A late penalty denied our U18s a share of the spoils in their latest EFL Youth Alliance league clash against title-chasing Harrogate Town.
After a goalless first half at Cleethorpes Town’s myenergi Stadium on Saturday morning, the visitors took the lead through Brad Williams nine minutes after the break.
But the Young Mariners, whose starting XI featured several first-year scholars, responded brilliantly to falling behind and got themselves back on level terms within four minutes as Charlie Clements equalised.
Town’s performance deserved something from the game but the away side ensured they would remain on top of the alliance’s north-east division with two games remaining when Emmanuel Ilesanmi scored from the spot with three minutes remaining to take all three points.
The match was Grimsby’s third in the end-of-season Merit League series after the division split into two for the campaign’s final five fixtures, with Neil Woods’ side aiming for a victory following an away draw with Doncaster Rovers and a defeat on the road against Burton Albion.
Neither side was able to find a breakthrough in the early stages and Town keeper Will Mitchell made a good save to deny Ollie Nicholson as the 20-minute mark approached.
A free kick from the home left was then headed clear, although Shakeel Brown brought the ball back into the box from the right before his run was stopped.
Harrogate’s Ben Tweed fired over the bar from 25 yards at the end of a nice passing move, then a foul on Ilesanmi gave them a free kick on the right and Mitchell got just enough on the ball to tip Nicholson’s delivery away for a corner. The pressure continued from the flag-kick as Nicholson’s ball was punched away by the keeper but when it was returned into the box, it bounced out for a goal kick.
A low cross from Billy Bradley on the Town right was cleared, then Williams cut into the box from the away right but was stopped by a great challenge from Cameron Gardner.
Leon Gibson-Booth showed good strength against Ilesanmi to win the ball on the home left, before more good play by Gardner stopped another run by Williams.
Harrogate won a corner as the first half moved into stoppage time, when Ilesanmi found Williams on the right but his cross was blocked by Gardner. The ball from the flag was headed away by Bradley and when Mitchell got down to stop a low attempt by Ilesanmi soon afterwards, it proved to be the last chance for either side to break the deadlock before half-time.
The away side made a double-substitution before the restart, with Lewis Smalley and Elijah Samuels replacing James Birmingham and Alfie Lee.
Five minutes in, good pressure by Town striker Grayson Giles saw him chase down a long ball to win a corner on the right, although Shakeel Brown’s delivery from the flag was cleared by Williams.
Brown, wearing the captain’s armband, had a free kick to take from close to the right touchline soon afterwards when Gardner was fouled but there was nobody on the end of his ball to the far post and it went out for a goal kick.
Moments later, the opening goal arrived and despite the home side’s good start to the second half, it was Harrogate who took the lead. A strong run by Tweed took him down the left channel and into the box before he squared to WILLIAMS, whose shot found the net.
But far from letting their heads drop after falling behind, the goal galvanised the Young Mariners and they created an almost instant chance to restore parity when Shakeel Brown did well to keep the ball in on the right and stand a cross up to the far post, although it was headed wide from a narrow angle.
Another shot was kept out by Harrogate keeper Alex Mooney before Town got their equaliser on 58 minutes. Giles went on an excellent run down the right and after cutting into the box, he looked up and pulled the ball back for CLEMENTS, who lifted a strike into the net off the underside of the bar from 12 yards.
The hosts were now looking to complete the turnaround and they had a corner when a low shot by Giles was deflected wide. The ball from the flag was met by Finley Axcell but his header flew just off-target.
Nicholson floated a Harrogate free kick straight into Mitchell’s arms, then the visitors were given another set-piece opportunity when Clements fouled James Moorby near their left touchline, just inside the Grimsby half. This time, Nicholson’s ball into the box was headed on by Ilesanmi but the offside flag brought the attack to an end.
A low cross from Giles proved just out of Clements’ reach as Town continued to attack, before Finley Fletcher replaced Axcell for Grimsby and Harrogate’s Cadarn Taylor came on for Josh Brodella as both sides looked to their benches.
Giles did well to win a corner on the right on 73 minutes but the home side were unable to profit from it, then Samuels volleyed wide at the other end after a Moorby cross had been headed away from goal.
An 18-yard attempt by Bradley was blocked for a throw-in, before Town’s Alfie Foy was shown the yellow card for a foul. Nicholson sent the resulting free kick over the bar from 25 yards.
Both sides were still looking to win the game as the clock ticked into the last 10 minutes and a Shakeel Brown free kick from the right was cleared, then another Nicholson free kick was nodded behind for a corner by Callum Storr. The flag-kick was headed away and the ball fell for Bobby Attree, whose shot went through to Mitchell in the home goal.
There was still to be a winner though and it came for the visitors from the penalty spot with three minutes to go. The referee blew for a foul by Bradley and ILESANMI confidently rolled the ball into Mitchell’s bottom-left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the game but with no further chances coming for either side to add to the score, the Young Mariners were forced to come away empty-handed despite a battling performance, as Harrogate stayed on-course to win the league.
Town will now aim to end their season on a high as they go on the road for their final two games, against Lincoln City and Bradford City.
Town: Will Mitchell, Callum Storr, Leon Gibson-Booth, Finley Axcell (Finley Fletcher, 73), Henry Brown, Alfie Foy, Shakeel Brown, Billy Bradley, Grayson Giles, Charlie Clements, Cameron Gardner
Subs not used: Harry Shipstone, Jaxon Blankley, Mamadu Jalloh, Fortune Onoh
Harrogate: Alex Mooney, Brad Williams, James Moorby, Mason Wilson, Bobby Attree, James Birmingham (Lewis Smalley, 46), Josh Brodella (Cadarn Taylor, 72), Ben Tweed, Emmanuel Ilesanmi, Ollie Nicholson, Alfie Lee (Elijah Samuels, 46)