Grimsby Town lost out by the odd goal in five as promotion-chasing Bradford City edged an entertaining battle at Valley Parade.
In a see-saw encounter in West Yorkshire, the Mariners fell behind as Alex Gilliead opened the scoring for the hosts, who controlled the opening quarter of the game.
But Town, backed by 2,211 travelling supporters, were given a route back into it when Harry Clifton was brought down inside the penalty area by home goalkeeper Harry Lewis and Gavan Holohan made it 1-1 from the spot.
The Mariners completed the turnaround when Andy Smith scored from close range just before half-time but Bradford equalised after the break through Jamie Walker and former Town striker Andy Cook grabbed the decisive goal with nine minutes remaining.
Four changes were made to the Grimsby starting XI following the draw at Crawley Town on Tuesday, with Anthony Glennon, Kieran Green, Holohan and Ryan Taylor coming in for Danny Amos, Alex Hunt, Bryn Morris and Otis Khan.
Max Crocombe started in goal, with Josh Emmanuel, Smith, Niall Maher and Glennon forming the defence. Clifton was alongside Green and Holohan in midfield, as John McAtee supported strikers George Lloyd and Taylor.
Amos, Hunt, Morris and Khan were all named on the bench, along with Mikey O’Neill, Danilo Orsi and Evan Khouri.
Bradford were looking to consolidate their position in the Sky Bet League Two play-off places with a win and manager Mark Hughes would be looking to his leading scorer Cook to provide the firepower.
Lloyd almost played Clifton in with an early low ball through the middle, then a Glennon cross from the left was headed away as far as McAtee but when he went down under contact inside the penalty area, the referee waved play on.
Bradford’s first attack of note came on six minutes and it led to them opening the scoring. The ball was worked into the box for Harry Chapman and his low shot was blocked by Crocombe but when the ball fell for former Scunthorpe United midfielder GILLIEAD, his low effort found the bottom corner of the net.
Town had made a promising start to the game but found themselves a goal down and Crocombe had to be alert to race off his line and deny Scott Banks after he had beaten Glennon to the ball down the home right.
Banks took the afternoon’s first corner on 10 minutes and it led to another one when the ball was turned behind at the near post. This time, the winger found Cook at the far post but he volleyed wide.
A Lloyd cross from the right was caught by Bradford keeper Lewis as the Mariners looked to respond, before a cross from Brad Halliday at the other end was flicked through to Crocombe.
Green was penalised for bringing Cook down inside the Town half on 17 minutes but there was no damage from the resulting free kick as the referee blew for a foul on Smith.
Another free kick came for a foul by Clifton to the right of the Town box but after the midfielder was shown the first yellow card of the game, Banks’ delivery beat everybody and went out for a goal kick.
The Mariners were gifted a route back into the contest on 22 minutes when Clifton beat Lewis to a ball from Emmanuel into the Bradford box and the keeper brought him down. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and HOLOHAN stepped up to make it 1-1.
After losing their lead, Bradford immediately looked to get it back and a foul on Harry Chapman gave them a free kick near the halfway line. It was cleared though and the visitors broke with a neat move which led to Lloyd heading wide from a left-wing McAtee cross.
Cook volleyed through to Crocombe after meeting a cross from Gilliead on the right, then a free kick from the home left was dealt with by Maher.
Walker sent a ball over from the right on 33 minutes which Maher put behind for a corner and although the flag-kick was cleared, another one came soon afterwards, this time on the left. Again, the ball from it was cleared.
Walker fired over the bar from distance as Bradford kept attacking, then a nice move by Town brought a corner on the right. The ball was played short to Glennon from the flag and he picked Maher out with a cross to the far post but the defender could only head at Lewis.
Clifton then showed good persistence to win another corner on the left after linking up with McAtee. Glennon’s ball from it found Holohan but his header went through to the keeper.
Chapman was booked for bringing Lloyd down to the right of the box in the last minute of the half and Town kept the pressure up as Glennon’s resulting free kick was headed behind for a corner. From it, the turnaround was complete as Glennon’s delivery was headed on by Taylor and after Bradford failed to clear their lines, SMITH forced the ball into the net from close range.
Two added minutes were played at the end of the half and with no further chances coming during that time, the Mariners went in at the break with the advantage.
It had been an encouraging first five minutes for the away side, although Bradford looked in control after their opening goal. But after being gifted the equaliser from the penalty spot, Town continued to grow into the game and they had enjoyed the better of the rest of the half.
A foul on McAtee gave the visitors an early free kick on the halfway line but nobody could get on the end of Glennon’s delivery into the box.
Cook looked to have created an opening for himself on 51 minutes but Maher got back to win the ball and clear the danger, then Banks cut inside from the right and passed to Gilliead but he failed to test Crocombe with a 20-yard shot which sailed over the bar.
Emmanuel beat Cook to a cross from the home right, before Banks cut inside again and made his way into the box before seeing his shot saved by Crocombe, with Green then preventing a corner.
Matt Derbyshire replaced Chapman as Bradford made the first substitution on the hour and within two minutes, the home side were level again. A ball into the box fell for WALKER and after his first effort was blocked by Crocombe, he followed it up and tapped into the empty net.
Town’s response was to immediately win a corner at the other end but when the ball from it broke for Holohan, he could only lift it over the bar from 20 yards.
Gilliead drilled a low shot straight at Crocombe as the home side pushed forward in search of a third goal, before a push on Derbyshire by Maher was spotted by the referee. The free kick was swung in towards the far post and after Cook’s downward header was brilliantly saved by Crocombe, a scramble broke out and the home side thought they had forced their way ahead when the ball was put into the net but the referee instead blew for a foul on the keeper.
A great challenge by Glennon stopped Banks on the edge of the Town box on 72 minutes and the Mariners broke through McAtee, although his through-ball for Lloyd had too much power on it and the opportunity was gone.
A foul by Green gave the hosts another free kick inside the Grimsby half but this time, it caused no problems as Richie Smallwood’s chip towards the far post went out for a goal kick.
Amos, Khan and Morris replaced Glennon, McAtee and Clifton as Town made a triple-substitution with 11 minutes to go.
But two minutes later, the Mariners were behind again as Bradford reclaimed the advantage. Holohan lost possession in midfield and the ball was worked to Banks on the right. He then crossed for COOK, who sent a first-time finish past Crocombe and into the net.
A Holohan cross from the right was cleared as Town looked for a way back into the game , before a double-substitution by the hosts on 87 minutes saw Walker replaced by Romoney Critchlow as Banks made way for Ryan East.
The fourth official signalled five added minutes and Town poured forward in search of an equaliser.
A foul on Holohan gave them a free kick in a promising position on the right, although Khan’s delivery to the far post was too strong and went out for a goal kick.
That proved to be the final opportunity for the Mariners, who were forced to return home empty-handed despite playing a full part in an entertaining game with a performance full of effort and determination.
Town are next in action on Good Friday, when Hartlepool United are the visitors to Blundell Park.