GRIMSBY Town were forced to settle for a point after they drew a feisty Lincolnshire derby with Lincoln City at Blundell Park.
The Mariners were hoping to get 2013 off to the perfect start in front of more than 7,400 fans by following up their impressive victory in the reverse fixture at Sincil Bank with another three points.
But they were on the back foot when the visitors opened the scoring through midfielder Alan Power with just eight minutes on the clock.
Lincoln were forced to change their goalkeeper after David Preece was injured in a challenge with Joe Colbeck and his replacement Paul Farman could do nothing when Ian Miller volleyed the home side level.
Town failed to build on that platform in a below-par attacking performance, although they were able to repel everything Lincoln threw at them at the other end.
Both sides finished the game with ten men, as Aswad Thomas was sent off with 20 minutes to go, before Lincoln sub Adam Smith saw red in added time.
But Town held on for the point that kept them at the top of the Blue Square Bet Premier, one point clear of second-placed Wrexham.
Town named an unchanged line up following the 4-1 win in the reverse fixture at Sincil bank on Boxing Day.
That meant Miller kept his place alongside Nathan Pond at the heart of the Mariners defence, with Greg Pearson again preferred alongside Andy Cook up front.
James McKeown started in goal, with Sam Hatton, Miller, Pond and Thomas making up the back four.
Colbeck began on the right side of midfield, with Craig Disley and Derek Niven in the middle and Marcus Marshall on the left, leaving Cook and Pearson up front.
The Grimsby subs were Shaun Pearson, Bradley Wood, Dayle Southwell, AndI Thanoj and Michael Rankine.
Lincoln boss David Holdsworth did opt to make changes, with Preece replacing Paul Farman in goal after the game against Town six days previously. Preece also played in the home draw with Gateshead on Saturday.
Former Town defender Scott Garner was named in the Imps’ starting XI after having to be content with a place on the bench against his ex-employers last time out.
An early Town free kick from the left saw a shot from Niven blocked, before Lincoln’s first attack led to Power winning the first corner. Nicky Nicolau’s kick was headed out for a throw-in by Disley.
Garner was booked on four minutes for a high foot that caught Marshall on the head as he looked to make progress down the left but Colbeck’s free kick was cut out for a corner.
A Power free kick at the other end then led to striker Vadaine Oliver looping a header wide of McKeown’s goal, as both sides looked for an early breakthrough.
And that first goal was to come for the visitors on nine minutes, when a low, 20-yard shot from POWER took a deflection that wrong-footed McKeown and led to the ball nestling in the bottom corner of the net to give Lincoln the lead.
Town looked for an immediate reply and the game’s first major flashpoint came when a cross from Thomas on the left led to keeper Preece pushing the ball half clear, before Colbeck looked to capitalise on the rebound but instead caught the goalkeeper, who had got to the ball first.
The travelling Lincoln supporters appealed for the Town winger to be sent off but referee Mr Evans took no action, although McKeown was booked after running 80 yards to join the protests.
Preece continued at first but was still feeling the effects of being caught in the head by Colbeck’s boot and he was forced off the field on 17 minutes, to be replaced by Farman.
The Mariners were back on level terms four minutes later, when persistent play from Cook, then Marshall, led to a free kick on the left side of the Lincoln penalty area.
Colbeck’s delivery to the far post was headed as far as MILLER, who swung his boot and volleyed into the net from a narrow angle.
The away side had a chance to reclaim their advantage on 26 minutes, when a cross from Jamie Taylor on the left found his strike partner Oliver but his weak touch only sent the ball through to McKeown.
The Imps went close again when a shot from Nicolau was not fully dealt with by McKeown and the visitors kept possession until Power’s chip from the edge of the box bounced wide.
Grimsby’s reply came with a driving run from Marshall down the left touchline, where the Bury loanee was unlucky not to win a corner, before Pearson could not divert a Colbeck cross towards goal from the opposite flank.
McKeown had made an uncertain start in the Mariners’ goal but he was back to his best to deny centre-back Andrew Boyce from a 20-yard shot after a free kick was pumped in from halfway. The stopper then got back up to keep the rebound out at his near post.
