GRIMSBY Town’s place in the National League play-offs was confirmed despite a disappointing home defeat by Chester.
The Mariners lost a second consecutive game on home turf after Braintree also won at Blundell Park as goals from John Rooney and Ryan Astles gave the visitors the points which made them mathematically safe from relegation.
But results elsewhere meant Town’s participation in the end-of-season shootout was assured with a game of the regular season still to go.
Town began brightly and had the better chances to break the deadlock in the first half but instead, it was Rooney who opened the scoring just after half-time.
And after defender Astles nodded home from a free kick, the visitors started to look comfortable.
Captain Craig Disley gave the Mariners hope when he pulled a goal back with seven minutes to go but despite the hosts pouring forward in a bid to salvage a point, it was not to be.
One change was made to the Town side that won at Woking in midweek, with Shaun Pearson coming in for Josh Gowling.
James McKeown started in goal, with Richard Tait, Toto Nsiala, Pearson and Evan Horwood across the defence.
Danny East kept his right-wing spot, with Disley, Jon Nolan and Andy Monkhouse completing the midfield.
Padraig Amond and Omar Bogle were the strikers, with Gregor Robertson, Craig Clay, Jon-Paul Pittman, Conor Henderson and Ryan Jennings all named on the bench.
Chester travelled east needing just one point to make sure of their place in the National League for next season.
Their top scorer and former Mariners striker Ross Hannah was named on the bench, although ex-Town loanees Jordan Chapell and James Alabi were both in the Blues’ starting XI.
Chester won the first corner of the afternoon through Alabi on the right but Chapell’s ball was flicked wide at the near post by Tom Shaw.
At the other end, an early Monkhouse header was saved by visiting keeper Tony Thompson before the ball was cleared for a corner. Nolan’s delivery was put behind by defender Ben Heneghan for another, which was cleared as far as East, who fired well over the bar from the edge of the box.
Alabi almost had an opening through the middle after East lost possession on six minutes but good covering by Horwood saw him get the ball back to McKeown.
The visitors almost took the lead three minutes later when a shot from Chapell was saved by McKeown, only for the rebound to come out to striker Cane Richards. He looked set to score but Pearson did well to get back and block the shot on the line, meaning the only damage was a Chester corner.
A stoppage came soon afterwards when Nsiala went down with an injury but the defender was passed fit to continue after receiving treatment.
The Mariners had a good opportunity to take the lead when a deep cross from Tait was met by Monkhouse at the far post. He pulled the ball back for Amond but the striker could only fire over the bar from 12 yards.
Town were looking to move the ball quickly and they had it inside the Chester penalty area again on 17 minutes, when a Monkhouse cross from deep on the left was headed over the bar by Bogle.
A nice pass from Monkhouse to Horwood on the left set up another attack two minutes later but after the left-back crossed, the offside flag went up against Amond, who headed wide.
Chester won a free kick inside the Town half on 22 minutes but Rooney’s delivery into the box was headed away by Pearson before Tait completed the clearance.
A Chapell cross from the right was headed clear by Nsiala, before Shaw and Rooney combined to get the ball away after a cross from East at the other end.
A low ball into the Town box by Ryan Higgins brought another chance for the visitors but Richards could only flick it into McKeown’s arms at the near post.
Bogle had a shot from the edge of the box on the half-hour which Thompson saved and after it came back out to Monkhouse, the winger tried to set up another chance but the Chester defence eventually recovered.
A cross from Alabi was cut out for a corner by Pearson three minutes later but Alabi could only glance a header wide of the far post from Chapell’s kick.
Nolan did well to keep the ball in on the left but could not beat right-back Ryan Higgins when he cut inside into the box, before Bogle failed to get a strong enough connection on a shot when Horwood found him with a low cross soon afterwards.
A shot by East from inside the box was well-blocked by left-back John Hunt after Horwood had pulled the ball back, with Town looking to break the deadlock before half-time.
And the left-back got the ball into the danger zone again on 44 minutes, although Monkhouse hit a volley off-target after meeting the left-wing cross.
One additional minute was played at the end of the half and with no further chances created by either side, it remained goalless at the interval.
No changes were made before the restart and Town had the first opening of the second half, with Monkhouse blasting over the bar from 20 yards.
But when the opening goal came on 48 minutes, it was the visitors who went ahead. A slip by Horwood gave Chapell the space on the right to get a cross in and after it fell for ROONEY, he took a touch and picked his spot, rifling past McKeown from 12 yards.
A foul on Alabi gave Chester another opportunity to attack from midway inside the Grimsby half but Rooney’s low free kick went straight through to McKeown.
At the other end, a Tait cross was headed out for a corner by Ryan Astles but the Mariners were unable to turn it into a goalscoring opportunity.
Horwood won another corner on 59 minutes but Nolan’s ball was dealt with by the Chester defence.
A foul by Nsiala on Richards two minutes later gave the away side a free kick in a dangerous position on the left, level with the penalty spot. And from it, Chester doubled their lead when Rooney’s ball to the far post found ASTLES, who nodded it past McKeown and into the net.
The Mariners had a chance to reply with a free kick of their own on 63 minutes but Horwood could not make it count as his curling shot went over the bar.
Bogle then had a shot blocked from close range after getting the ball from Amond, before a brilliant run and shot from Alabi drew an equally brilliant save from McKeown to keep the score at 2-0.
Hannah was introduced in place of Richards in the Chester attack on 67 minutes, before a Monkhouse header from Tait’s cross went wide of the near post for a goal kick.
That proved to be Monkhouse’s last involvement as he was replaced by Jennings, with Pittman also coming on for Bogle at the same time, with 20 minutes left to play.
A Rooney effort from inside the box was blocked as Chester looked to make absolutely sure of the points with a third goal.
Nsiala stayed down again after winning a challenge with Alabi and this time he did have to be replaced, with Robertson coming on as the third and final substitute.
The Mariners were finally on the scoreboard with seven minutes to go, when a shot was blocked from close range and DISLEY was on hand to put the rebound into the net for 2-1.
Pearson headed wide from a Town corner on 89 minutes as the hosts kept looking for the equalising goal that would see them seal a play-off spot on their own terms.
And they could have had that goal when a back-header from Pittman sent Amond through but after holding off a defender, the striker sent his shot over the bar.
Four added minutes were signalled, giving the Mariners extra time to haul themselves level and avoid a second consecutive home defeat.
But they could not force that second goal and although Grimsby’s play-off place was easled, it was the 210 away supporters who were celebrating as the final whistle blew.
Town now look to their final game of the regular season at Tranmere on Saturday before starting their play-off campaign