A SINGLE goal from Nathan Pond was enough to give Grimsby Town a hard-fought victory over Forest Green Rovers at Blundell Park.
In an physical encounter, the Mariners matched the early-season league leaders and claimed their rewards for a determined display.
The first half proved to be one of few chances, as the visitors dominated the early stages, before Grimsby grew into the game as half-time approached.
Town got themselves in front through Pond’s header just after the hour and they were forced to defend from then on as the away side looked to preserve the only remaining unbeaten record in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
But the hosts remained solid and were able to claim an important win that extended their own unbeaten run to six games and took them to within three points of the play-off places.
Anthony Elding was handed a place in the starting line-up for Grimsby after his two-goal substitute appearance brought the Mariners back from 2-0 down to claim a draw at Barrow last time out.
The striker replaced Dayle Southwell in what was the only change to the side that began the game at Holker Street.
That meant keeper James McKeown started behind an unchanged defence of Bradley Wood, Shaun Pearson, Nathan Pond and Aswad Thomas.
Joe Colbeck began on the right of a four-man midfield, with Craig Disley, Derek Niven and Frankie Artus completing the quartet.
Andy Cook kept his place as the man to partner Elding in attack, with Sam hatton, Simon Ford, Louis Soares, AndI Thanoj and Southwell all named on the bench.
Forest Green made the journey to Cleethorpes looking to continue their impressive early-season form.
Dave Hockaday’s men sat on top of the table at kick-off, having won five and drawn two of their seven games so far.
Among the danger men in their line-up would be striker Reece Styche, while goalkeeper Sam Russell was known to Mariners fans after putting several impressive displays at Blundell Park in the past in the colours of Darlington.
Forest Green won the first corner of the game when a deep cross by Jamie Turley was headed out by Wood but it was the hosts who had the first sight of goal when a Niven cross was headed over the bar by Cook on three minutes.
Town started well and they had another chance after referee Seb Stockbridge played a good advantage when Cook was fouled and Elding took the ball on, before the move eventually led to Artus having a header blocked at the far post.
Defender Aaron Racine became the first recipient of a yellow card of the afternoon for the challenge on Cook, before Pond was also booked for a poor challenge from behind on Styche soon afterwards.
Forest Green were looking to play a quick, passing game and were the side on top in the early stages of the game.
Another corner, driven into the box by Ben Wright, initially caused problems as the ball bounced around inside the Town box, before it was eventually cleared.
By contrast, the Mariners were guilty of rushing when in possession, giving the ball away and struggling to build up any attacks of note.
The first substitution came just before the 20-minute mark, with Cook, still feeling the effects of the early challenge by Racine, replaced up front by Southwell.
A foul by Pearson on Styche just inside the Town half gave the away side another chance to get the ball into the box but Wright’s free kick was headed away by Pond.
The home side then began to come into the game more, having longer spells of possession and spending more time in the Forest Green half, albeit initially without troubling Russell in the visitors’ goal.
Goalscoring chances at either end had been few and far between in a physical opening half-hour but one nearly came for the Mariners when Colbeck did well to work the space for a cross from the right, although Southwell was beaten to the header.
Town were forced into a second substitution 10 minutes before the break when Wood went down injured for the second time in the game and he was replaced by Hatton.
A foul on Wright gave the away side a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the Town penalty area and for the first time in the game, McKeown was forced into action to beat Wright’s 20-yard drive away.
Grimsby put together a good spell of pressure as the clock ticked down towards half-time, playing the ball to feet and looking to build up play, without letting their visitors settle on the ball.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the half and Hatton was the next name to go into the referee’s notebook after preventing a Forest Green free kick from being taken.
When the kick was eventually taken, it was driven into the danger zone by Wright and McKeown had to make another good save, pushing Styche’s flicked header away from goal.
That proved to be the last goalmouth action of an entertaining first half in which both sides had played well in patches.
Forest Green dominated the early stages but Town grew into the game and although McKeown was the busier of the two goalkeepers, the hosts had also shown some positive signs.
No further changes were made by either side ahead of the restart and Grimsby almost had the first chance of the second half with a free kick from the right but centre-back Eddie Oshodi won his battle with Elding to clear at the far post.
A push on Elding gave the hosts another free kick six minutes in but the floated delivery from Artus proved comfortable for Russell, who claimed the catch.
Niven was booked for bringing down midfielder Kieron Forbes, who had burst through the middle for Forest Green on 58 minutes, although the resulting free kick did not lead to an attempt on goal, with Colbeck bringing the ball clear for Town.
Styche was replaced by Matt Taylor for the visitors just before the hour, while a foul on the lively Southwell gave Grimsby another chance to pressurise Russell’s goal with a free kick soon afterwards.
This time, the in-swinging ball into the box from Artus was perfect for POND to nip in, head it over Russell and into the net to open the scoring for the home side.
Rovers boss Hockaday responded by sending Omar Koroma on for Wright straight after the goal, with Jamie Rowe following in place of midfielder Al Bangura.
Town looked to extend their lead when Colbeck picked up a loose ball in midfield and played it to Elding but he could not get a good connection on his shot.
Left-back Ed Asafu-Adjaye played a smart pass through for substitute Taylor on the left at the other end but McKeown did well to dive at the striker’s feet and stop the ball.
Hatton fouled Koroma on the edge of the box on 70 minutes but Rowe’s free kick was headed out for a corner by Pearson.
The away side had a good chance to equalise when Hatton was dispossessed by Taylor on halfway but after the striker advanced to the edge of the box, McKeown got down to stop his low shot.
The danger was not over though, as referee Mr Stockbridge penalised Pearson for an off-the-ball incident. Koroma got the free kick horribly wrong though, tamely chipping over the bar from 30 yards.
Forest Green looked to have upped the tempo as the game moved into its final 10 minutes but the Mariners were working hard in defence to ensure they kept pressing and limiting the league leaders in front of goal.
An opening did come for Rovers when Taylor again found himself with the ball on the edge of the area but his shot from a narrow angle only found the side netting.
Artus was replaced by Thanoj for Town and after a low corner from Colbeck, Hatton missed his kick when the ball was cleared and striker James Norwood looked to be through on goal. Thomas got back though, covering superbly to ensure the right-back’s mistake was not punished.
Forest Green were still looking to rescue the point that would preserve their unbeaten record as the clock ticked down towards stoppage time and they won another corner on the left, although the delivery from the flag was poor and went straight into the side netting.
The visitors were doing all of the attacking in an exciting finale to the game and Norwood had a chance from inside the box in the third minute of added time but McKeown was equal to the effort.
That proved to be the last chance for Forest Green to keep their run going and the referee’s whistle confirmed an important three points for Town.
The Mariners are next in action when they travel to Kidderminster Harriers on Saturday.