GRIMSBY Town’s 10-game unbeaten run was ended by Blue Square Bet Premier new boys Dartford, who claimed a deserved victory at Blundell Park.
The Mariners never got going against the Kent side, who continued their impressive start to the season.
After a first half of few chances for either side, the visitors took the lead through midfielder Tom Champion after Town failed to clear their lines from a corner.
Grimsby looked to get back into the game but they were unable to seriously threaten Marcus Bettinelli in the Dartford goal.
And the hosts’ fate was sealed when striker Adam Birchall rounded James McKeown to make it 2-0.
One change was made to the Town side that drew with Newport last time out, with Derek Niven returning from suspension to reclaim his place in central midfield.
Frankie Artus made way for the former Chesterfield man, who served a one-match ban for the trip to south Wales after picking up five bookings so far this season.
Niven’s return meant Rob Scott and Paul Hurst reverted to the team that won back-to-back home games against Luton and Gateshead last time they were in action in Cleethorpes.
That meant McKeown started in goal, behind a defence of Bradley Wood, Shaun Pearson, Nathan Pond and Aswad Thomas.
Joe Colbeck, Craig Disley, Niven and Scott Neilson were the midfielders, with Andy Cook and Ross Hannah lining up in attack.
Artus was named among the Grimsby substitutes, along with Sam Hatton, Ian Miller, Anthony Elding and Dayle Southwell.
Dartford had been the surprise package of the season so far, building on the momentum gained by winning promotion from last season’s Blue Square Bet South and continuing their good form into this campaign.
Tony Burman’s Darts sat in fifth position at kick-off, one point and one place ahead of the Mariners.
Their main goal threat was likely to come from Gillingham loanee and former Dover Athletic star Birchall, while experienced ex-Dagenham and Redbridge defender Mark Arber would be looking to keep things solid at the back.
Town kicked off and won the first corner of the game through Colbeck on the right on three minutes. From it, Pond headed down but could only find visiting keeper Bettinelli.
Dartford’s first attack came soon afterwards and led to captain Elliott Bradbrook trying his luck from 25 yards but firing over the bar.
Another Grimsby corner came on six minutes and was taken by Colbeck from the right but Bettinelli came off his line to beat Pond to the ball and get it clear with a strong punch.
Neilson looked to launch an attack down the left three minutes later but as he tangled with midfielder Champion near the dug-outs, the referee ruled the Town winger had pushed his opponent and signalled for a Dartford free kick.
A foul on Wood on the opposite side of the field gave Grimsby a free kick soon afterwards and Colbeck’s delivery was flicked on by Hannah into the path of Pond but he could only head over the bar.
At the other end, a late challenge by Pearson on Birchall gave the away side a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the penalty area. Bradbrook looked to place a shot into the top corner of the net but McKeown was well positioned to claim an easy catch.
Town were shading possession and territory and they almost had a chance when Niven threaded a ball through into the box but it proved to be just too far ahead of Cook for the striker to make contact.
Neilson was tripped by Lee Burns as he attempted to turn on the halfway line but the home side could not make the resulting free kick count and Dartford broke quickly through Danny Harris on the right.
Harris kept going into the box and to the by-line but with Birchall free at the far post, he could not pull the ball back and Town escaped with a goal kick.
Neither goalkeeper had been tested as the 20-minute mark passed but Town had been guilty of giving the ball away on a few occasions, as Dartford’s quick pressing game looked to be having some early success.
A long-range shot from Cook on 24 minutes was deflected out for a corner and after the initial delivery was cleared but Town worked the ball back and Pond was involved again to head a floated cross from Wood. His effort lacked the power needed to beat Bettinelli, however.
Birchall had a shot blocked from the edge of the area after a cross from the Dartford right, before Niven volleyed well over the bar from 30 yards at the other end just after the half-hour.
Neither side was managing to put any real spells of possession together but Town went the closest they had been to an opening goal so far when Niven had another shot from long range that drew a great save from Betinelli to tip the ball over his bar.
