GRIMSBY Town closed the gap to the National League’s top two further with a victory over Southport at Blundell Park.
The Mariners made the perfect start to the game, as Padraig Amond scored what proved to be the only goal with less than a minute on the clock.
Town were unable to add to their lead and their visitors grew into the game, although they rarely seriously threatened to get themselves on the scoreboard.
And although there were plenty of nerves around the ground as the clock ticked down, the Mariners managed to hold onto their narrow lead and see the game out to bank another vital three points, which moved them to within 10 points of Forest Green Rovers and 12 of league leaders Cheltenham Town, with two games in hand.
One change was made to the Town side that won at Forest Green on Friday, with Toto Nsiala replacing the injured Shaun Pearson.
Otherwise, it was as you were with goalkeeper James McKeown lining up behind a defence of Richard Tait, Nsiala, Josh Gowling and Evan Horwood.
Nathan Arnold, Craig Disley, Jon Nolan and Andy Monkhouse were the midfielders, with Pat Hoban and Amond again chosen as the strike duo.
Nsiala’s inclusion meant Danny East came onto the bench, alongside Gregor Robertson, Craig Clay, Jon-Paul Pittman and Ryan Jennings.
Southport travelled east looking to improve on their position of 16th in the National League and make amends for their 4-0 loss to the Mariners in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.
Town kicked off attacking the Pontoon Stand end of the ground and they won a corner within seconds of the start. From it, they took the lead with less than a minute on the clock when the ball bounced around inside the box before eventually falling for AMOND, who finished from close range at the far post.
The Mariners had shown a clear sign of their attacking intent for the evening and they went close to a second goal on two minutes when Hoban let fly from distance, although his shot was narrowly off-target.
Another chance came when Horwood’s left-wing cross found Amond but this time, his stooping header was caught by visiting keeper Max Crocombe.
Southport’s first attack saw a cross from the right headed away by Nsiala, who went down under a challenge with winger Jamie Allen. Both players required treatment but were passed fit to continue.
Town were dominating in the early stages but a foul on Steven Hewitt on the left gave the away side the chance to get the ball into the danger zone with a free kick from halfway on eight minutes. It didn’t cause any problems though, as Gowling headed clear.
A Nolan cross was headed just wide by Amond four minutes later, before the game stopped again for another Southport free kick, this time on the opposite right flank. Again, it was comfortably dealt with, as Horwood headed the ball away.
Another good move by the Mariners saw the ball switched from right to left and back again, before a cross by Arnold failed to pick out a team-mate.
Town were playing some excellent football as Southport allowed them to play a passing game.
Allen won the visitors’ first corner as the clock reached the 20-minute mark and from it, they probably should have equalised. Midfielder Andy Wright headed the ball back across goal and it was met by defender Mark O’Brien but he could only head it over the bar.
A great cross from Horwood was flicked away from Amond before he could connect with it, then an advantage was played by the referee after Hoban appeared to be fouled, with Nolan eventually shooting high and wide.
After Town’s fast start, the game seemed to have settled down as the half-hour mark approached, with Southport beginning to see more of the ball, albeit without calling McKeown into serious action.
The away side had the opportunity to change that when a foul by Disley gave them a free kick in a central position, 20 yards from goal. Craig Westcarr’s shot was deflected out for a corner, which was headed clear by Nolan. Southport then worked the ball back to Gary Jones, who blasted just wide from 25 yards.
Another two chances for the hosts came in quick succession on 37 minutes, with Hoban having a shot blocked after good work by Arnold, before Amond headed straight at keeper Crocombe after a cross from the left.
Nolan then saw an effort deflected behind for a corner on the left, which was hacked clear of danger.
Hewitt was denied by McKeown as he shot from a narrow angle on 42 minutes and the resulting corner was played low and short but was cleared.
A foul by Gowling on Allen earned the centre-back a yellow card a minute before the break and from the resulting free kick, the ball was played to Max Cartwright but his shot from 25 yards was held by McKeown.
One added minute was signalled to be played at the end of the half and after it passed without further incident, the Mariners kept their one-goal advantage at the interval.
No changes were made by either side before the restart and an early free kick from Adam Blakeman gave the visitors an early opportunity to attack, although his set piece was headed clear.
A foul by Nsiala on Allen on 48 minutes brought about another free kick, this time much closer to the penalty area. It was a well-worked set piece that led to Hewitt winning a corner, which was headed clear.
At the other end, Amond linked up with Horwood, with the striker getting the ball back but hitting a weak shot from the edge of the box that went through to Crocombe.
Southport had enjoyed a promising start to the half but by 10 minutes in, the Mariners were starting to regain their grip on the game and were seeing more of the ball.
The game stopped after Crocombe went down having made what at first looked to be a routine catch from a Nolan cross. The keeper seemed to overstretch and was holding his back but was eventually passed fit to play on.
A low ball across the six-yard line by Arnold was missed by everybody, before a chip forward from Horwood was sliced out for a corner, which was headed away by Wright.
Mike Phenix replaced Blackman for the visitors on 67 minutes, before Clay came on for Nolan for Town.
A foul on Hoban gave Grimsby a free kick 30 yards from goal and after it was taken quickly, it eventually led to Monkhouse heading at Crocombe. The winger picked up an injury as he stretched for the header and he was forced off, to be replaced by Jennings.
Crocombe made a block after Jennings cut in and shot from a narrow angle on the right, before Hoban narrowly failed to connect with a Tait cross from the same flank.
O’Brien was booked for bringing Amond down midway inside the Southport half as the striker looked to make progress through the middle. Arnold’s chip into the box was headed away, before Clay fired wide.
Clay got the ball away for a corner after a dangerous-looking low cross as Southport looked to be growing in belief and the flag-kick also initially looked to have caused problems for the Town defence until the ball ended up in McKeown’s arms.
Southport’s second substitution saw Louis Almond come on in place of Allen with nine minutes to go, as the visitors continued to look for an equaliser.
A cross from Jennings on the right was blocked for a Town corner two minutes later, although Wright got to the ball from the flag first and headed it clear.
Four minutes of added time were signalled just before a curling cross from Horwood on the left was met by Amond, whose header forced a good save out of Crocombe.
Striker Andy Bishop was sent on for Hewitt in the away side’s final substitution, before East came on in place of Amond for the last two of the additional minutes.
Southport kept pushing for a last-gasp leveller but it was not to come and the Mariners were finally able to celebrate another crucial three points.
They now return to FA Trophy action with the first leg of the semi-final at Bognor Regis Town on Saturday.