Grimsby Town lost their final away game of the season as Stevenage earned the victory they needed to seal promotion to Sky Bet League One.
On a big day for the home side at a sold-out Lamex Stadium, the Mariners stood up well to the physical threat posed by Steve Evans’ team and battled well to ensure they got to half-time with the score still goalless.
But Stevenage took the lead through striker Jamie Reid 11 minutes after the break and they went on to add a second goal as substitute Luthur James-Wildin made it 2-0.
Town kept searching for a way back into the contest but they were unable to find a goal that would have set up a nervy ending for the hosts.
Five changes were made to the Grimsby starting XI following the midweek home win against Crewe Alexandra, with Michee Efete, Niall Maher, Kieran Green, George Lloyd and Ryan Taylor coming into the team in place of Josh Emmanuel, Evan Khouri, Alex Hunt, Otis Khan and Danilo Orsi.
Max Crocombe remained on-course for an ever-present season as he lined up in goal, with Andy Smith, Luke Waterfall and Maher forming a back three. Efete and Anthony Glennon were deployed as wing-backs, while Gavan Holohan and Clifton were either side of Green in midfield as Taylor linked up with Lloyd in attack.
Emmanuel, Khouri, Hunt, Khan and Orsi were all named on the bench, along with Mikey O’Neill and Danny Amos.
Stevenage came into the game knowing a win would assure them of a top three finish in League Two.
Manager Evans named an unchanged side following the club’s midweek away win at Swindon Town, with strikers Reid and Danny Rose looking to get the goals.
The home supporters thought their side had made a dream start as Reid headed past Crocombe and into the net from a free kick in the first minute but the goal was ruled out for offside against the striker. Town took the resulting free kick quickly while the Stevenage players were still celebrating and Lloyd thought he had been fouled but the referee waved play on.
Town won the first corner of the game and it was cleared but a Maher long throw soon afterwards led to a second flag-kick. Again though, it was dealt with by the home defence.
The visitors were starting well and they won another corner on six minutes when a Glennon cross was headed behind. This time, Glennon’s delivery from the right was met by Green but his header flew wide of the target.
A cross from Clifton led to Town’s latest corner on the right on 10 minutes, although the referee spotted a foul and blew for a home free kick as Glennon sent the ball across.
A clash of heads between Stevenage centre-backs Carl Piergianni and Michael Bostwick led to a stoppage soon afterwards. Bostwick stayed down and although he eventually got to his feet, he was unable to continue and James-Wildin was sent on in his place.
Holohan won another corner on the right after play resumed but after Glennon played the ball low to Clifton from the flag, his cross was headed clear.
A foul by Glennon on Reid gave the hosts a free kick in a dangerous position on their right on 19 minutes. Jake Reeves’ ball was met by Dan Sweeney but when it fell for Piergianni, he was unable to turn it back towards goal.
Alex Gilbey sent a half-volley high over the bar moments later, before a looping cross from Kane Smith led to a foul on Crocombe.
Maher staged a good recovery to stop Jordan Roberts after he had initially lost possession near the edge of his own penalty area, then a cross from the home right was punched clear by Crocombe.
A cross from Efete proved just too far ahead of Clifton after the ball broke for the right wing-back following a run by Taylor, then Town’s next attack produced a corner on the left. Glennon’s ball from the flag was headed back across goal by Green but Stevenage broke and Crocombe had to dive to make a save from Reid at the other end.
The resulting corner was headed back across goal but Reid’s far-post header was deflected behind for another one, which saw Crocombe make a good save from Rose.
As the half-hour mark passed, the game was moving from end to end, with both sides searching for a breakthrough.
A foul by Maher on Rose gave Stevenage a free kick near the right edge of the Town box on 36 minutes but Roberts’ header from it was deflected wide for a corner. Reeves’ ball from the flag was headed clear by Holohan and the midfielder was fouled in the process to give Town a free kick.
Lloyd won a free kick on the away left with half-time looming but Glennon’s delivery into the penalty area was headed clear for a throw-in, which was also dealt with.
Four added minutes were played at the end of the first half and a long-range effort from Clifton bounced wide, before Reid was caught offside as he looked to have beaten Crocombe to a ball down the home right.
No further chances came before the half-time whistle, so it remained goalless at the break after a half where Town had stood up well to Stevenage’s physical approach but had struggled to create genuine danger for home goalkeeper Timothee Lo-Tutala.
Amos replaced Glennon before the restart in Grimsby’s first change, while Jake Forster-Caskey came on for Smith in the red and black of Stevenage.
Maher took two early long throws and the second led to a corner, which Amos drove in from the left but Waterfall was unable to turn his header towards goal.
A cross from the Stevenage left was caught by Crocombe after a spell of home possession, then Lloyd was beaten to a cross by keeper Lo-Tutala at the other end.
Crocombe dived full-length to push a shot from Rose away from danger but the breakthrough came for the hosts soon afterwards, as a cross from Roberts found REID and he sent a free header into the net, with 56 minutes on the clock.
Holohan was shown the first yellow card of the game after a late challenge on Rose, before Waterfall had to get back and clear off the line when Crocombe lost the ball under pressure from Roberts following a Clifton back-pass.
Orsi and Khan replaced Smith and Lloyd on 62 minutes as Town looked tot an extra attacking option in a bid to get themselves level.
Clifton fired wide from 25 yards two minutes later, then a free kick from Forster-Caskey was dealt with by the Town defence.
But it was not much longer before the hosts doubled their lead when Holohan was forced into a mistake and it was punished as Reid took the ball forward before flicking it back to JAMES-WILDIN, who curled a low strike into the far-bottom corner of the net from 20 yards to make it 2-0.
Holohan was replaced by Khouri soon after the goal and Clifton had a chance to halve the deficit butt his snap-shot on the turn was stopped by Lo-Tutala.
Reid saw a shot saved by Crocombe after turning past Amos and Maher as Stevenage looked for a third goal to put the result – and their promotion – beyond doubt.
The striker then hit a low effort from 20 yards which took a deflection for a corner. Piergianni’s header from it was blocked by Efete.
Piergianni was involved again on 78 minutes as his header from a Forster-Caskey free kick dropped wide, before Hunt replaced Green in the away midfield for the remainder of the game.
Jake Taylor replaced Roberts for the hosts with four minutes to go, as well as the four added minutes which were played at the end of the game.
Daryl Horgan came on for Reid in the third of the added minutes as the hosts saw out the remainder of the match to collect the three points and with it, a place in League One for next season.
Town will now look to end their campaign on a high when they host AFC Wimbledon in their final fixture on Monday, May 8.