Grimsby Town are into the National League play-off semi-finals after coming from behind to claim a dramatic extra-time victory in their eliminator at Notts County.
The Mariners, backed by 2,013 noisy travelling fans, were the better side for long periods at Meadow Lane but fell behind when Ruben Rodrigues scored from the penalty spot.
A the clock ticked down, it looked like the hosts were set to hold on but Gavan Holohan popped up with an equaliser in the sixth minute of added time to force an extra half-hour.
And then, with penalties looming, Emmanuel Dieseruvwe grabbed a last-minute winner to book a trip to Wrexham on Saturday.
After making nine changes for the final game of the regular season at Eastleigh, Town boss Paul Hurst reverted back to the team that beat Boreham Wood in the last home game, with Luke Waterfall returning from suspension to replace Shaun Pearson in the only alteration from that XI.
Max Crocombe started in goal, with Jordan Cropper, Andy Smith, Waterfall and Danny Amos forming the defence. Erico Sousa, Ben Fox, Holohan and Harry Clifton were the midfielders, with John McAtee supporting striker Ryan Taylor.
Pearson was named on the bench, alongside Giles Coke, Jordan Maguire-Drew, Tristan Abrahams and Dieseruvwe.
Notts finished the regular season five points ahead of the Mariners to earn their home advantage in this fifth versus sixth place eliminator and they ended the campaign strongly, with five wins from their last six games.
Attackers Rodrigues and Kyle Wootton started the evening as the club’s joint leading National League goalscorers with 19 each. They would both be aiming to hit the magical 20-goal mark and in the process, help extend their side’s season into the weekend.
Town won the first corner on three minutes when a low cross from Sousa was intercepted and put behind. Amos’ ball from the flag was headed out at the far post for another one, which was caught by home keeper Sam Slocombe.
Sousa fired over the bar from 25 yards after McAtee had done well to win the ball on the left, then Crocombe comfortably collected a low cross from Adam Chicksen at the other end.
Holohan sent a shot over the bar from distance as Town’ positive opening continued, with the hosts yet to threaten as the 10-minute mark passed.
The visitors went close at the other end when a great ball from Waterfall found Taylor and he passed to Amos. The left-back’s whipped cross was met by Sousa but he could only head narrowly wide.
A free kick from Matt Palmer on the Notts left was dealt with by Smith and the follow-up ball into the box was comfortable for Crocombe.
Cropper then won a corner on the right on 17 minutes but Waterfall could only head wide at the far post from Amos’ looping delivery.
Taylor, Holohan and McAtee linked up well two minutes later but the ball was cleared for a throw-in.
A low ball into the box at the other end was cleared by Waterfall after a quickly-taken free kick put the home side on the attack.
A stoppage then came for Notts’ Cal Roberts to receive treatment after going down injured and after he was unable to continue, Elisha Sam came on in the game’s first substitution, with 23 minutes on the clock.
Sam’s first involvement saw him run through the middle and send a low shot straight through to Crocombe from 20 yards, before McAtee beat the offside trap at the other end to meet a long ball forward and volley just over the bar on the turn.
Smith did well to get back and cover after Jayden Richardson benefited from Amos misjudging a ball in the air to get away down the left.
The winger was involved again soon afterwards when he created the home side’s first big chance of the game. Richardson beat Amos again and cut inside before crossing for Rodrigues, who put his diving header wide from 10 yards.
That opportunity galvanised the home crowd, who had been given little to get excited about so far as the Mariners had controlled the opening half-hour.
It also proved to be the start of a spell of Notts pressure, with Waterfall putting in a good block to deny Wootton soon afterwards.
Town were still looking to attack whenever possible though and McAtee won a corner on the right after good play by Sousa. Waterfall’s far-post header was blocked for another one but this time, Holohan missed the target with an attempt from 25 yards.
Jim O’Brien was shown the first yellow card on 39 minutes after a late challenge on Sousa but the resulting free kick from McAtee was headed clear.
Taylor was unable to fully connect with a low cross from Clifton after the winger had been released down the left by Amos, then Smith was in the right place to volley clear after a cross from the home left.
Clifton became the first Town player to go into the referee’s notebook after a foul on right-back Richard Brindley, although the free kick from halfway caused no damage.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the first half and Cropper got his first long throw opportunity in the first of them but it was dealt with by the home defence.
No more chances came for either side before the half-time whistle so it remained goalless at the interval, with the Mariners not getting the reward of a goal for what had otherwise been an excellent 45 minutes.
No further changes were made before the restart and an early push by Sousa gave the hosts a free kick in a dangerous position on the left. Palmer took it but his cross was punched clear by Crocombe.
