John McAtee made a goalscoring return from injury but it was not enough to stop Grimsby Town from falling to defeat against Doncaster Rovers at Blundell Park.
The Mariners endured a difficult afternoon after George Miller’s early goal opened the scoring for the visitors, with a superb volley from Harrison Biggins adding to their lead before Miller’s second of the game made it 3-0.
Substitute McAtee gave Town and their fans in another 8,000-plus crowd some hope as he pulled one back.
But the home side were unable to find a second goal which would have set up an exciting finale as Doncaster closed out their win.
McAtee’s long-awaited comeback to the matchday squad from injury came as he was named on the bench, with manager Paul Hurst selecting the same starting XI as he did for the FA Cup victory over Plymouth Argyle last week.
That meant goalkeeper Max Crocombe was protected by a defence of Michee Efete, Luke Waterfall, Andy Smith and Anthony Glennon, with Alex Hunt and Bryn Morris sitting behind Harry Clifton, Gavan Holohan and Otis Khan in midfield as Brendan Kiernan was again tasked with leading the attack.
McAtee was joined among the substitutes by Niall Maher, Jordan Cropper, Kieran Green, Evan Khouri, Lewis Richardson and Keyendrah Simmonds.
Doncaster came into the game looking to banish the memory of last week’s FA Cup home loss to National League North King’s Lynn Town by earning a positive result which could push them closer to the play-off positions.
Manager Danny Schofield would look to top scorer Miller to add to his nine goals so far this season and he was supported in the Rovers attack by Luke Molyneux and Kyle Hurst.
Kiernan was caught offside in the early stages as he ran onto a ball down the left from Morris, then Doncaster’s first attack saw Kyle Knoyle find space to cross from the right but his delivery failed to pick out a team-mate.
The first corner went to the away side on four minutes, although Hurst slipped as he took it and Efete cleared at the near post.
Doncaster kept possession though and Crocombe was called into action to push away a header from Miller.
Another corner came soon afterwards as the visitors’ bright start continued but this time, it caused no problems.
Town had been warned though and the next time Rovers went forward, they broke the deadlock. Miller took the ball into the box and after the danger was not dealt with, Knoyle chipped it back in from the right and MILLER was left on his own at the far post to tap into the net from close range.
Knoyle found himself in space again on 15 minutes but Town escaped as the move eventually ended with midfielder Harrison Biggins lifting the ball high onto the roof of the Osmond Stand.
A cross from Kiernan at the other end was cleared, before a shot on the turn by Clifton took a deflection for a corner. From it, Holohan’s near-post header was too high.
Waterfall conceded a corner on the away left on 21 minutes but they were unable to test Crocombe from it.
Knoyle provided more danger soon afterwards though, as he worked his way into the penalty area from the right and hit a low shot which was blocked for another corner. Crocombe punched the ball from the flag and Town broke thorough Clifton, who got the ball back after an exchange of passes to go through on goal but could not beat Doncaster keeper Jonathan Mitchell.
A free kick on the right gave the Mariners another chance to get the ball into the danger zone but Glennon’s delivery was headed away at the edge of the box and Clifton sent a follow-up effort off-target.
A cross from Efete on the right was cleared as the hosts continued to grow into the game around the half-hour mark.
Holohan then took the ball to the edge of the box but opted to look for Khan instead of shooting and the visitors cleared.
A chance for the away side came two minutes before the break as Hurst played an intelligent pass for James Maxwell and he found Miller but the striker sent a curling shot over the bar.
Hunt was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul soon afterwards, before Smith follow him into the referee’s notebook for bringing Miller down after the half moved into two added minutes. The resulting free kick was played to Molyneux on the right and he drove into the box before hitting a cross-shot which was blocked by Crocombe.
That proved to be the last action of the opening period, with the away side still holding their single-goal advantage at half-time.
No changes were made before the restart and Town were first to threaten as Kiernan did well to keep the ball in and win a corner on the right. Glennon’s ball was cleared but Town kept possession and a foul on Efete gave them a free kick on the left. This time, Glennon’s delivery was headed wide by Holohan.
Soon afterwards, Glennon was adjudged to have brought Molyneux down to give Doncaster a free kick on their right. The initial danger from it was cleared but the away side retained possession and when the ball broke for BIGGINS, he unleashed an unstoppable volley from 20 yards which flew past Crocombe.
A good challenge from Waterfall stopped Miller after the striker had won the ball and made progress deep into the Town half just before the hour.
Clifton then battled well to win the ball on the home right but could only send his cross out for a goal kick.
McAtee made his return to the pitch as he replaced Kiernan on 61 minutes, with Richardson and Simmonds also coming on at the same time as Hunt and Khan made way.
But just seconds later, Doncaster stretched their lead further with a brilliant third goal which put the result beyond doubt. Knoyle played a ball over the top for MILLER and after running onto it and controlling it, he steered a low finish past the advancing Crocombe.
Hurst fired over the bar from outside the box as the visitors attacked again, before a free kick from Molyneux on the right was gathered by Crocombe at the second attempt.
A low shot from Molyneux was blocked by Smith for a corner on 72 minutes, before Adam Clayton replaced Biggins in Doncaster’s first change.
Crocombe made a good save to deny Hurst from the edge of the box with 12 minutes remaining.
And moments later, the Mariners were on the scoresheet as a mistake in defence let them in and after taking the ball into the box, McATEE marked his return with a goal as he picked his spot to beat Mitchell.
Adam Barlow replaced Hurst before the restart and Town were on the attack again on 82 minutes as a cross from the right was put behind for a corner before Richardson could get to it. Glennon’s ball from the flag was caught by the keeper.
Glennon was booked for pulling back Molyneux, who was then replaced by Jon Taylor with five minutes remaining.
A Town corner came soon afterwards but the referee spotted a foul by Morris as Glennon sent the ball over from the flag.
Four added minutes were played and Miller sent a speculative lob attempt well over the bar, before Town twice came within inches of a second goal as Richardson was denied by Mitchell, then the keeper got fingertips to McAtee’s rebound to take it onto the bar and over for a corner.
The Mariners were unable to profit from the flag and that turned out to be the final action of the game, as the away side were left to celebrate with their fans after earning all three points.
Town are next in action on Saturday, when Stevenage are the visitors to Blundell Park.