GRIMSBY Town lost for the second time in consecutive games as league leaders Cheltenham Town furthered their title claims with a victory at Whaddon Road.
The Mariners were looking to bounce back after suffering a defeat at Macclesfield last time out but they fell behind when James Dayton struck from a free kick 10 minutes before the break.
As the live BT Sport television cameras watched on, Town made the perfect start to the second half when the returning Andy Monkhouse levelled the scores seven minutes in.
But former Grimsby loanee Harry Pell restored Cheltenham’s advantage, before Danny Wright made the points safe with a third goal.
Town boss Paul Hurst made four changes to the side that began the 2-1 reverse in Cheshire on Easter Monday.
Shaun Pearson and Evan Horwood came back into the defence, while there was a return from injury for Monkhouse and Pat Hoban was preferred to Omar Bogle in attack.
James McKeown started in goal, with Toto Nsiala moving to right-back as Richard Tait dropped to the bench. Pearson, Josh Gowling and Horwood completed the four-man backline.
Nathan Arnold, Craig Disley, Jon Nolan and Monkhouse were the midfielders, with Padraig Amond alongside Hoban up front.
Tait and Bogle were joined on the bench by Craig Clay, Jon-Paul Pittman and Jordan Stewart.
Cheltenham were looking to take another step towards the National League title with a win. They included former Mariners Daniel Parslow and Pell in their starting XI.
The hosts had the first opportunity to attack with a free kick on the right but the ball was cleared for a throw-in by Horwood.
Town’s first forward move of note came on eight minutes but after the ball came to Horwood on the left, he could only send an attempted low cross out for a goal kick.
The first talking point came two minutes later when a home penalty appeal for a handball by Pearson was turned down. Instead of pointing to the spot, referee Martin Coy ruled the defender had been fouled by Cheltenham striker Wright and gave the decision Town’s way.
The home team were on top in the early stages and they won a corner on the left on 13 minutes, which led to Cameron Burgess sending a header across goal and wide from the far post.
A foul by Monkhouse on Dayton then gave Cheltenham a free kick in a central position, although Pell’s low shot hit the Town defensive wall and bounced to safety.
Captain Kyle Storer went closer with an effort from just outside the box soon afterwards which forced McKeown into a good save, diving to make the block.
At the other end, Grimsby’s first sight of goal came when Amond held the ball up for Disley but the skipper could not keep his shot down from 20 yards.
Disley conceded a free kick for holding Wright back on 23 minutes and from it, the Town keeper was called into action again to tip Dayton’s shot over the bar. The resulting corner was headed out for a throw-in by Burgess.
A stoppage came when Storer went down with a back injury but after lengthy treatment, he was cleared to continue. He was unable to carry on for much longer though and was replaced by Jack Munns on 33 minutes.
Pearson was shown the first yellow card of the night after he was adjudged to have fouled Pell in a central position, around 25 yards from goal. From the free kick, the hosts took the lead when DAYTON stepped up and curled the ball beyond McKeown as the wall failed to block his shot.
Town were yet to fully establish themselves on the game as an attacking force but their response to going behind saw them win a corner on the right on 38 minutes. Nolan’s delivery was headed clear by Amari Morgan-Smith.
The Mariners had the ball in the net two minutes later when Amond beat home keeper Jonathan Flatt from the edge of the box but the goal did not count as the offside flag had already gone up against the striker.
Gowling had to block a Munns shot for a corner as the hosts threatened again with half-time approaching, although nobody could get on the end of the substitute’s delivery from the flag.
Three added minutes were signalled to be played at the end of the half and Town enjoyed a spell of pressure which eventually led to a corner on the left. Nolan’s ball was met by Hoban at the near post but his header flashed across goal and out for a goal kick.
That proved to be the last chance of the half, meaning Cheltenham held their one-goal advantage at the interval.
No further changes were made before the restart and after Amond almost had an opportunity in the opening seconds of the second half, the hosts went down the other end and won a free kick, which led to a corner after the ball came off Disley.
Another free kick for a foul on Pell gave Cheltenham a free kick in a similar position to the one they had scored from earlier in the game. This time, the wall jumped and dealt with Dayton’s shot.
The Mariners were back on level terms seven minutes into the half, when a free kick from Nolan was not dealt with by the home defence. Town kept the ball alive and after Hoban headed it down, MONKHOUSE was in the right place to steer a volley past Flatt and into the net in front of the travelling supporters.
A home corner came soon afterwards but the men in red and white could not capitalise, as Morgan-Smith headed wide at the near post.
Town had been better since the break but they fell behind again on 58 minutes. A free kick into the Town box fell for Wright and after he held off Gowling, the striker squared for PELL to finish from close range. McKeown was then shown a yellow card for protesting after Wright stood on his back on the way to celebrate the goal.
Dan Holman went close to extending the home advantage when he sent a 20-yard effort whistling past McKeown’s target, before a good recovery stopped Amond from having a shooting chance at the other end.
Amond then went down under a challenge from Burgess inside the Cheltenham box but the referee ignored the penalty claims from the forward and the Town fans as play continued and Hoban dragged a shot wide.
A foul by Pearson on Morgan-Smith brought another home free kick in a dangerous area and Pell blasted it low but McKeown made a good block and ensured the ball bounced to safety.
Monkhouse won a Town corner on the left on 72 minutes but Nolan’s ball was headed wide by Amond at the far post.
The home side stretched their lead with 14 minutes to go to all but seal the three points. Holman started the move with an excellent run down the left, then after it was played across the pitch, Munns’s cross from the right found WRIGHT and he did the rest, nodding a header past McKeown for 3-1.
Bogle replaced Arnold immediately after the goal as Town set about what was now a huge task to get anything out of the game. Dayton was replaced by Jack Barthram and Jordan Cranston came on for Morgan-Smith for the hosts.
Burgess was booked for a foul on Amond and Hoban had a shot saved as Town looked for a way back into the contest, before Wright cracked a shot over the bar from 25 yards at the other end.
Parslow got the ball away for a corner after Amond had put it into a dangerous area. From the flag, the ball fell for Gowling but he was unable to get a shot away.
A foul by Munns gave Town a free kick near the halfway line and before it was taken, Tait replaced Horwood. The set-piece opportunity came to nothing but Town kept possession and eventually won a corner as the game moved into four added minutes. Nolan’s ball was cleared to Tait but his shot was blocked.
Cheltenham were coming under pressure as Town looked to halve the deficit but the hosts almost had a fourth goal in the second of the added minutes. A break down the left saw Holman beat Nsiala and cut inside but after beating McKeown, he could only watch the ball bounce back off the post.
But that did not matter for the league leaders, as the referee’s full-time whistle confirmed their 26th win of the season and saw them establish a five-point lead at the top of the table.
Town must now regroup ahead of their next game, at Aldershot Town on Tuesday night.