From the flag, the ball bounced around in the air before it eventually fell for Cook but he could only stab a shot wide.
Grimsby seemed to have stepped things up and they had the ball in the box again when a smart ball from Disley found Wood on the right and his cross had to be palmed away from danger by Bettinelli.
A mis-kick by Champion gave the Mariners a cheap corner on the right on 37 minutes and Pearson challenged for it in the air but the ball was headed away for a Town throw.
That led to another corner, won by Thomas on the left, but Colbeck and Neilson got their short corner routine wrong and Colbeck was caught offside.
Midfielder Lee Noble hit a long-range effort wide with a minute to go before the break, before Hannah won a throw-in near the corner flag at the other end of the pitch, which led to a cross from Wood being cleared from danger.
No additional time was played at the end of the half, so it was honours even at the interval.
Neither side had done enough to threaten the opposing goal and break the deadlock and there was a feeling that if either team could get themselves in front in the second half, one goal may well be enough to claim all three points.
No changes were made before the restart and Dartford had the first chance of the second half two minutes in, when a quickly-taken free kick led to Birchall playing the ball across the box for Noble, who hit a weak shot at McKeown when he should have done better.
Colbeck won a corner on the Town right on 51 minutes but his driven cross from the flag was collected by Bettinelli.
A corner came at the other end soon afterwards and from it, the visitors took the lead. The Mariners failed to clear their lines after Birchall had a shot blocked from close range and it was knocked back for CHAMPION to drill a low effort into the net from 18 yards.
Grimsby responded well, with Colbeck hitting a cross into the danger zone from the right, before a corner from the left was cleared.
But the hosts could have gone further behind when Harris ran at Wood down the Dartford left and eventually shot against the post, before McKeown stopped the rebound.
Hannah went close to an equaliser when he hit the side netting with a shot from the edge of the box.
But it was the away side who were asking most of the questions and they had another opportunity to double their advantage when Pearson allowed Birchall to get on the wrong side of him, although McKeown did well to come off his line and block the striker’s shot.
The town management team made a double substitution on the hour, sending Artus and Elding on in place of Niven and Cook in a bid to freshen their attack up and add creativity in midfield.
Pond had to concede a corner after a good ball into the box from Nathan Collier and there were nervous moments for the home fans as Town struggled to clear it, before eventually getting the ball out for another corner.
A quick break then led to a corner at the other end, as Champion hammered the ball behind after Neilson’s break but again, Bettinelli plucked the ball out of the air to ensure there was no damage from the flag.
Artus sliced a shot wide from 20 yards as Town continued to look for a way back into the game but Dartford were still the better side and the one more likely to claim the victory with 20 minutes to go.
Southwell replaced Hannah up front for the Mariners, before Elding curled a shot from 20 yards that went straight to Bettinelli in the Darts’ goal.
Elding then headed wide from a Colbeck cross, before a free kick came for a foul on Colbeck, 25 yards out and in a central position.
The set-piece presented a good opportunity for the home side but Artus could not make it count, chipping a left-footed shot over the bar.
The hardworking Harris was replaced by Jacob Erskine as Dartford boss Tony Burman made his first change of the afternoon with 12 minutes to go.
Another chance for Grimsby came when a long kick by McKeown was headed on by Elding and Artus touched it back for Southwell but he volleyed wide from 16 yards.
A foul on Thomas near the halfway line brought another chance for Town to get the ball into the box but instead, it led to the visitors sealing the points.
Wood moved over to the left-back position to drive the free kick towards the Dartford area but it was cleared and the ball was played forward to BIRCHALL, who was left on his own to run from halfway, before rounding McKeown and tapping into the empty net.
Town kept going in an attempt to get the goal that would have set up an exciting end to the contest.
But they were unable to find it, meaning they were left to taste defeat for only the second time this season.
The Mariners will look to get back to winning ways and start a new unbeaten run when they make the short trip to Alfreton Town on Tuesday.