Clifton sent a low effort wide of the near post in Grimsby’s first attack of the second half, before he went close again five minutes in with a drive from distance which fizzed just wide.
Sam won a corner for Notts two minutes later but Palmer’s delivery was headed clear by Clifton.
A McAtee cross from the left was caught by Slocombe, then two Sousa balls from the right were cleared as Town continued to attack.
Another shot from Clifton was blocked for a corner after a spell of Mariners possession and this time, the ball came out to Holohan but his low drive from 25 yards grazed the outside of the post as it went agonisingly wide.
Ed Francis replaced O’Brien in the home side’s second change just before the hour, then another shot from Clifton was blocked for a corner on the left. From it, the ball came out to Holohan again and he found Fox on the right. The midfielder’s cross was put into the net after Taylor had headed it back across goal but the assistant referee’s flag had already gone up and the goal was ruled out.
The game stopped for McAtee to receive treatment after staying down inside the Notts penalty area but he was eventually passed fit to continue.
A foul by Waterfall on Wootton gave the home side a free kick just inside the Town half on 68 minutes but they were unable to make the most of it and Crocombe remained untroubled.
Taylor was booked for an off-the-ball foul soon afterwards and then came a crucial moment as a rare Notts attack saw Cropper adjudged to have committed a handball as he blocked a shot from Rodrigues inside the box. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and RODRIGUES stepped up to send Crocombe the wrong way and open the scoring.
Town’s response was positive and they won a corner on the right soon after the restart, although the referee blew for a foul and a home free kick when the ball was sent across from the flag.
A long throw from Cropper was cleared as far as Holohan but he could only fire narrowly wide.
Rodrigues shot straight at Crocombe after working some space on the edge of the box at the other end, before another Notts chance came and went as a header from Wootton was deflected wide for a corner. Palmer’s flag-kick was headed clear.
Abrahams replaced Taylor and Maguire-Drew came on for McAtee as Town made a double-substitution with nine minutes to go in a bid to get back into the game.
Zak Brunt was sent on in place of Rodrigues, before Waterfall was booked for a foul on Wootton on the home left.
Appeals for a Grimsby penalty were waved away by the referee as Clifton went own inside the box with three minutes to go, then Dieseruvwe was sent on in place of Cropper in a final roll of the dice.
Town were given six added minutes to grab a goal which would force extra time and they won a corner on the left but it was headed clear.
A free kick on the edge of the box gave them a final opportunity and incredibly, they took it as Maguire-Drew’s ball was not cleared and after a scramble, HOLOHAN pounced to force it into the net, sparking scenes of jubilation in the away end.
It proved to be the last action of the 90 minutes and the game moved into extra time, where a mix-up at the back led to an early Notts corner. Palmer’s delivery was headed towards goal but Clifton was in the right place to volley clear.
Waterfall made a vital block to deny Wootton after the striker had raced clear on 97 minutes and the resulting corner was also dealt with.
Wootton fired wide two minutes later, before Brunt was booked for catching Sousa with an elbow in the air.
Dieseruvwe was crowded out as he tried to create a shooting opportunity inside the box, then a run from Sousa resulted in a corner when his shot was blocked from the edge of the penalty area.
That turned into another corner and Fox won a third in quick succession but this time, the referee blew for a Notts free kick as Slocombe tipped the ball clear.
Sousa had to concede a corner at the other end as half-time in extra time approached but a strong header from Waterfall got the ball clear.
That meant the teams turned around with the scores still level at 1-1 and just 15 minutes remained to force a result and avoid the game being decided on penalties.
Smith blocked a shot from Brunt, then the rebound went straight at Crocombe as Notts were first to threaten in the second period.
Coke replaced Holohan with 11 minutes to go, before Sousa missed the target from 20 yards.
Dieseruvwe strayed offside as he looked to meet a through-ball from Maguire-Drew, then Notts sent on Dion Kelly-Evans or Richardson.
A home corner came with five minutes to go but it was well-defended, then Pearson was shown the yellow card despite still being sat on the bench after the referee was called over to the dug-outs.
Dieseruvwe forced a save from Slocombe with a low, curling strike from 20 yards, then a foul on Amos brought a free kick inside the Notts half with two minutes to go. From it, the Mariners were ahead as the ball was not cleared and DIESERUVWE forced it over the line for the winning goal.
The fourth official signalled three added minutes, with the hosts now the ones forced to scramble for a way back into the contest.
A free kick deep inside the home half gave the Mariners an opportunity to run the clock down and they did so successfully, to seal a dramatic but fully deserved victory.
They now travel to Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground on Saturday, with a place in the promotion final at the London Stadium at stake.