A LATE equaliser meant Grimsby Town were forced to settle for a draw in their Blue Square Bet Premier opener against Southport at Haig Avenue.
After a first half of few chances for either side, the Mariners stepped it up after the interval and got their reward when Craig Disley put them ahead with 15 minutes to go.
From there, it looked as though Town, backed by 750 travelling supporters, would get their campaign off to the perfect start with a win but they were pegged back with three minutes to go, when former Mariner Simon Grand’s header levelled the scores.
The Grimsby starting XI included loan signing Nathan Pond, who was the latest new recruit when he penned a one-month deal from Fleetwood on Friday.
James McKeown started in goal, while there was no place for Sam Hatton at right-back as Bradley Wood was given the place.
Pond joined Shaun Pearson in the centre of defence as Ian Miller was selected as a substitute, while Aswad Thomas completed the back four, lining up on the left.
The midfield was Joe Colbeck, Disley, Derek Niven and Frankie Artus, while Andy Cook and Greg Pearson got the nod as the starting pair up front.
That meant Anthony Elding and Louie Soares had to be content with places on the bench, alongside Miller, Hatton and Andi Thanoj.
Town had an early let-off after a mistake by Pond on the edge of the box, as home attacker Tony Gray could not profit from the error and a goal kick was the result.
At the other end, a free kick for a foul on Cook in the centre circle was delivered into the box by Wood but nobody in the blue of the Mariners could get on the end of it.
A run and cross from Colbeck on the right was blocked for the first corner of the game on 10 minutes and after it was cleared, Town worked the ball back but Pond was penalised for a foul.
A header from Shaun Pearson three minutes later went over the bar, before a free kick routine between Thomas and Colbeck led to another set-piece opportunity after a handball. From it, the ball was played to Cook but he shot off-target.
Another Colbeck cross was caught by keeper Tony McMillan as the Mariners continued to edge possession and territory, although neither side had created any real chances as the 20-minute mark passed.
Artus hit a shot wide of the mark from a free kick, before a through-ball from Niven proved just too far ahead of Greg Pearson, allowing defender Steve Akrigg to clear for a throw-in.
The home side had not shown any threat to the Town defence in the early stages of the match but they had a chance to create some danger through Michael Bakare on 28 minutes. He could not capitalise though, rolling the ball across the penalty area, where it was cleared.
A foul on Cook gave Grimsby a free kick inside the Southport half on the half-hour and after it was taken quickly, Greg Pearson turned and shot but his effort was blocked.
Southport were the next to attack but Shaun Whalley could not get past Wood after having the ball played to him by Gray.
The home side went close to taking the lead when a cross deflected off Niven but luckily for the Mariners, it rolled just past the post for a corner, with McKeown left stranded.
The first booking of the game came on 40 minutes, with the card shown to Southport’s Russell Benjamin for a foul on Thomas.
The free kick from Artus was cleared before being played back into the box, where Pearson sent the ball out for a goal kick.
The Sandgrouders of Southport had their best spell of the game as the interval approached but despite having more of the ball in attacking areas, they were unable to test McKeown in the Town goal.
Two added minutes were signalled by the fourth official and Town finished strongly, winning a corner that led to Pond heading over the bar.
That proved to be the last chance for either side to take the lead before the break, meaning it remained goalless at half-time.
No changes were made before the restart and Southport had the first chance of the second half, when Bakare ran past Pond and Pearson but saw his shot deflected out for a corner, which led to Grand heading wide.
At the other end, a good pass by Niven led to Colbeck having a shot saved by McMillan, who then got up to deny Cook from the rebound.
A Colbeck corner from the right then gave Pearson a chance to shoot from close range but he sent the ball wide.
An Artus shot was blocked after Greg Pearson had played the ball to him but Town kept possession, which eventually led to Cook having an effort cleared off the line.
A foul on Colbeck earned Southport’s Andrew Parry a booking but Town could not test McMillan from the resulting free kick, which was taken by Thomas.
Gray was replaced by Chris Almond up front for the hosts, before Alan Moogan was replaced by Aaron Chalmers with a little more than 20 minutes to go.
Town’s first change saw Elding come on for Cook soon afterwards and he made an instant impact, playing his part in a move that eventually led to Wood sending a dangerous cross over from the right that McMillan had to deal with.
The Mariners had another chance when Greg Pearson ran into the box but could not beat the keeper.
But the pressure continued with two corners for the visitors, the second of which saw Elding send a free header wide from Artus’ delivery.
The pressure from the Mariners eventually told on 75 minutes, when a cross by Thomas from the left by-line was parried by McMillan and DISLEY made no mistake with the rebound from close range.
After taking the lead, Town were forced to defend as their hosts looked to get back on level terms.
But the defence was holding firm, with Shaun Pearson prominent as the game entered its final five minutes.
Greg Pearson was replaced by Soares at the 85-minute mark, before Wood gave away a free kick in a dangerous position on the left for a foul on Bakare a minute later.
From it, the home side had their equaliser, as GRAND rose to meet Whalley’s delivery and crash a header past McKeown for 1-1.
Town, having got themselves ahead, now had it all to do again and they won a free kick for a foul on Disley with a minute to go but could not make it count.
The signal of four added minutes meant both sides would have more time to push for a winning goal.
Artus and Disley were both shown yellow cards after the left-winger lost possession and attempted to bring Almond down, before Disley did concede the free kick.
But Southport were unable to make the set piece pay, as the kick from Whalley did not lead to a chance in front of goal.