Henry Brown’s extra time winner gave Grimsby Town a fantastic FA Youth Cup victory over Premier League Nottingham Forest at Blundell Park.
The Young Mariners produced a magnificent performance full of heart, bravery and skill to match their elite opponents in an absorbing third round contest under the floodlights.
Town’s U18s created the better chances in the first half, then dug in after the break as Forest dominated possession, with the hosts defending superbly to limit their visitors to few genuine opportunities and earn an additional half-hour.
And the magical moment came five minutes from the end of extra time, when an emphatic finish by man-of-the-match Brown gave Town a deserved win and sent them through to round four.
Grimsby came into the game full of confidence and on a 12-match unbeaten run in all competitions, stretching back to August.
Away victories over Shrewsbury Town and South Shields saw them earn their place in the third round and the reward of this tie, which gave them the opportunity to test themselves against top-class opposition in the shape of Forest’s Category One academy side.
Striker Cameron Gardner scored a hat-trick in the second round win at South Shields and he would again aim to be a major threat.
Forest were playing their first game in this season’s FA Youth Cup and they also arrived in good form, unbeaten in five games since a 2-1 Premier League U18 away loss to Manchester United in September.
Gardner was flagged offside as Town looked to have created the first opportunity inside the opening minute, before good pressure from midfielder Brown earned a corner but his delivery from the left was put behind for a goal kick.
The Grimsby pressure continued with a second corner after a 20-yard strike by Charlie Clements was blocked, then Jack Collins won another flag-kick, which was headed clear.
Forest’s first opening at the other end came on 13 minutes when Cormac Daly released James Sinclair down the right. The right-back crossed to the far post but nobody was on-hand to convert.
Gardner headed wide from a Henry Brown corner soon afterwards as the Young Mariners continued to make the early running, before Connor Brown tried his luck from the edge of the penalty area for the visitors but could only send his low shot through to Town goalkeeper Seb Auton.
Daly also fired straight at Auton, then Archie Whitehall narrowly missed the target with a free kick from 25 yards as the away side started to show more threatening signs with the 20-minute mark approaching.
Keeper Keehan Willows just beat Gardner to a through-ball, then Forest’s Brown forced Auton into a smart block at his near post as the game moved from end to end.
Defender David Modupe had to slide in and make a vital interception to stop Clements from having a clear run to goal, before an away corner was dealt with.
Town had a chance on 26 minutes when Brown made his way into the box and squared for Collins, although his shot was blocked.
Harvey Cribb became the first of the evening to see a yellow card after a foul in midfield and Forest’s Whitehall followed him into the referee’s notebook when he was cautioned on 34 minutes.
A shot from Modupe was deflected into the side-netting after an away corner broke for him at the far post, then great play down the Town left led to an opening for Brown, although his cross landed on the roof of the net.
Gardner was booked after a foul on Whitehall as the game moved into one added minute and with no further opportunities coming before the referee’s half-time whistle, the score remained goalless at the break.
No changes were made by either side before the restart and again, Town started well, with Brown making a run into the box and sending over a dangerous low cross which was cut out at the near post for a corner.
Forest’s first attack of note saw a cross from Danny Anisjko cleared after he had shown good skill to work an opening on the left.
Brown forced Willows to dive and make a stop when he let fly from inside the box after good play by Gardner as Town looked for an opening goal.
The first substitution of the night came just after the hour and saw Amarn Robinson replace Henry Lister for the visitors.
A foul on Robinson gave Forest a free kick in a central position soon afterwards but they were unable to turn it into an opportunity in front of goal.
Good defending ensured Anisjko could only find the gloves of Auton as Town continued to hold firm at the back, then a block from Cameron Walsh brought another away attack to an end as the ball ricocheted back for a goal kick.
The visitors were controlling possession with 15 minutes remaining but Town were defending well in numbers and getting bodies in the way to ensure Auton remained largely untroubled in goal.
Forest’s Brown fired wide under pressure from Town skipper Billy Bradley, then the first home change saw Grayson Giles replace Collins.
Giles’ first action was to force Willows into a save from a strike across goal, before Tony Gbopo glanced a header wide from a Robinson cross at the other end.
Robinson shot straight at Auton after a low pull-back from the left by Anisjko, then Town forced a corner at the other end with four minutes to go but when the ball broke for Cribb, he could only fire over the bar from 25 yards.
Harry Shipstone replaced Callum Storr in Town’s second substitution on 86 minutes, then a foul by Cribb gave Forest a free kick on the edge of the Grimsby penalty area. Brown stepped up to take it but the home wall did its job and blocked his shot.
The fourth official signalled for at least two added minutes but neither team could find a breakthrough and so an extra 30 minutes was required in a bid to separate them.
Brown and Bradley both saw shots blocked as the Young Mariners began extra time on the front foot, before Auton comfortably caught an effort from Forest’s Brown at the other end.
A shot from Giles was deflected away from goal but Brown did well to keep the ball in on the left and cut back inside, although his strike from the edge of the box was blocked.
A Town corner was brought clear after Bradley had won the initial header, then Forest’s Theo Robinson was booked following an altercation near the touchline on their right.
Jayden Powell replaced Whitehall for the away side with three minutes of the first period remaining and an attack on their right looked dangerous but ended with the ball safely in Auton’s arms.
Three added minutes were played and Clements did well to win a corner in the third of them but the ball from it was headed clear, to ensure the game would enter its final 15 minutes with the teams still locked at 0-0.
Town’s first chance of the second period came with a free kick on the left edge of the penalty area. Brown’s delivery broke for Clements but he was unable to get a shot away and after he went down, the referee waved play on.
The home side kept the pressure up with two corners in quick succession and the second one fell for Clements inside the box but his shot flew over the bar.
Fuad Smith replaced James Sinclair for Forest and Fortune Onoh came on in place of Clements for Town as both sides made a further change with 10 minutes to go.
Auton gathered a shot from Brown at the second attempt, then the striker became the latest to see the yellow card for a foul near the halfway line.
Finley Abraham headed a free kick clear as Town remained tight at the back, knowing that one chance could still see them claim a famous win.
And that breakthrough was to come soon afterwards, as the Young Mariners hit the front with five minutes to go. Town attacked down the right and after the ball was crossed for BROWN, he hit an emphatic finish which beat Willows and went into the net off the underside of the bar at the Pontoon Stand end, sparking wild celebrations as subs and staff ran onto the pitch.
Brown was involved again when he set off on a brilliant run which took him deep into the Forest half before he was brought down. The resulting free kick led to a corner but the flag-kick was brought clear.
Four added minutes were played and Forest were reduced to 10 men when Brown was shown a second yellow card for diving in an attempt to win a penalty.
More good work by Bradley ensured Robinson fired wide of the near post as time began to run out for Forest.
And Town closed out the remainder of the contest to seal their place in the next round of the competition after a superb night of football.
Town: Seb Autton, Billy Bradley, Cameron Walsh, Harvey Cribb, Finley Abraham, Alfie Foy, Callum Storr (Harry Shipstone, 86), Henry Brown, Cameron Gardner, Charlie Clements (Fortune Onoh, 110), Jack Collins (Grayson Giles, 77)
Subs not used: Will Mitchell, Tom Rennardson, Jaxon Blankley, Finley Axcell
Forest: Keehan Willows, James Sinclair, Henry Lister, Tony Gbopo, David Modupe, Theo Robinson, Evan Boulter, Archie Whitehall, Connor Brown, Cormac Daly, Danny Anisjko
Subs: Theo Avery, Georgios Lemonakis, Will Thompson, Amarn Robinson, Isaac Davies, Fuad Smith, Jayden Powell