GRIMSBY Town’s promotion hopes took a knock as fellow contenders Bristol Rovers won at Blundell Park.
In an entertaining contest between two of the Vanarama Conference’s top four, one goal proved to be enough for the visitors, who moved to within four points of table-toppers Barnet.
Tom Lockyer was the man on target on 67 minutes, after striker Matty Taylor had missed a first-half penalty given for a foul by Town keeper James McKeown.
The Mariners were never out of what was a tight game but ultimately, they were made to pay for a lack of attacking threat.
One change was made to the Town side that lost at Forest Green last week, with Jack Mackreth replacing Ollie Palmer.
McKeown started in goal, with Carl Magnay, Toto Nsiala, Shaun Pearson and Gregor Robertson forming the defence.
Mackreth began on the right of the four-man midfield, with Craig Disley and Craig Clay in the centre and Nathan Arnold on the left.
Christian Jolley moved from the right wing to partner Lenell John-Lewis up front, while Paul Bignot, Ross Hannah, Daniel Parslow, Paddy McLaughlin and Hamish Watson were all substitutes.
Bristol Rovers made the long journey from the south-west looking for a win that would see them keep up the pressure on league-leaders Barnet, as well as putting more daylight between themselves and the Mariners in the race to get back into the Football League.
The Pirates included former Grimsby goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall, while attackers Andy Monkhouse, Matty Taylor and Nathan Blissett would be looking to cause problems at the other end of the pitch.
Town won the first corner through Mackreth after good link-up play involving Jolley and John-Lewis on two minutes. Arnold’s kick was cleared back to him before his second cross was cut out for another corner. This time, Nsiala’s header was cleared.
A foul by Lee Mansell on John-Lewis gave the Mariners a free kick inside the Bristol half but Pearson was unable to get on the end of Arnold’s chipped delivery.
The away side took until the ninth minute to make an impression on the game, with Blissett, Taylor and Adam Dawson all involved in a move that finished with Taylor shooting at McKeown from inside the penalty area.
A ball down the line by Robertson led to a Grimsby corner on 12 minutes but Arnold’s ball from the flag was cleared by Monkhouse.
The best chance so far came when Jolley found Mackreth on the right and his low cross was controlled by John-Lewis, who turned but could not beat Mildenhall.
At the other end, Dawson did well to get past Robertson and win a corner on the right. The winger’s driven flag-kick was met by defender Mark McChrystal but his header missed the target.
Grimsby then launched another attack which saw Arnold cross from the left and after centre-back Tom Parkes missed the ball, John-Lewis headed wide of the far post.
Jolley and Mackreth were linking up well on the right and they combined again on 20 minutes for Mackreth to send a cross over that John-Lewis could only put behind for a goal kick.
Jolley was involved again soon afterwards, driving through the middle but only finding the Osmond Stand with his shot from 25 yards.
The tricky Dawson won another corner on the visitors’ right but this time, his kick was flicked away from danger by Magnay.
A late challenge by Magnay on Monkhouse earned the right-back the first yellow card of the game on 26 minutes and after the initial free kick was dealt with, a deep cross from Monkhouse found its way to Dawson, whose first-time shot brought a good reflex save from McKeown before Blissett put the rebound over the bar.
Both teams were looking to attack and two minutes later, Mildenhall beat John-Lewis to a Mackreth cross to punch clear of danger.
Taylor looked to be about to put the away side ahead when the ball came to him eight yards out but his shot was well blocked by McKeown, who was not to know the offside flag had gone up against the striker in any case.
A push by Pearson on Taylor gave Rovers another chance to attack with a free kick near the centre circle but they were unable to profit from it.
Another free kick, this time on the right, saw the visitors attempt a training ground move but it did not come off, as a foul on Arnold after Lee Mansell’s low ball gave Town a free kick.
The game’s first big talking point came on 41 minutes, when McKeown was adjudged to have fouled Blissett after he connected with a header on the edge of the Town box. Referee Darren England took his time before pointing to the penalty spot and showing the keeper a yellow card.
That gave the away side a golden chance to take the lead but they failed to take it, as Taylor’s spot-kick hit the post and bounced out to safety.
Town looked to make the most of still being level by going in search of a goal of their own before half-time.
A cross from Jolley on the right was blocked for a corner on 44 minutes but it did not lead to an opportunity in front of goal.
Four added minutes were signalled by the fourth official but with no further chances created by either side during the additional time, an entertaining first half was brought to a close with the score still goalless.
No changes were made before the restart and the away side started the brighter of the two, with Dawson and Taylor combining to create an opening before the striker was thwarted by Magnay.
A foul by Disley on Taylor brought about a free kick 30 yards from goal but the offside flag went up as Dawson lifted the ball into the box.
Town’s first attack of note in the second half saw a cross from Jolley put behind for a corner, which was cleared for a throw-in.
Bristol’s front two combined to create an excellent opportunity on 56 minutes. Blissett headed the ball down for Taylor but his shot was brilliantly saved by McKeown, who dived to his left to push it away for a corner.
The away side won a corner on 64 minutes after the ball had been worked to Dawson on the right. The kick was headed clear by Disley.
The next time the visitors attacked, they took the lead on 67 minutes. Monkhouse pushed the ball through for Lee Brown down the left and the full-back was adjudged to have got to it just before it crossed the by-line. His cross then fell for LOCKYER, who steered a neat finish into the net from a narrow angle at the far post.
A clumsy challenge by Nsiala on Taylor gave away another free kick in a dangerous position and earned the defender a booking. Dawson’s chip beat everybody and went out for a goal kick.
Hannah replaced Jolley as the Mariners made their first substitution with 71 minutes on the clock.
Mansell drilled a shot from 25 yards that McKeown held at the second attempt as the away side looked for a second goal which would have made the points safe.
A foul on Pearson gave Town a free kick near the halfway line but they could not make it count, as McKeown’s ball to the edge of the box brushed off Pearson’s head and went out for a goal kick.
A low cross from Mackreth was cut out for a corner as the hosts continued to search for an equaliser and Arnold’s ball from the flag was cleared but Town retained possession and eventually, won another corner. This time, Arnold’s ball came off a Grimsby head and went over the bar.
McLaughlin replaced Clay for the last 10 minutes, before Watson came on in place of Robertson as the Mariners went to three at the back and pushed the extra striker on in a bid to rescue something from the game.
Robertson had been booked for a foul on Lockyer shortly before he was taken off, while Lockyer also went into the book soon afterwards for a foul on Disley.
Town had the ball in the net on 88 minutes after a flick-on from Watson led to Hannah lifting the ball beyond Mildenhall but as the home fans began to celebrate, the offside flag went up against the striker and the goal was ruled out.
Grimsby continued to attack and they were given an additional four minutes to find an equaliser.
Hannah was booked for preventing a Bristol free kick from being taken, before one last home effort saw Mackreth put a ball in from the right that fell for Hannah, although his half-volley cleared the bar.
That proved to be the final opportunity for the Mariners as their visitors closed the game out to claim a huge three points.
Town are next in action when they travel to take on the league leaders Barnet in another big game next Saturday.