Grimsby Town earned a first league victory since October as they beat Tranmere Rovers at Blundell Park.
Brendan Kiernan’s seventh-minute header sent the Mariners on their way to three points as a strong start was rewarded with an early goal, then Niall Maher doubled their advantage just before the hour. Substitute Jake Burton ensured a nervy finish for the home fans as he pulled a goal back for Tranmere and the visitors suddenly sensed an opportunity of completing an unlikely comeback. But on a freezing cold afternoon, Town dug in to close the game out and secure a deserved win in their last home game before the Christmas fixtures.
Danny Amos returned from injury in what was the only change to the Grimsby starting XI following last week’s narrow defeat at AFC Wimbledon. Max Crocombe lined up behind a defence of Michee Efete, Luke Waterfall, Maher and Amos, while Kiernan, Gavan Holohan, Kieran Green, Harry Clifton and Otis Khan were the midfielders as John McAtee led the attack. Evan Khouri was the man to drop to the bench and he was joined there by Alex Hunt, Andy Smith, Danilo Orsi, Jordan Maguire-Drew, Keyendrah Simmonds and Bryn Morris.
Tranmere were on a run of nine games without a win in all competitions, with their last league victory coming against Crewe on October 14. The Mariners were looking to end their own sequence of six league games without a win stretching back to the same weekend, although they had enjoyed cup success since then. The visitors named an unchanged line-up following their goalless draw at Northampton last time out, with strikers Kane Hemmings and Paul Lewis aiming to get themselves on the scoresheet for Micky Mellon’s side.
An early Khan cross was headed away as far as Clifton and his deflected shot was cleared for the game’s first corner. Amos’ delivery from the left was met by Waterfall and his header was tipped away for another flag-kick by keeper Ross Doohan.
The pressure continued with a third corner after Kiernan had kept the ball alive from Green’s header, although this time, the ball was played short to Clifton and his deep cross was caught by Doohan.
Tranmere’s first attack saw Lee O’Connor find Kieron Morris with a pull-back from the left but his shot went wide and the referee pointed for a goal kick, despite appeals for a corner.
Town were on top in the early stages and McAtee almost got his head to a cross from Efete on the right.
And the hosts went on to open the scoring on seven minutes, with the goal their start had deserved. McAtee looked up from the left and delivered a perfect cross for KIERNAN, who glanced a diving header past Doohan and into the far corner of the net.
The Mariners immediately set off in search of more and they had the ball in the net again on 11 minutes when Khan’s cross picked out Holohan, but the offside flag went up against the midfielder as he applied the finish.
A foul on Clifton three minutes later gave Town a free kick inside the Tranmere half but Amos’ delivery was headed clear and when a follow-up attempt was blocked, the away side broke through Josh Hawkes. He went on to find Hemmings on the edge of the penalty area, where a great challenge by Clifton stopped the striker and earned a goal kick.
A corner came on the away left soon afterwards but it was cleared by McAtee, then a free kick from Chris Merrie on the left also failed to cause a significant problem as the referee blew for a foul in Town’s favour.
McAtee tried a lob as he met a long ball from Green but his strike was too high, then Doohan had to race off his line to beat Efete to the ball as the home side attacked again.
The Mariners had dominated the first part of the game but the visitors were starting to play their way into the contest as the half-hour approached.
Town were still looking the more dangerous of the two sides though and Efete won a corner on the right on 27 minutes. From it, Amos looked for McAtee on the edge of the box but there was slightly too much power on the pass for the striker and he was unable to volley the ball towards goal.
At the other end, Efete showed good awareness to come inside and put in a challenge to stop Hemmings after a pull-back from Lewis on the away right.
McAtee chipped over the bar from a narrow angle after getting the ball from Khan at the end of an attack which Clifton had started by winning a tackle 30 yards out.
