Grimsby Town were handed a heavy home defeat in their final game of 2022 as Salford City won comfortably at Blundell Park.
A first-half hat-trick by striker Matt Smith did the damage for the visitors, with right-back Ethan Galbraith also getting in on the act as the Mariners found themselves 4-1 down at the interval. Smith opened the scoring for Salford in the first minute but after a nervy opening, Town found their way into the game and when Otis Khan brought them level, the momentum briefly looked to have shifted in their favour. A mistake in defence allowed Galbraith to restore the away side’s advantage though, before Smith put them in control with his second and third goals of the night. Town were brighter after half-time and stuck to their task well, although they were ultimately unable to haul themselves back into the contest.
Three changes were made to the Town line-up following the defeat at Harrogate on Boxing Day, with Andy Smith, Anthony Glennon and Danilo Orsi all returning to the XI as Niall Maher, Danny Amos and Brendan Kiernan dropped out. Goalkeeper Max Crocombe started behind a defence of Michee Efete, Luke Waterfall, Smith and Glennon, with Harry Clifton, Gavan Holohan, Kieran Green and Khan forming the midfield as McAtee supported Orsi in attack. Maher, Amos and Kiernan were all named on the bench, alongside Bryn Morris, Alex Hunt, Sean Scannell and Aribim Pepple.
Salford made one change after their 1-1 draw with Barrow last time out, with Odin Bailey replacing the suspended Callum Hendry. Both sides were looking to end the year with a victory after each recorded just one win in their previous six league games, although three points for the Mariners would mean back-to-back home successes.
The home side got off to the worst possible start as they fell behind within a minute of the kick-off, with Salford taking the lead from the first chance of the evening. Ryan Watson kept the ball in on the left and pulled it back for Ibou Touray. He then played a low ball to SMITH, whose volley on the turn beat Crocombe.
Town’s response saw McAtee find Orsi inside the box on six minutes but after he played the ball to Glennon, the left-back’s cross was cleared.
A foul by Clifton on Touray gave the away side a free kick on the left but they were unable to test Crocombe from it as a shot was blocked after the initial delivery from Elliott Watt broke to the edge of the penalty area.
Salford keeper Tom King was called into action for the first time on 11 minutes as he dived to tip a header from McAtee away for a corner, although the flag-kick caused no major problems.
Khan was brought down on the left to give Town a free kick in a promising position but King got to Glennon’s delivery first, to punch the ball away for a throw-in.
Clifton fired over the bar at the end of the Mariners’ best move of the game so far on 20 minutes, after a McAtee cross had been held up well by Orsi on the edge of the box.
And the home pressure got its reward soon afterwards when Town got their equaliser. This time, Orsi put McAtee through from the right and when he pulled the ball across goal, KHAN was the man to blast it into the net at the far post.
Glennon was shown the first yellow card of the evening for a foul near the halfway line but after a shaky opening 15 minutes, the momentum was now firmly with the men in black and white and the game was now being played inside the Salford half.
But when the next goal came on the half-hour, it was the visitors who grabbed the lead back. A mistake in the Town defence was punished as the ball was played through to GALBRAITH and he smashed an emphatic finish past Crocombe from 20 yards.
King got down to stop a strike by Glennon from distance as Town again set about their task of recovering from going a goal down.
But that task was to get even tougher on 34 minutes as Salford stretched their lead with a third goal. This time, it was SMITH who found himself in space on the edge of the box and his chip got a deflection which saw the ball loop over the outstretched arm of the keeper and into the net for 3-1.
A foul on Clifton gave Town an attacking platform with a free kick near the right corner flag five minutes before the break but after Glennon’s delivery was headed on, King jumped to claim a catch.
Instead, the situation was to get worse for the Mariners soon afterwards as Salford scored a fourth goal. The ball was crossed by Watt from the right for SMITH and he met it to complete a first-half hat-trick with a downward header from six yards.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the first half and Green flicked a header wide from a corner as the hosts aimed to grab a foothold in the game before the interval.
But they were unable to create any further chances before the referee’s half-time whistle and as a result, were left with a mountain to climb after the break.
Maher, Morris and Kiernan were all sent on before the restart, with Smith, Clifton and Holohan making way. Salford also made a change, with Ryan Leak coming on in place of Richard Nartey at centre-back.
Town could have pulled a goal back within three minutes as a moment of hesitancy by Luke Bolton almost presented Khan with the ball six yards out but the midfielder recovered to put pressure on the winger, who could only divert it wide.
Galbraith curled a shot over the bar from 20 yards at the other end, before an away free kick found its way through to Crocombe.
A foul on Efete gave the hosts a free kick in a good position on the right and after it was taken quickly, it turned into a corner, which was hooked clear.
Efete sliced wide from the right after Orsi had done well to hold the ball up inside the box, before Morris fired just over the bar after an encouraging run down the left by Khan.
The home side had looked brighter since half-time but as the hour mark passed, Salford were still in control, with their three-goal lead intact and Town not testing King in the away goal.
Nobody was able to get to a teasing low cross from Glennon on the left, then a strike by McAtee was blocked as Grimsby pushed forward in search of an unlikely route back into the contest.
McAtee was denied by a good save from King as the keeper dived to push another shot clear of danger, before a shot by Bailey was blocked at the other end after the influential midfielder had beaten Glennon.
Smith was replaced by Lorent Tolaj and Marcus Dackers came on for Conor McAleny as the visitors made a double-substitution on 73 minutes, with an eye on their upcoming New Year’s Day trip to Bradford City.
Touray missed the target with a shot from distance, before a corner from Khan on the home left was put behind for another one, which was headed clear after the ball had initially been played short to McAtee.
Pepple replaced Orsi and Scannell made his long-awaited return from injury as he came on for McAtee with 12 minutes remaining.
Tolaj struck an effort wide of the near post as Salford looked for a fifth goal, before a free kick for a shoulder-barge on Khan almost led to an opening as Glennon’s delivery was met by Efete but he was unable to generate enough power on his header and the ball was cleared.
A Scannell header was deflected behind for a corner from Glennon’s left-wing cross. The ball from the flag was punched clear by King and when it was played back towards Kiernan, the offside flag went up.
Salford won a corner on 87 minutes but Watt’s ball from the right was headed clear by Waterfall, then Jason Lowe replaced the impressive Galbraith in the visitors’ latest substitution.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the game, before what has overall been an excellent year for the Mariners as a club ended on a disappointing note with this defeat.
They will now aim to bounce back and start 2023 with a bang when they host Stockport County at Blundell Park on New Year’s Day.