A late Niall Maher equaliser earned Grimsby Town a deserved point against high-flying Stevenage at Blundell Park.
The Mariners had to soak up some early pressure but they went on to create some big chances to take the lead before half-time, as John McAtee saw a penalty saved and Otis Khan hit the woodwork.
Instead, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock with 11 minutes to go as Jake Reeves put them ahead. But Town refused to be beaten and with the clock ticking down, they poured forward in search of an equaliser.
And after the game moved into added time, Maher got the vital touch when a corner was not dealt with to ensure a hard-fought share of the spoils.
Four changes were made to the Grimsby starting XI following the home defeat by Doncaster Rovers. McAtee came in after a goalscoring cameo from the bench on his return from injury last week, while Maher, Danny Amos and Kieran Green were the other alterations as Anthony Glennon, Alex Hunt, Gavan Holohan and Brendan Kiernan made way.
There was also a change of system, as goalkeeper Max Crocombe lined up behind a back three of Luke Waterfall, Andy Smith and Maher. Michee Efete and Danny Amos were deployed as wing-backs, with Harry Clifton, Green and Morris forming a midfield trio and Otis Khan supporting McAtee in attack.
Hunt, Holohan and Kiernan were all named on the bench, where they were joined by Danilo Orsi, Keyendrah Simmonds, Evan Khouri and Lewis Richardson.
Stevenage made the journey north looking to add another positive result to what has been an excellent campaign so far for them, with Steve Evans’ men sitting second in the League Two table at kick-off.
Strikers Luke Norris and Danny Rose had 14 goals between them in all competitions coming into the game and both would be out to add to their tallies.
An early foul by Khan on Reeves gave the visitors a free kick midway inside the Town half and Max Clark’s delivery into the penalty area was headed behind for the game’s first corner. Reeves’ ball from the flag was headed clear but Stevenage retained possession until Dan Sweeney volleyed at Crocombe from 20 yards.
Town’s first opportunity to attack came on four minutes after a foul on Efete on the right. Morris’ ball into the box was headed clear and Khan was then penalised for a push.
Maher headed behind for a Stevenage corner on the right four minutes later but after the Mariners switched off as the ball was initially played short from the flag, Crocombe claimed a comfortable catch when it was sent into the box.
Efete was unable to get on the end of a good ball into the penalty area by McAtee at the other end, before a great chance for the visitors came when Reeves tried his luck with a speculative effort from 30 yards. His shot took a heavy deflection and bounced into the path of Clark, who got in ahead of Efete but could only side-foot wide from six yards.
Town’s first chance saw Efete meet a cross from the left but his header flew over the bar, then a foul on Alex Gilbey gave the visitors an opportunity to send a free kick into the danger zone but Waterfall was in place to head Reeves’ ball clear.
A slip by Stevenage keeper Taye Ashby-Hammond gave Amos a shooting chance from just outside the box on 26 minutes but the stopper recovered well to dive and block the left-back’s low effort.
A corner came for the away side just after the half-hour but Maher won the header from it, before Gilbey fired wide from 25 yards in the away side’s next attack on 33 minutes.
Seconds later, Town lost possession from a goal kick as the ball was intercepted by Terence Vancooten. His shot was blocked and the ball bounced into the path of Rose but the striker’s volley was straight at Crocombe, who gathered at the second attempt.
A free kick on the edge of the box gave Stevenage another opportunity to cause problems, although Reeves’ chip to the far post was headed away.
Moments later, the Mariners were given a golden chance to open the scoring when McAtee ran through the middle and slipped the ball left for Clifton to take it into the box. His first touch took him wide but he was brought down by Ashby-Hammond and the referee pointed to the spot. The chance was not taken though, as the keeper dived to keep McAtee’s penalty out.
Green was shown he first yellow card of the afternoon for a foul to the right of his own penalty area but the free kick caused no problems as the ball was cleared for a throw-in.
Town then created another chance to take the lead as McAtee again took the ball forward. This time, he found Khan on the left and he cut inside before hitting a brilliant curling shot which bounced back off the far post before a follow-up from Clifton went agonisingly wide.
Stevenage had enjoyed the better of the early exchanges but as the half moved into one added minute, it was the Mariners who now had the momentum.
The hosts had created the better chances as the interval loomed but were unable to take any of them and Stevenage would perhaps have been the happier to hear the half-time whistle, with the score still goalless.
No changes were made before the restart and after a frenetic start to the second half, the visitors won a corner on their left on 52 minutes but the ball from the flag was headed clear.
Town’s first opening of the half came soon afterwards when McAtee ran down the left and found Khan, whose shot was blocked for a corner.
The ball from the flag was played short but the pressure continued with a free kick near the left corner of the box, although Morris’ delivery was headed powerfully away by defender Saxon Earley.
A shot from Clifton was blocked after an Efete cross was recycled by Amos, then Clark curled an effort just wide at the other end as the hectic start to the second half continued, with both sides looking to attack at pace.
The game settled down around the hour mark and a lengthy stoppage came when Rose stayed down after a clash of heads with Waterfall. The striker eventually got to his feet but was led down the tunnel and eventually replaced by Jamie Reid in the first substitution of he game. David Amoo then replaced Clark in the visitors’ second change.
Town were starting to get on top after the Stevenage substitutions and they made a change of their own on 74 minutes as Simmonds replaced Khan.
The visitors sent out a warning soon afterwards though, as Amoo got down the right and sent a cross over which was headed away, then another ball from Amoo took a big deflection and Crocombe had to tip it over his bar for a corner.
The corner came to nothing but the next time Stevenage attacked, they took the lead. Amoo’s pace took him down the right again and his low cross was held up by Reid for REEVES to steer a good finish past Crocombe from the edge of the box.
Town immediately looked to hit back and a foul by Earley earned him a yellow card and gave the hosts a free kick in a dangerous position on the right. Morris sent the ball to the far post and it was headed back across goal by Green but keeper Ashby-Hammond got down to gather it.
Orsi and Kiernan came on for Smith and Morris with eight minutes to go as the Mariners looked for the goal which would rescue at least a point.
A corner came on the right on 84 minutes but Amos’ delivery was eventually scrambled away for another one, which was caught by Ashby-Hammond.
A cross from McAtee was cleared, before Kiernan also had an opportunity but saw his shot blocked.
But as the game moved into seven added minutes, the Mariners finally had their equaliser as a corner led to a scramble in front of goal and MAHER got the vital touch to take it into the net in front of he packed Pontoon Stand.
Stevenage aimed to get their advantage back as the clock ticked down and some last-ditch defending, as well as a great save from Crocombe, was required to get the ball away as the visitors attacked with purpose.
At the other end, a Clifton volley was blocked after a long throw from Maher was cleared to him.
Town were finishing the stronger of the two sides but Stevenage held on as both sides secured a deserved point.
It also meant the Mariners prevented a fourth straight league defeat and got some reward for what had been a battling performance.
Town are next in action on Tuesday, when Accrington Stanley are the visitors to Blundell Park in the Papa John’s Trophy.