Grimsby Town endured a frustrating afternoon as they were narrowly beaten by Colchester United at Blundell Park.
In a game of few genuine chances, Tom Hopper’s goal just after the half-hour proved enough to settle the contest in the Essex side’s favour.
The Mariners battled well throughout but were unable to break down a strong and physical Colchester team who got themselves ahead and managed the game well to pick up their fifth away win in a row.
Grimsby manager Paul Hurst selected the same starting XI which began the away victory at Crewe Alexandra last Saturday, as Josh Emmanuel, John McAtee and George Lloyd all returned after being ineligible for the FA Cup win against Luton Town in midweek.
Goalkeeper Max Crocombe lined up behind a back three of Michee Efete, Luke Waterfall and Niall Maher, with Emmanuel and Danny Amos in the wing-back positions. Harry Clifton, Bryn Morris and Alex Hunt were the midfielders, with McAtee supporting Lloyd in attack. Anthony Glennon, Gavan Holohan, Stephen Wearne, Mikey O’Neill, Tom Dickson-Peters, Danilo Orsi and Andy Smith were all named on the bench.
Colchester arrived in Cleethorpes on an excellent run of form which had seen them win each of their previous four fixtures on the road and with head coach Matt Bloomfield having won the Sky Bet League Two Manager of the Month award for January. That run had seen the Us climb away from danger at the bottom of the table and they began the day just one place and two points behind Town.
Bloomfield made three changes to his team following last week’s 1-1 home draw with Barrow, with former Lincoln City and Barnet striker John Akinde among those coming into the side.
Town attacked straight from the kick-off with Clifton setting off on a run down the left but he ran out of space to find the overlapping McAtee with a ball into the box which went out for a goal kick.
An early stoppage came when Lloyd went down after a tussle in midfield but he was passed fit to continue after receiving treatment from physio Dave Moore.
A free kick from Colchester’s Luke Chambers was cleared, before Lloyd was beaten to an Emmanual cross in the air by defender Fiacre Kelleher.
Lloyd did well to win a throw-in on the left on 10 minutes but after the ball from it was cleared back as far as Maher, his cross was punched away by goalkeeper Kieran O’Hara.
The first corner came for the visitors three minutes later when a low cross was put behind by Amos and Matt Jay’s delivery from the flag was met by Connor Wood but his flicked header went over the bar.
A long throw from Maher then caused problems inside the box at the other end, although the away defence eventually got the ball clear after Waterfall had headed it on.
McAtee saw a cross headed away after linking up with Amos down the left, then another stoppage came when midfielder Cole Skuse went down with an injury. That led to the first substitution of the game, as Arthur Read was sent on in his place.
A foul on Hunt gave Town a free kick midway inside the Colchester half on 26 minutes but the midfielder’s delivery from it was too strong and the ball flew out for a goal kick.
Akinde won a free kick at the other end just after the half-hour and it led to the breakthrough, as Wood’s delivery to the far post was missed by Crocombe and when it was headed back across goal by Kelleher, HOPPER had the simple task of turning it into the net from close range.
A free kick from Amos on the right brought an instant chance to reply, although Waterfall was beaten to the ball at the far post and it was headed behind for a corner. The flag-kick led to a scramble as a number of close-range shots were blocked until Efete eventually sent the ball wide.
Crocombe was called into action to make a good save from Jay’s 20-yard shot as the away side aimed to double their advantage, before a long ball by Waterfall dropped just ahead of the run of McAtee and O’Hara gathered it.
Emmanuel saw a shot blocked after making progress through the middle, then Waterfall was shown the first yellow card of the afternoon for tripping Read on the halfway line.
Four added minutes were played at the end of the first half, as a Colchester attack ended with a Junior Tchamedeu cross drifted out at the far post for a goal kick.
O’Hara got down to stop a low effort from Clifton as Town aimed to get back on level terms before the interval, then a foul by Wood on Emmanuel earned the midfielder a booking and gave the hosts a free kick on halfway, which was cleared.
That proved to be the Mariners’ last opportunity of the half and Colchester’s lead remained intact at the break.
Orsi replaced Hunt before the restart in Grimsby’s first substitution but Colchester were first to threaten as Hopper’s backheel sent Jay into the penalty area from the left, although he was unable to turn the position into a goalscoring chance.
McAtee showed good pace to get down the left and send a cross over on 51 minutes but Lloyd was unable to get a shot in and the ball was cleared.
Town kept attacking and Clifton looked up to find Orsi on the right but the striker’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked.
A free kick came when McAtee was caught in the air by Ossama Ashley midway inside the Colchester half. The ball from it was sent back into the box by Maher on the left, although McAtee could only head it off-target.
A promising spell of home possession led to an opportunity for Maher to get the ball into the box with a long throw from the left but Kelleher was in place to head it clear.
Efete then had to head behind for a corner at the other end after good hold-up play by Akinde led to Jay linking up with Wood down the left. The ball from the flag was met by Kelleher, whose header dropped just wide.
Akinde was replaced by Kwesi Appiah and Noah Chilvers replaced Wood as Colchester made a double-substitution on 64 minutes.
Town earned a corner on the left three minutes later but the low ball from it was cleared, then the home side’s next attack ended when a left-wing McAtee cross was caught by keeper O’Hara.
Emmanuel beat Appiah to a ball into the box at the other end at the expense of a corner, which was brought clear by Clifton.
Chilvers shot just wide from 20 yards after Appiah had held the ball up, before Holohan, O’Neill, Wearne and Dickson-Peters were all sent on with 15 minutes to go in a bid to change the game in Town’s favour. Morris, Lloyd, Emmanuel and McAtee were the ones to come off.
O’Hara was booked for time-wasting on 77 minutes as Colchester looked to run the clock down, then the next change saw Samson Tovide replace Hopper in the blue and white of the visitors.
Another stoppage came when Chilvers stayed down after running into Efete but he was eventually passed fit to continue.
Appiah let fly from distance on 87 minutes but Crocombe was able to watch the shot go well wide of his target.
Five added minutes were played at the end of the game but Town could not create any more opportunities to grab a share of the spoils and when the final whistle blew, it was the away team and their supporters who were celebrating.
It was a disappointing afternoon for the Mariners and they must now pick themselves up ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Gillingham.