal, behind a defence of Michee Efete, David Longe-King, Shaun Pearson and Adam Crookes. Ben Fox and Alex Hunt operated behind attacking midfielders Clifton, John McAtee and Erico Sousa, with Taylor leading the line up-front.
The Grimsby substitutes were Luke Waterfall, Max Wright, Will Bapaga, Seb Revan and Lenell John-Lewis.
Weymouth made the long journey from the south coast looking to get their season up and running following a 2-0 home defeat by Boreham Wood in their first league game last weekend.
Their team included a familiar face in the shape of former Town striker Ahkeem Rose, who was one of three changes following the opening day loss.
It was a carnival atmosphere at kick-off as fans returned to Blundell Park for a league game for the first time since February last year, with scarves handed out at the turnstiles adding to the party atmosphere.
Town made a bright start, with an early burst forward from Efete down the right, but it was Weymouth who won the first corner after a cross was headed behind by Longe-King. Taylor was fouled as he looked to clear the ball from the flag.
A foul on Clifton gave the Mariners a free kick in a central position on nine minutes and it brought the first shot on target as McAtee was teed up to hit a low effort which was stopped by Weymouth keeper Ross Fitzsimons.
A flowing attacking move saw McAtee win a corner on the right soon afterwards and from it, a clever set-piece routine led to McAtee seeing a shot kept out by the keeper, before Pearson’s rebound was also blocked.
Clifton became the first to be shown the yellow card after a foul on Sean Shields midway inside the visitors’ half on 14 minutes.
A cross from Efete on the right was headed clear as Town continued to look for an early breakthrough, then a second corner gave them a further opportunity to put pressure on the Weymouth goal. It was headed behind for another flag-kick and this time, it led to McAtee firing wide of the near post.
Taylor’s near-post flick was deflected away for a corner after another promising attack but this time, Hunt’s driven delivery from the flag was caught by Fitzsimons.
Weymouth attacks had been few and far between over the opening half-hour and a free kick from the right was dealt with by the Town defence.
A chance for the Mariners to open the scoring at the other end came on 34 minutes as Sousa was sent clear but his shot from inside the penalty area was blocked by Fitzsimons.
A foul on Sousa soon afterwards brought a free kick for the hosts, although Crookes’ floated delivery into the box was too close to the keeper.
McAtee hit a low effort at Fitzsimons, then Fox curled a shot over the bar from 20 yards, before Pearson was forced into making a clearance at the other end after a rare chance for the visitors.
Another home attack led to Taylor getting on the end of a cross but the striker could not generate enough power on his header to beat the keeper.
An opportunity for Weymouth came when Calvin Brooks sent a cross over from the right and it was met by Brandon Goodship at the far post but he missed the target with a free header.
A Town corner came moments later and it was driven across by Hunt for Efete, whose header was stopped by Fitzsimons.
One added minute was played at the end of a half which had been controlled by the Mariners and although they had played plenty of good football, they had not yet managed to convert their chances into goals.
John-Lewis replaced Taylor before the restart and Town were straight back on the attack as they won a free kick near the left edge of the Weymouth penalty area. Hunt’s delivery led to a scramble in the six-yard box but nobody could force the ball over the line and into the net.
A shot from John-Lewis was saved by Fitzsimons after good work by Sousa down the right, before Weymouth were forced into a substitution when Rose went down with an injury. He was replaced by Brad Ash.
A cross from the Weymouth right was headed clear by Efete, then a ball from Shields on the left was pushed away by McKeown and a corner followed soon afterwards as the visitors started to come into the game.
More pressure from the away side led to another corner on the left and after McKeown punched clear, an effort from Shields was blocked.
Weymouth were having their best spell of the game and yet another corner came after an effort by Brandon Goodship was blocked but this time, the delivery from the flag was poor and the ball went out for a throw-in on the opposite side of the pitch.
A good block by Efete thwarted Shields as he threatened again on 69 minutes, then Goodship headed over the bar after a cross from deep on the left.
Wright replaced Hunt on 70 minutes as the Mariners looked to an extra attacker in a bid to break the deadlock.
And four minutes later, Town had their breakthrough as Efete found John-Lewis and after he sent McATEE through, the attacker produced a brilliant finish to beat Fitzsimons and send the home fans wild.
A cross from Wright was cleared after it was headed on by John-Lewis, before the striker glanced a header wide after a ball in from Efete.
Omar Mussa and Josh Leslie-Smith were sent on for Weymouth for the closing stages of the game as the Mariners looked for a second goal which would make sure of the points.
An attempt by Sousa was deflected for a corner and Town kept the pressure up as the visitors were unable to clear their lines until Wright eventually ran the ball out for a goal kick.
Four added minutes were played at the end of the contest and Waterfall replaced Sousa as the Mariners aimed to see the game out.
A Weymouth free kick hit the Town defensive wall and two penalty appeals in quick succession from the 76 away fans were waved away by the referee at the Osmond Stand end.
The Mariners finished the game on the attack though, with Wright winning a corner on the right, which was played short as the hosts kept the ball as far as possible from their goal.
Town saw out the final few seconds to ensure they started the season with a win and sent their returning supporters home happy.
They are next in action on Tuesday, when they travel to Stockport County.
Town: McKeown, Efete, Longe-King, Pearson (c), Crookes, Fox, Hunt, Clifton, Sousa, McAtee, Taylor
Subs – Waterfall, Wright, Bapaga, Revan, John-Lewis.