Grimsby Town’s five-match unbeaten league run came to an end as they were beaten by Wrexham at the Stok Racecourse.
The Mariners, backed by more than 1,000 travelling supporters, worked hard throughout the contest against one of the big favourites for promotion from Sky Bet League Two but they were given few opportunities in front of goal and were undone by moments of quality at the other end.
Town, who were without the injured Abo Eisa and Danny Rose, matched their hosts in what was an end-to-end opening 20 minutes, although when the deadlock was broken, it was former Mariners loanee Ollie Palmer who put Wrexham ahead.
Defender Will Boyle made it 2-0 with a header on the half-hour and midfielder Elliot Lee put the result beyond doubt when he added a third with 11 minutes to go, to ensure a Mariners display which was full of effort went unrewarded.
On Grimsby’s first return to north Wales since their epic National League play-off semi-final victory in May 2022, Luke Waterfall and Rekeil Pyke replaced Eisa and Rose as manager Paul Hurst made two changes to the team that started last week’s draw at Bradford City.
Jake Eastwood continued in goal, with Harvey Rodgers, Waterfall and Niall Maher forming a centre-back trio as Toby Mullarkey and Danny Amos operated in the wing-back positions. Kamil Conteh sat behind Gavan Holohan and Harry Clifton in the centre of midfield, with Arthur Gnahoua joining Pyke in attack.
Otis Khan returned to the bench after recovering from injury and there was also a place among the substitutes for youth team striker Cameron Gardner alongside Harvey Cartwright, Michee Efete, Anthony Glennon, Callum Ainley and Jamie Andrews.
Wrexham talisman Paul Mullin was back in their starting XI for the first time since suffering a punctured lung in a pre-season friendly against a Manchester United XI. Palmer and Republic of Ireland international James McClean were also among the Red Dragons’ line-up.
An early cross from Mullarkey on the right was dealt with before it could reach Pyke, then the first Ben Tozer long throw of the afternoon was headed clear by Waterfall.
Ryan Barnett worked his way into the penalty area from the home right on three minutes but his low shot was stopped by Eastwood.
McClean then became the first to see the referee’s yellow card when he was booked for a trip on Rodgers on six minutes, although Gnahoua’s free kick from the right touchline was headed away from danger.
Soon afterwards, Mullin cut inside from the left at the other end and let fly from distance but his low effort was gathered comfortably by Eastwood.
Lee was spoken to by the referee after a late challenge on Conteh, then a Mullarkey cross was headed away by Aaron Hayden the next time the Mariners went forward.
Gnahoua won the first corner of the game on 16 minutes but his delivery from the right was headed clear and Wrexham attacked with Mullin playing a diagonal pass to Barnett, whose cross was blocked.
A low ball across the six-yard line from Holohan was cleared after the referee played a good advantage following a foul on Pyke, then Gnahoua shot at home keeper Mark Howard as Town continued to give as good as they got in what had been an entertaining opening to the game.
Mullin won a corner on the Wrexham right on 21 minutes but Eastwood was equal to the whipped delivery from the flag to punch clear. The deadlock was broken seconds later though, as with Rodgers still down after taking a knock from the corner, a ball into the box from Lee on the home left was met by the unmarked PALMER and he nodded it into the net.
Mullin went close to doubling the hosts’ advantage when he controlled a pass from Tom O’Connor and showed good skill to turn past Rodgers, although his strike from the edge of the box went just wide of the target.
A Rodgers cross proved too high for Clifton but Town kept the pressure up with a throw-in from the left and a clever flick by Gnahoua almost led to a chance for Clifton but the home defence recovered to clear the danger.
The Mariners looked to have responded well to falling behind but their task got tougher on the half-hour when Wrexham added a second goal. McClean beat Holohan to the ball on the home left and his cross picked out defender BOYLE, who steered a header beyond Eastwood.
Rodgers did well to win a goal kick when McClean attacked again on 34 minutes, then a spell of Mariners pressure ended with Pyke sending an acrobatic volley over the bar after a Maher shot from distance was blocked and a low cross from Clifton was missed by everybody.
Conteh was booked for a trip on Barnett and the resulting free kick was played low to Mullin but his cross-shot was claimed by Eastwood.
Holohan was caught offside from a flick by Pyke as Town looked to halve their deficit before the break and although Wrexham had the advantage, the visitors were ensuring they were still in the game as half-time loomed.
Eastwood was called into action to push a strike by Mullin away from goal, then Lee became the latest to see the yellow card for a foul on Gnahoua as Town aimed to launch a break.
Mullin hit the side-netting after getting away from Waterfall as the first half moved into a minimum of four added minutes.
Waterfall was first to a cross from McClean and Holohan eventually completed the clearance, then a foul on Mullarkey gave the Mariners an opportunity to get the ball into the box from a free kick on the right. Gnahoua’s delivery was headed clear by McClean.
Mullarkey sent a low effort wide from what proved to be the last attack of the first half, meaning Wrexham retained their two-goal lead at the interval.
Khan replaced Waterfall before the restart as Town switched to a back four, with the substitute slotting into the left of a front three.
Rodgers dealt with a Tozer long throw three minutes in, before Maher was booked when he was adjudged to have pushed Mullin over midway inside the away half.
A good cross from Khan on the left was headed clear, then the hosts created a chance when Mullin got on the end of a through-ball from McClean but the striker’s shot rolled wide of the far post.
Another Khan cross was intercepted before it could reach Gnahoua, then Palmer was crowded out at the other end as he looked to work an opening following a flick by Mullin.
Sam Dalby replaced Palmer in Wrexham’s first change on 63 minutes and the substitute’s first action came when he was picked out by Lee. The striker took the ball forward into the box but Eastwood was equal to his shot, with the keeper standing up to make an excellent block.
A shot from Clifton was blocked by Tozer as Town kept looking to get themselves back within one goal, with the away side continuing to work hard.
Ainley came on for his Grimsby debut when he replaced Holohan on 72 minutes, then a double-substitution for the home side saw George Evans and Scotland international Steven Fletcher replace O’Connor and Mullin.
A corner from the Wrexham left led to Fletcher scooping an effort over the bar but with 11 minutes to go, the result was put beyond doubt when the hosts grabbed a third goal. Dalby turned and played the ball across the penalty area into the path of LEE, who side-footed past Eastwood.
Town had done well to stay in the game for as long as they had but their hosts were now firmly in charge and only a good block by Eastwood stopped a fourth goal when Fletcher connected with an overhead kick.
Andrews and Efete replaced Gnahoua and Mullarkey with 84 minutes on the clock, then a Wrexham double-substitution saw Jordan Davies and James Jones come on for Hayden and Lee.
As the game moved into a minimum of six added minutes, the Mariners pushed forward in search of a consolation goal which their efforts had deserved, although a low cross from Clifton was gathered by keeper Howard.
A powerful strike by Andrews was blocked and that proved to be the final opportunity for Town to create a chance to get on the scoresheet as Wrexham closed out the remainder of the game.
The Mariners will now look ahead to their next game, with Crawley Town set to visit Blundell Park on Saturday.