GRIMSBY Town warmed up for the play-offs with a confident 3-0 win over Newport County in their final game of the regular season.
Goals from Jamie Devitt, Andi Thanoj and a first for Liam Hearn since his return from injury sealed three points for the Mariners against the team they will face again in the post-season semi-finals.
Both management teams made several changes for the game knowing they could meet again in more important circumstances in the coming days but it was the Grimsby side who impressed, grabbing all three goals in an entertaining first half.
Town had chances to add to their lead after the break as Newport rarely threatened to get themselves on the score sheet.
And the result meant Grimsby go into the play-offs in confident mood as they prepare to face Newport again.
Six changes were made to the Town side that won at Woking in midweek, with Hearn coming in for his first home start of the season.
The other alterations to the team saw Aswad Thomas, Ian Miller, Craig Disley, Frankie Artus and Cleveland Taylor come into the XI for the final league fixture of the campaign.
Greg Fleming continued in goal, with Sam Hatton, Miller, Tom Naylor and Thomas forming the back four.
Taylor, Disley, Thanoj, Artus and Devitt formed a five-man midfield, leaving Hearn as the lone striker.
The Town substitutes were Derek Niven, Bradley Wood, Dayle Southwell, Ross Hannah and Marcus Marshall.
Newport came to Cleethorpes already assured of a third-place finish in the Blue Square Bet Premier and facing the possibility of another two meetings with the Mariners in the play-offs.
County boss Justin Edinburgh made four changes to his side after the midweek draw at Luton, as he also looked to rest his most important players for the bigger games to come.
Newport had the first chance of the game when a shot by striker Conor Washington was not held by Fleming but Miller cleared the danger.
A deep cross from Robbie Willmott into the Town penalty area on seven minutes posed no problems for Fleming, who claimed a comfortable catch.
Town’s first attacking threat came two minutes later, with Devitt picking the ball up on the left and unleashing a vicious shot that flew just past the far post.
Fleming had to race off his line and make a good block when midfielder Alex Gilbey was put through, before the stopper caught Washington’s looking effort from the rebound.
Artus was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Scott Donnelly in midfield but the resulting free kick was cleared by Hatton and Town broke, keeping the ball until a ball for Disley went through to visiting keeper Alan Julian.
A foul on Devitt on 17 minutes gave Town a chance to get the ball into the Newport box and from it, the Mariners took the lead. DEVITT stepped up to take it and found the top corner of Julian’s net with a whipped cross-shot that the keeper could not get close to.
Devitt had started the game well and he had another shot blocked on 20 minutes after a short corner.
Willmott went close to levelling the scores with a deflected cross but Fleming got down to make a smart save.
At the other end, good work by Hearn on the left saw him send a low cross towards the penalty spot but Artus could only side-foot wide.
The game was moving from end to end and Newport’s Willmott sent a cross out of play from the left.
Town’s next attack saw them double their advantage, as a 20-yard shot from THANOJ looked to have been saved by Julian with his legs but the ball looped up and bounced down into the net.
Washington had a shot blocked by Naylor as Newport looked to get back into what had been a very entertaining contest so far.
Taylor then gave the ball away in midfield just before the half-hour but Gilbey’s chipped ball into the penalty area had too much on it and a Town goal kick was the result.
A cross from Michael Boateng on the right was cleared, before a Naylor header from a Devitt corner on the left was deflected out for another corner, which was cleared.
Hearn went close to making it 3-0 when a cross from the left was knocked back into his path by Taylor at the far post but Julian made the block from the Town striker.
Newport’s next attack of note saw Willmott cross from the left but Donnelly could only head over the bar.
The Mariners stretched their lead two minutes before the break and this time, HEARN did manage to get himself on the score sheet. Devitt found Artus down the right and he passed to the former Alfreton striker, who turned and rifled past Julian from inside the penalty area.
Two added minutes were played at the end of the half and with no further chances, Grimsby took a commanding lead into the dressing rooms with them at half-time.
Town had turned in an excellent first half performance and were deserving of their three-goal advantage.
No changes were made before the restart and Newport were handed the first opportunity of the second half when a foul by Artus gave them a free kick 25 yards out and slightly left of centre. Willmott’s shot took a deflection off the Town wall and went for a corner.
Town could have had a fourth goal when a free kick from Hatton on the halfway line eight minutes in led to Hearn holding the ball up inside the box for Naylor, who shot wide from a narrow angle.
Taylor won a corner soon afterwards and a short routine led to Devitt jinking his way into the penalty are and shooting but seeing his effort blocked by keeper Julian.
A late challenge on Thomas saw Donnelly’s name go into the referee’s notebook, before Naylor did well against Gilbey to see the ball out for a Town goal kick.
Hearn went off to a standing ovation as he was replaced by Hannah just before the hour, with Southwell replacing Disley at the same time as the Mariners reverted to a 4-4-2 formation.
Southwell’s first involvement saw him wriggle through the middle before being fouled 25 yards from goal. Hatton took the free kick but his shot went just over the bar.
Grimsby-born Danny Crow replaced Rhys Griffiths for the visitors on 61 minutes, before a good Town move saw Thanoj thread a ball through for Hannah, who was adjudged offside as his shot was blocked by keeper Julian.
Ben Swallow replaced Washington for the visitors, before Marshall came on in place of Taylor as Town made their third and final substitution.
A great ball from Southwell set Devitt free down the Grimsby left on 73 minutes but he looked to pick out a team-mate in the centre instead of shooting and the ball was cleared.
An attempted shot from Hannah was deflected into the path of Devitt on the left and he passed to Southwell, who dragged a shot narrowly wide of Julian’s far post.
A Newport free kick with seven minutes to go saw Donnelly have a shot deflcted wide for a corner but the flag-kick caused no problems for Fleming in the Town goal.
Donnelly was then replaced by Will Evans for the closing stages of the game, before Town had a triple chance to grab a fourth goal, as Hannah, Southwell and then Hannah again all had efforts blocked within a short space of time.
Three added minutes were played at the end of the game and with no further chances, it was the Mariners who claimed the three points that saw them leap-frog Wrexham into fourth place in the final Blue Square Bet Premier table.
That means Town play Newport again in the play-off semi-finals, with the first leg at Blundell Park on Wednesday.