THE Mariners came away from their marathon trip to fellow play-off hopefuls Dover Athletic with a hard-earned point, thanks to a first-half penalty from Omar Bogle and a resolute late defensive display.
Manager Paul Hurst made four changes from the side that slipped to a home defeat against Braintree on Tuesday night. Evan Horwood came back into the starting XI after a spell out with injury to replace Gregor Robertson, Craig Clay stepped in for the injured Nathan Arnold, with Bogle replacing the injured Pat Hoban and Jon-Paul Pittman stepping in for top scorer Padraig Amond, who dropped to the bench.
This meant Town lined up with James McKeown in goal, behind a back four of Richard Tait, Toto Nsiala, Josh Gowling and Horwood. Clay was on the right side of the midfield four, which also included Craig Disley, Jon Nolan and Andy Monkhouse, whilst Pittman partnered Bogle up top.
Robertson, Shaun Pearson, Danny East and Ryan Jennings joined Amond on the bench, as Town looked for a return to winning ways after two games without a victory.
But it was the home side who settled the quicker of the two outfits, both defender Sam Magri and winger Ricky Modeste having sighters in the opening ten minutes.
Town began to get a foothold on the game on the quarter-hour with Nolan firing in an effort from distance that stung the palms of home stopper Mitch Walker.
And within two minutes the visitors in front. Ricky Miller tracked the run of Horwood into the area but only succeeded in impeding the Mariners’ defender and Bogle stepped up to calmly stroke the resulting penalty home.
The Mariners were on top of the game now and they were unfortunate not to double their lead when Nolan worked a good opening but Walker parried his effort.
James McKeown was then called into action twice in a matter of minutes to deny Miller as the hosts looked to respond.
Nicky Deverdics was causing Town problems in the middle of the park and on 41 minutes he saw an effort go just wide of the far post after a vital deflection from Tait.
Just a minute later, McKeown thwarted Miller again, this time with an excellent save at close range as the Mariners went into the half-time break with their noses in front.
Town were on the front foot at the start of the second half and Monkhouse sent an effort just wide on 48 minutes.
On 52 minutes, the Dover goal led a charmed life as Town somehow failed to double their lead.
Pittman saw an effort cleared off the line, Bogle followed up and was denied by a fine save from Walker but, with the ‘keeper stranded, Clay somehow put the ball onto the post.
And Town were made to pay for that profligacy just three minutes later. Jack Parkinson met a deep free kick at the far post and he made no mistake with a header from six yards.
Town responded well with Horwood picking out the Bogle’s run but again Walker was out smartly to thwart the danger.
Some slack defending from the Mariners allowed Miller a sight of goal on 69 minutes but he failed to test McKeown and screwed his effort wide of the mark.
The home side’s Liam Bellamy was the first to be cautioned after a late challenge on Bogle, before Miller also saw yellow for holding Gowling.
As the game moved into the final ten minutes, the hosts started to gain the ascendency with Deverdics striking a post and then Bellamy sending another effort whistling just wide of the target.
Hurst brought on East in place of Pittman to shore things up in the middle of the park, switching to five across the centre for the final five minutes of the game.
But still the home side were creating chances. East gave away a free kick in a dangerous position but Dover substitute Tyrone Marsh couldn’t get his effort on target.
Then, deep into injury time, the hosts won several corners in succession but the Mariners stood firm and came away with the point.
We are next in action on Tuesday night when we travel to Woking