A LATE free kick from Josh Gillies denied Grimsby Town maximum points as they were forced to settle for a draw against Gateshead at Hartlepool’s Victoria Park.
The Mariners had gone closest to opening the scoring in a goalless first half, as Jamie Devitt hit the bar from a free kick 20 yards out.
The visitors started brightly after the break and they were ahead within two minutes, as Andi Thanoj opened the scoring.
Town had the better of the play for much of the remainder of the game but they could not extend their advantage and were punished when the home side equalised with 11 minutes to go.
Grimsby’s starting XI included just four of the players who began the game at Wembley two days previously, with James McKeown, Shaun Pearson, Ian Miller and Aswad Thomas the only survivors.
The Mariners also changed their formation, reverting to a 4-3-3 shape for the trip north.
McKeown started in goal and there was just one change in the back four, with Sam Hatton dropping out and Bradley Wood coming in alongside Pearson, Miller and Thomas.
Pearson wore the captain’s armband after regular skipper Craig Disley had to drop out of the side after the warm up, meaning it was a new midfield of Thanoj, Tom Naylor and Dougie Wilson.
The front thee also had a completely new look, with Devitt and Dayle Southwell on either side of Lennell John-Lewis.
The Town substitutes were Marcus Marshall, Ross Hannah, Andy Cook and Hatton.
The Mariners were looking for a change in fortunes, with the penalty shootout defeat to Wrexham following on from four straight losses in the league.
The first good chance of the game came on 12 minutes, when a ball over Wood’s head was collected by Jake Fowler and James Brown hit a shot that was saved by McKeown.
Gillies was the next to shoot for the home side two minutes later but the effort did not trouble McKeown as the ball sailed into the stand behind the goal.
Town won a corner after an attacking move involving Devitt led to a cross from Thomas being deflected behind on 18 minutes but the kick was headed clear by the home defence.
Another Thomas cross came three minutes later but a diving header by centre-back James Curtis cleared the danger for the hosts.
Town were beginning to see more of the ball in attacking areas by the midway point of the half but were yet to threaten the goal guarded by home keeper Adam Bartlett.
Thomas conceded a corner soon after he was yellow-carded for kicking the ball away but Gateshead could not make the most of the opportunity from the flag, with Patrick Boyle firing off-target.
Southwell then almost had a chance for Grimsby as he looked to get onto a ball forward but the youngster could not take it down.
A foul by Fowler gave the Mariners a free kick in a central position on the edge of the Gateshead box and it provided the best chance of the game so far. Devitt whipped a shot that hit the bar, with keeper Bartlett beaten.
Gateshead had the next opportunity as forward Ryan Donaldson was left on his own inside the Town box but he could not make the most of the chance.
John-Lewis then thought he was through on goal for Grimsby on 40 minutes but the offside flag went up against him, bringing the attack to an end.
A Town corner came two minutes before the break and Devitt’s kick was headed behind for another one ahead of Naylor. This time, the ball from Devitt was headed away from danger.
A better chance came for the away side after a cross from Devitt in the last minute of the half but Southwell mis-hit his shot before Naylor scooped an effort over the bar.
A free kick to the home side gave them a chance to get the ball into the Grimsby box as the game moved into one minute of stoppage time but they did not create any problems from it and the scores remained level at the interval.
Liam Henderson replaced Brown for Gateshead before the restart and a foul on Southwell by Boyle earned the defender a yellow card within a minute.
From the resulting free kick, the Mariners took the lead after Devitt’s kick was half-cleared as far as THANOJ, who blasted a low shot home from 18 yards.
Town had started the second half well and they could have doubled their lead when a cross from Devitt was met by Naylor but his back-header dropped just wide of the target.
A shot by John-Lewis was blocked for a corner on 53 minutes and the former Bury striker got his head to the ball from the flag but Wilson could not get a touch to divert it past Bartlett, who gathered it.
John-Lewis beat the Gateshead offside trap to launch another Town attack but the Mariners could not capitalise as Naylor eventually hit his shot wide.
A flick by Wilson sent Devitt through just before the hour and he cut in from the left but sent his shot out for a goal kick.
Donaldson was booked after an altercation with Thomas, before Wood had to concede a corner after Southwell had lost possession to Phil Turnbull in midfield.
The kick came to nothing and Town broke through Southwell and Devitt, although the Mariners were unable to turn it into a chance in front of goal.
Devitt and John-Lewis then combined in a bid to open up the Gateshead defence but they could not find a way through.
A better chance came when Thanoj won a ball in midfield and played it to Devitt, who cut in but fired against the post, with the ball rolling across the line but staying on the wrong side of it as far as the Hull City loanee was concerned.
Another Devitt corner from the right provided another chance to get the ball into the danger zone but a free kick was given to the hosts for a handball by John-Lewis.
A Town free kick taken by McKeown from just short of halfway was sent into the Gateshead penalty area on 74 minutes but Miller could not get enough on his header to send the ball past Bartlett.
Wood had to get back and challenge after Fowler got into the Town box soon afterwards, with Miller then clearing the danger.
A foul by Wilson on 78 minutes gave Gateshead a free kick in a dangerous position as the home side were enjoying a good spell. From it, the hosts drew level, as GILLIES stepped up to curl his shot over the Town wall and into the net.
Town looked to respond and a good passing move led to a corner with seven minutes to go. Thanoj’s kick was cleared but Town kept possession and won a throw-in, which eventually led to John-Lewis being caught offside.
Cook and Marshall came on for the last five minutes with the Mariners looking to regain their advantage and snatch all three points. John-Lewis and Southwell were the players to make way.
A foul on Cook by defender Ben Clark gave Town a free kick but the ball was cleared after Wood’s delivery was met by Cook.
Fowler was replaced for the home side as the game moved into stoppage time and with no further chances for either side, the match ended even.
Town had created the better chances during the second period but could not close the game out, although they had at least added to their league points tally for the first time in five games.
The Mariners now return to Blundell Park for their next game against Barrow on Saturday.