GRIMSBY Town returned to winning ways with a hard-fought victory over Stockport County at Edgeley Park.
After a winless run of six games, the Mariners got their promotion push back on track against relegation-threatened County.
The home side had looked the more likely to break the deadlock in a goalless first half, before Ross Hannah ended his own barren run by putting Town ahead just after half-time.
The visitors then doubled their advantage through a Sam Hatton free kick and at that point, Grimsby looked to bee cruising towards a comfortable victory.
But the hosts hit back through midfielder Alex Kenyon and Town were forced to defend in the later stages of the game as Stockport looked for an equaliser.
Town held firm though and after a bad March, showed some signs of better things ahead for the last month of the season.
It was another much-changed Grimsby line-up for the trip to Cheshire, with five alterations made to the team that drew with Barrow on Saturday.
Hatton, Joe Colbeck, Craig Disley, Hannah and Marcus Marshall all came into the side, with Aswad Thomas, Dayle Southwell, AndI Thanoj, Cleveland Taylor and Jamie Devitt all dropping out.
James McKeown started in goal, with Hatton coming in at right-back as Bradley Wood switched to the left. Shaun Pearson and Ian Miller formed the unchanged centre-back partnership.
Colbeck began on the right of a four-man midfield, with Disley returning from injury to partner Naylor in the middle and Marshall starting on the left.
Hannah was joined by Andy Cook in attack, while Thomas, Southwell, Thanoj and Taylor were joined on the bench by Lennell John-Lewis.
Stockport fell into the Blue Square Bet Premier’s relegation zone despite picking up a point in a 1-1 draw at Macclesfield on Saturday.
They would be looking to former Manchester City striker Jon Macken to fire the goals that would edge them closer to safety, while former Town loan keeper Richard O’Donnell would be aiming to keep the Mariners out at the other end.
Town kicked off on a bobbly surface, attacking the end of the ground where their travelling supporters were massed.
Their first attack saw Colbeck drive a cross in from the right on two minutes but O’Donnell was equal to it and claimed the catch.
Hannah tried a speculative shot from 35 yards that flew well over the bar, before pressurising defender James Tunnicliffe into conceding the first corner of the game with five minutes gone. Colbeck played it short to Marshall before getting the ball back and prodding over the top.
The first attack of note from the home side saw Mark Cullen take the ball down the ball down the right and hit a cross that proved easy for McKeown
Striker Macken then tested the Town stopper with a shot from 25 yards but McKeown got down to push the ball away.
Kenyon then beat Disley in midfield and took the ball forward before shooting from 25 yards. Again, the effort was comfortably saved.
Town were next on the attack when a Colbeck cross was headed out for a corner, which was hacked clear by Macken.
Another corner came soon afterwards but this time, Colbeck’s low delivery was poor and went out for a goal kick at the near post.
The Mariners were beginning to see more of the ball now and a chipped cross from Marshall was headed behind for another corner by Jordan Fagbola on 18 minutes. This time, the ball fell for Cook near the penalty spot but his header was stopped by O’Donnell.
Colbeck won a free kick after intercepting the ball in his own half and making progress down the left before being brought down by Fagbola. Town could not make the most of the set-piece opportunity though.
A shot from Danny Schofield on 28 minutes had to be pushed behind by McKeown for a Stockport corner but referee Christopher Kavanagh spotted an infringement as Danny Whitehead delivered the ball from a flag and blew for a Town free kick.
Kenyon fired over the bar for the hosts just after the half-hour, before right-back Andy Halls dispossessed Marshall in midfield and drilled an effort at McKeown.
The home fans thought their side had taken the lead after Cullen reacted first when McKeown did well to get fingertips to a shot from Macken but the cheers were silenced by the linesman’s offside flag.
Cullen then shot wide from 25 yards after a blocked Schofield effort fell into his path on 37 minutes.
Stockport were starting to threaten and McKeown had to be at his best to deny Cullen soon afterwards, diving full-length to tip his header around the post for a corner when the ball looked destined for the net.
