TOM Naylor scored on his first Grimsby Town start to give the Mariners a vital away victory against Forest Green Rovers at the New Lawn.
The Derby County loanee scored the only goal to keep Town’s promotion charge on track and claim a win over one of their rivals at the top end of the Blue Square Bet Premier.
The first half was one of few opportunities for either side, although Forest Green created the better chances and went the closest to taking the lead when Chris Stokes hit the post just before the break.
After the interval, the game opened up and Town began to cause more problems for the home defence, culminating in Naylor’s goal.
And after taking the lead, the visitors were able to close out the game to earn an important three points and move up a place to fourth in the table.
Naylor was one of four changes to the Town side that beat Ebbsfleet last week as he replaced the injured Shaun Pearson in the centre of defence.
Aswad Thomas, Joe Colbeck and Richard Brodie also came into the side after missing the home win against the Kent side.
That meant Sam Hatton, Jamie Devitt and Ross Hannah all made way, dropping to the bench as Rob Scott and Paul Hurst opted to shuffle their pack for the trip to Gloucestershire.
James McKeown began in goal, with Bradley Wood moving across to right-back in place of Hatton as Thomas slotted in on the left and Naylor and Ian Miller formed the central partnership.
Colbeck started on the right of midfield, with Craig Disley and Derek Niven in the middle and Marcus Marshall continuing on the left.
Andy Cook partnered Brodie up front, while Hannah, Hatton and Devitt were joined on the bench by AndI Thanoj and Lennell John-Lewis on the substitutes list.
Forest Green were looking to close the gap to the Mariners, who occupied the final play-off position at kick-off, while the hosts were also looking to end a three-game winless streak.
Their main threats were likely to be striker Magno Vieira and midfielder Lee Fowler, who is in his third spell at the New Lawn.
The first serious effort of the game came from Fowler on 11 minutes but his shot from just outside the penalty area went wide of McKeown’s goal.
Town’s first real opening came two minutes later, when a foul by defender Jamie Turley on Marshall gave them a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. Brodie took it but his shot hit the home wall and eventually bounced through to home keeper Sam Russell.
Brodie was shown the first yellow card of the game soon afterwards for a foul on defender Stokes but the resulting free kick did not lead to any danger.
A free kick to Rovers in a better position on 21 minutes allowed Yan Klukowski to try his luck with a shot and his effort went around the Town wall but failed to hit that target.
A cross from Wood was headed clear four minutes later, as both sides struggled to create chances.
Town were forced into a relatively early change in midfield just before the half-hour, as Niven picked up an injury and had to be replaced by Thanoj.
The Mariners were continuing to get crosses into the box, with Colbeck and Wood both sending balls in but Russell was equal to both and the game remained goalless.
In a game of few chances, the hosts created one when Al Bangura found striker James Norwood and he beat Wood to get into the box but prodded a shot that McKeown got down to save.
At the other end, Marshall did well to collect a ball from Disley but could not pick out a team-mate with his cross, as Russell again claimed the cross.
Stokes went the closest yet to opening the scoring when, after a flowing Forest Green move, he hit a side-footed shot that beat McKeown but bounced back off the post, where Colbeck got to the rebound to clear the danger.
Two added minutes were played at the end of the half, with the home side on top in the closing stages of the first period.
A foul on Klukowski gave Forest Green a final opportunity to create some problems but his shot from the resulting free kick was caught by McKeown.
That proved to be the last action of a first half of few clear-cut opportunities, although the home side had created the better chances to open the scoring.
No further changes were made before the restart and Forest Green started the second half brightly, with Naylor having to break up an attack by winning a ball aimed for Fowler near the corner flag.
A foul by Thomas gave the hosts a free kick on 49 minutes but the set piece caused no problems for the Grimsby defence.
A home corner came two minutes later when the ball went out of play off the head of Thomas and Fowler’s delivery was cleare3d for another corner by Naylor. This time, Klukowski’s ball was headed away by Cook.
Town were coming under pressure but they almost had an opening of their own with a ball through for Disley, who got to the left side of the penalty area before finding Brodie, whose shot was blocked.
The game was beginning to open up and after from Wood, Marshall held it up well before Thomas drove a shot in that was saved by Russell at his near post.
The ball was moving from end to end as both sides looked for a breakthrough goal and Norwood almost had a chance for Forest Green soon afterwards, before Klukowski had a shot blocked by Miller.
A foul by Jared Hodgkiss on Thomas gave Grimsby a free kick on the hour and Colbeck’s delivery was headed down by Disley, before the ball broke for Miller to strike a shot that went narrowly over the bar.
A shot by Cook then got a deflection which took the ball through to Russell four minutes later after more good work by Colbeck.
John-Lewis came on in place of Brodie soon afterwards as Town looked for a different option in attack.
Thomas was shown a yellow card for a foul on Norwood but Fowler’s free kick was cleared by Wood.
Fowler was then replaced by England C midfielder Kieron Forbes, before a Town attack saw Disley shoot wide from outside the box.
A cross from Colbeck then led to a corner after the ball was beaten away by keeper Russell.
Another corner came on the right on 73 minutes and Colbeck’s delivery was pushed clear by Russell. Town worked the ball back and a Cook cross was half-cleared.
Again, the Mariners worked the ball back and this time, they grabbed the vital breakthrough goal. A cross from Thanoj was sent to the far post after the midfielder showed good persistence to get to the by-line and after Miller headed it down, NAYLOR was there to force it over the line.
Yemi Odubade replaced Bangura for Forest Green with 14 minutes to go, with Town now on top and looking to hold onto their lead.
Disley and the home side’s Matt Taylor were both booked after a tangle as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark.
Hatton was sent on in place of Thomas for the final six minutes, with Wood moving over to left-back as the former Wimbledon man took up his usual position on the right.
Odubade beat Wood to get a cross in with three minutes left but the ball was headed clear and Town launched a counter-attack.
A Town corner on 88 minutes saw Cook win the header but he could only direct it through to Russell in the Rovers goal.
Town were forced to endure three added minutes after the regulation 90 as they looked to hold onto their lead and claim three precious points.
But they were able to see out that additional time and complete a victory which adds extra weight to their promotion claims.
Grimsby now face another big test when they welcome Kidderminster Harriers to Blundell Park on Saturday.