Lewis then prodded wide of the near post under pressure as another Tranmere break went unrewarded, before a Hawkes free kick from the left was headed away as far as Merrie, whose 25-yard drive was deflected wide for a corner. The ball from the flag was headed clear by Waterfall and a follow-up cross was caught by Crocombe.
A shot by Holohan was blocked after some nice play by the Mariners around the edge of the box, before Clifton won a corner on the left but Amos’ delivery from it was cleared.
Two added minutes were played at the end of the first half and Holohan was narrowly off-target with a shot on the turn after meeting a ball from Efete on the right.
Lewis was shown the first yellow card of the afternoon after catching Maher in an aerial challenge and another stoppage came when right-back Josh Dacres-Cogley caught himself in a challenge with Khan.
No further chances came for either side before the half-time whistle, so Town’s single-goal advantage remained intact at the break.
No changes were made before the restart and Crocombe claimed an early catch from a Lewis cross, before a low centre by McAtee at the other end was turned away at the near post for a corner. Kiernan’s ball to the near post was not dealt with but the referee blew for a foul by McAtee.
Town were inches away from a second goal on 52 minutes with a slick attack which started with a great cross-field ball from Amos to Kiernan. He combined with Efete down the right before the ball was played to McAtee, although the striker’s driven cross proved just too far ahead of Khan, who was sliding in at the far post.
Jake Burton replaced Lewis as Tranmere made the game’s first substitution five minutes before the hour, with Town looking threatening.
Kiernan met a deep cross from Amos with a diving header but he could not direct it towards goal and the visitors eventually cleared.
Another opportunity to put pressure on the away goal came with a free kick to the left of the penalty area and this time, the chance was taken as Khan’s driven delivery was met by MAHER, who glanced a header past Doohan for 2-0.
McAtee sent an overhead kick over the bar as the Mariners searched for more goals, before a foul by Clifton on Morris gave the away side a chance to respond with a free kick 35 yards out. The Town defence were up to the task though and the ball from it was cleared.
Hawkes blasted a shot into the Osmond Stand from distance on 62 minutes, then another flowing move by the hosts led to a chance for Efete but he was unable to apply a finish after cutting in from the right.
A strike from Kiernan was stopped by Doohan, before the visitors grabbed an unlikely lifeline when they halved the deficit in bizarre fashion, as an attempted clearance by Crocombe hit BURTON and rebounded into the net.
Clifton missed the target with a lob attempt from a long way out after Doohan raced out of his penalty area to make a headed clearance, as Town looked to grab their two-goal cushion back.
The game was now much more open, with Tranmere buoyed by their goal and sensing a comeback may be possible.
A Town free kick from the right led to a corner and after initially failing to clear his lines with a punch from Khan’s delivery, Doohan eventually dived on the ball following a scramble.
Waterfall had to head behind for a corner as the visitors attacked again on 73 minutes but the ball was claimed by Crocombe after Efete had won the initial header.
A foul on Efete gave the Mariners a free kick on the right but they were unable to make it count as Kiernan could not keep Amos’ delivery in at the far post.
Mateusz Hewelt replaced O’Connor in Tranmere’s second change as Town continued to look for a third goal, with McAtee denied by the keeper after playing a one-two with Kiernan.
An Amos corner was headed over the bar for another one but this time, the away side broke and Khan was booked for bringing Hewelt down but the resulting free kick was cleared. The visitors retained possession and the ball was played back into the box, although Hewelt could only head wide.
Khan was replaced by Morris in the Town midfield with eight minutes to go, as they looked to close out a vital victory.
Crocombe got down quickly to stop a snap-shot from Burton, before McAtee was twice caught offside as he looked for shooting opportunities from the right.
Orsi came on for McAtee with a minute to go and Tranmere were given a free kick as the game moved into six added minutes but the ball from it was headed clear.
Smith replaced Holohan for the closing seconds to add an extra defender as Town continued to hold firm at the back and when the referee eventually blew for full-time, a good team performance was rewarded with an important win.
The Mariners are next in action on Saturday, when they travel to Mansfield Town.