Cullen was proving to be influential for the home side and his cross from the left caused a scare when it hit the Town bar, although no attacker was there to pick up the rebound.
Town were not showing much as an attacking force as their hosts continued to dominate possession and create the better opportunities in front of goal.
One added minute was played at the end of the first half and Town finished it on the attack, although O’Donnell beat Hannah to a ball inside the box to ensure the scores remained level at the break.
Stockport boss Ian Bogie would perhaps have been the happier manager at half-time, with his team looking the one most likely to break the deadlock over the course of the first 45 minutes.
No changes were made before the second half and Town were first to attack after the restart, as Wood’s long throw had to be hacked clear by Kenyon.
The Mariners took the lead within three minutes and it was a welcome goal for HANNAH, who broke his scoring drought with a well-directed shot that looped into the top corner of the net from 18 yards.
The former Bradford hitman marked his first goal since rejoining Grimsby in January by rushing to celebrate with the managers who had kept faith in him.
Stockport looked to respond through Macken but after he twisted and turned in the Town penalty area in search of an opening, his shot was blocked by Pearson.
Colbeck tried a shot from 20 yards as Town looked for a second goal but O’Donnell got down to stop the low effort.
Another good chance came when Cook was fouled by Fagbola in a central position on 56 minutes. From it, the Mariners doubled their lead, as HATTON placed a low shot through the wall from 25 yards and into the bottom corner of O’Donnell’s net.
It could have been 3-0 within a minute as Cook burst through on the left side of the penalty area but he blasted against the side netting from a narrow angle, with Hannah well-placed in the centre.
Town were now looking comfortable, with Stockport yet to seriously threaten in the second half.
That changed on the hour though when Macken won a corner on the right and after Town failed to clear the kick, KENYON took advantage to rifle a shot past McKeown and into the net.
All of a sudden, the hosts were back in the game and they threatened an equaliser when Cullen had a shot blocked from inside the box.
Danny Whitehead was replaced by Jon Nolan for County and the substitute’s first action saw him brought down by Hatton, who was booked for the foul. Schofield’s free kick was headed away for a throw-in.
Halls was booked for a foul on Wood on 66 minutes and Pearson’s header from the resulting free kick was deflected over the bar for a corner, which was cleared.
Kenyon then flashed a 20-yard shot over the bar for Stockport, before Schofield was replaced by Sam Sheridan for the home side.
Cullen was hurt in a challenge with Wood on 70 minutes but was passed fit to continue after receiving treatment and almost brought his side level with a volley from 20 yards that went just past the far post.
Sean Newton won a corner off Colbeck with 17 minutes to go but Town eventually cleared the danger and broke through Colbeck, Cook and Marshall, although the move did not lead to a goalscoring chance.
A better opportunity came when Marshall took the ball through the middle and slipped it to Colbeck but his weak shot was blocked.
Cullen had another chance for Stockport when he met a cross from the right but he put his header wide of McKeown’s target.
Taylor and Southwell came on for Marshall and Hannah for the Mariners with 11 minutes of the game left.
Paul Marshall was then sent on in place of Kenyon for Stockport with 86 minutes on the clock.
The new man’s first action was to loop a shot from 18 yards that McKeown had to tip over his bar for a corner, although the hosts could not profit from the flag.
Wood had to concede another corner as the 90-minute mark approached, beating Macken to a header from Cullen’s cross.
Town were forced to survive an additional four minutes and John-Lewis came on for Cook in the first of those minutes.
There was still time for Halls to be sent off for Stockport after an angry confrontation followed a foul on McvKeown, who had bravely come off his line to smother a through-ball into the box.
A foul by Taylor gave Stockport another to force a draw but Marshall’s free kick was headed away by Disley, before Colbeck completed the clearance.
One last chance for the home side came with a free kick from Newton but again, Grimsby held firm to ensure a priceless three points would be theirs.
The Mariners are next in action when they visit Macclesfield Town on Wednesday.