Lincoln were piling the pressure on, aided by more corners and some careless play from their hosts, who were guilty of giving possession away in midfield.
But Town almost had a chance of their own on 40 minutes, when a cross from the overlapping Thomas on the left was spilled by keeper Farman, although he got to the rebound before Pearson could pounce.
Another Lincoln corner came when McKeown sliced a clearance and Power’s delivery took a nick off a Town head for another flag-kick, although this time, it was cleared.
The talking points kept coming as half-time approached and Lincoln felt they should have been back in front when a cross from Nicolau on the left was headed towards goal by Jake Sheridan.
He thought the ball had crossed the line before it was headed clear by Thomas but the referee and his assistant disagreed, to the dismay of the winger.
A Grimsby free kick came to nothing as the half moved into five minutes of added time and with no further action of note, the teams went into the dressing rooms level at the interval.
No changes were made by either management team before the restart and Lincoln again started brightly, with Power and Oliver both having shots blocked by Miller from the edge of the box.
Town were also looking to attack but were still giving possession away after getting into promising positions.
They nearly paid the penalty when Hatton gave the ball away inside his own half on 54 minutes and Lincoln broke through Nicolau down the left. His cross was poor though and Pond was able to hack it clear for a corner.
Taylor then spun around Miller two minutes later but McKeown was equal to his curling effort from 18 yards, flying to his left to push the ball away from danger.
Southwell replaced Pearson in the Grimsby attack on 58 minutes and the change signalled the start of a period of home pressure, which led to a corner on the left on the hour. The ball was driven across by Colbeck but nobody could connect with it and a Lincoln throw was the outcome.
The visitors were still looking the more dangerous of the two teams and they had another corner on 63 minutes, although the referee spotted an infringement as Nicolau delivered the ball from the flag and blew for a Town free kick.
Power fired a snap-shot wide on the turn as the away side continued to ask the questions, with the long throws of Dan Gray proving particularly dangerous.
Defender Andy Boyce headed over the bar after Gray threw one of his missiles in from the left on 66 minutes.
Then, at the other end, the Mariners were inches away from taking the lead when a free kick from Hatton fell for Southwell in the box. His shot was blocked by keeper Farman, leading to a scramble inside the six-yard box where the home side just could not force the ball over the line.
Grimsby were reduced to ten men with 20 minutes to go, when Thomas was shown the red card after an altercation with Lincoln defender Tom Miller near the Findus Stand touchline. Thomas appeared to be held down by his opponent but retaliated and was given his marching orders. Miller was booked for his involvement.
Wood was sent on in place of Colbeck as the Town managers looked to cover Thomas’s left-back position, with Southwell dropping into the right-wing position and Cook left on his own up front.
Lincoln responded by replacing Nicolau with striker Colin Larkin, as the Imps looked to take advantage of the extra man and renew their efforts to grab all three points.
Sheridan was yellow-carded for a trip on Marshall on the halfway line, before the third and final Town substitution brought Rankine onto the pitch, with Cook making way for the Aldershot loanee.
Wood was booked for a foul on Sheridan on the Lincoln left with five minutes to go but from the free kick, Rankine broke and earned the mariners a throw inside the visitors’ half.
Disley then picked up a cheap booking for delaying the taking of a Lincoln free kick, given for offside.
Sheridan was replaced by Adam Smith for the last three minutes of the game, with both sides still pushing for a winning goal.
Marshall won a throw near the corner flag as the 90-minute mark approached but Wood could not pick out a man in black and white and the ball went out for a goal kick.
Power had a shot deflected wide for a corner in the first of four added minutes, after Disley failed to clear the ball inside his own box. But the away side could not profit from the flag.
Town then had a chance to win it, when Marshall picked the ball up in midfield and ran at the Lincoln defence, making his way into the box and pulling the ball back across goal. Rankine could not convert at the far post though.
There was still time for more incidents though, as Smith was sent off for a bad challenge on Wood on the Town left, less than five minutes after coming on.
That meant it was ten-a-side for the final few seconds of stoppage time, although there were no further chances and both teams ultimately had to settle for a draw.