OMAR Bogle and Nathan Arnold fired Grimsby Town back into the Football League as they beat Forest Green Rovers in the National League promotion final on a memorable afternoon at Wembley Stadium.
After suffering penalty shoot-out heartbreak last year at the national stadium, the Mariners finally clinched the win that saw them reclaim their place among the elite 92 clubs after six years out of the league.
Bogle’s quickfire double just before half-time sent Town on their way, although Forest Green came back into the game after half-time and halved the deficit though Keanu Marsh-Brown.
But it was to be Town’s day and they made sure of victory in added time, when Arnold rounded keeper Steve Arnold and slotted into the net to make it 3-1.
One change was made to the Town side after the semi-final second leg victory at Braintree which set up this clash, with Arnold coming in for Jon-Paul Pittman.
Otherwise, it was as you were, with goalkeeper James McKeown lining up behind a defence of Richard Tait, Toto Nsiala, Josh Gowling and Gregor Robertson.
Craig Clay, Craig Disley and Jon Nolan formed a three-man midfield, with Arnold named in attack alongside Padraig Amond and Bogle.
The Grimsby substitutes were Pittman, Shaun Pearson, Marcus Marshall, Danny East and Pat Hoban.
Forest Green came into the game having beaten Dover Athletic in their semi-final after finishing second in the regular season league table.
Their dangermen would be likely to include lively attacker Marsh-Brown, as well as Elliott Frear and Brett Williams, while veteran striker Jon Parkin was kept in reserve on the Rovers bench.
An early foul by Robertson gave Forest Green a free kick on the right but David Pipe’s header from Frear’s delivery was straight at McKeown.
Town’s first attack of note came on five minutes and saw Disley try a low shot from 20 yards which was touched away for a corner. Nolan’s low ball from the flag was cleared for a throw-in.
The Mariners kept on the attack and they won a free kick for a foul on Nolan in a central position, 25 yards out, two minutes later. Bogle shot from it but his effort was comfortable for Rovers keeper Arnold.
Another free kick came when defender Aaron Racine was adjudged to have fouled Bogle and this time, Town went closer to breaking the deadlock when the ball from Nolan was nodded back across goal by Amond for Bogle, but his header was well saved by the keeper.
It was then Forest Green’s turn to attack and they also created a good opportunity but Kurtis Guthrie could not connect with Marsh-Brown’s cross from the right.
Arnold seized upon a mistake in the Forest Green defence to take the ball and square it for Nolan on the edge of the penalty area on 16 minutes but the midfielder could only lift his shot high over the bar.
A big chance for Forest Green came when Town failed to clear a cross from the right and the ball found its way through to Frear at the far post. He struck it towards goal but Tait flung himself in the way and made a brilliant block.
As the half reached its midpoint, Arnold had another run to the edge of the Rovers box and chipped a cross for Bogle, although the striker was penalised for a foul as he won the header.
A stoppage came when Nolan appeared to pick up an ankle injury in a challenge with right-back Dale Bennett on Town’s left touchline around the half-hour mark. The midfielder was passed fit to continue after receiving treatment.
The game restarted with a Forest Green free kick, which led to Marsh-Brown unleashing a powerful shot from 25 yards that McKeown could only parry. Nsiala got to the rebound ahead of Guthrie and swept the ball out for a corner, which was cleared.
Darren Carter and Pipe created an opening for Rovers on 36 minutes as they continued to look the more threatening in attack but on this occasion, McKeown was not called into action as Carter blasted his shot into the Town fans behind the goal.
At the other end, a foul by Carter on Arnold gave Town a free kick on the left and Nolan’s ball to the far post was headed back across goal by Clay but nobody was there to force it into the net.
The Mariners were inches away from opening the scoring six minutes before the break when Arnold curled an effort goalwards from 20 yards but his namesake in the Forest Green goal got the slightest of fingertips to the ball and diverted it onto the post.
Carter was shown the first yellow card a minute later for a foul on Bogle and this time, Town did go ahead on the scoreboard. Nolan’s ball found BOGLE and his header beat Arnold and found the far corner of the net.
That sparked wild scenes of celebration among the Town fans and incredibly, they were off their seats again just two minutes later when their heroes made it 2-0. A low shot by Arnold proved too hot for the keeper to handle and again, BOGLE was there to capitalise, smashing the rebound home.
Three added minutes were signalled by the fourth official to be played at the end of the half, with the east end of the stadium now bouncing as the Mariners looked set to take a commanding lead into the dressing rooms with them.
And with no further chances created before the referee’s half-time whistle, that was how it remained, with Grimsby 2-0 up at the interval and within touching distance of League Two.
Parkin was sent on in place of Williams before the restart as Forest Green looked to haul themselves back into the contest and keep their dreams of becoming a Football League club for the first time alive.
Marsh-Brown sent a dangerous-looking cross over from the right four minutes in but McKeown did well to punch it away from danger.
A minute later, it really should have been 2-1 as Marsh-Brown threaded a ball across the Town box to Parkin at the far post but somehow, the striker put it wide with the goal gaping.
Town conceded a corner soon afterwards and Marsh-Brown’s initial delivery was poor but Forest Green retained possession and another ball into the Grimsby box brought another chance, only for McKeown to get a block to Pipe’s shot before the ball was eventually scrambled away.
Forest Green kept coming forward and Guthrie was the next to have a shooting chance but Nsiala blocked his 58th minute effort for a corner.
Soon afterwards, a foul by Arnold gave the men in green and black a free kick in a dangerous position but they were unable to make it count.
But with an hour on the clock, Forest Green were back in the game as Guthris found MARSH-BROWN on the right and he hit a superb long-range shot which beat McKeown and went into the top corner of the net for 2-1.
The Gloucestershire side were now the ones with the momentum and Town were having to defend to preserve their lead, with McKeown rising to claim the ball from a left-wing corner.
A free kick from halfway was also dealt with by the Grimsby defence, before Carter fired over the top from 25 yards.
The second substitution of the game saw James Jennings replace Ben Jefford for Forest Green with 19 minutes left to play.
Town had created fewer attacking opportunities since half-time but they did find an opening on 72 minutes, although Amond could only shoot at keeper Arnold from inside the box.
Town’s Arnold forced a save out of the Rovers keeper after cutting in from the right but when the ball came back out, nobody in black and white was there to convert the rebound.
A Mariners counter-attack came through Arnold down the right after another Forest Green forward move had broken down but after Amond got the ball on the opposite side, his chipped cross was too high for Bogle.
Town’s first change came with 11 minutes left and saw Pittman replace Amond, after Anthony Jeffrey had come on for Guthrie.
The Mariners had a short spell of being pinned near their own corner flag and it led to them conceding a flag-kick, although Bennett was penalised for a foul when it came across.
But as the clock ticked down, it was the Mariners who were having more possession and territory, with the noise around the stadium all coming from the supporters from North East Lincolnshire.
Hoban was sent on in place of Bogle with a minute left to play, although the fourth official gave the Forest Green fans hope by signalling five added minutes.
And they could have had their equaliser in the second of those extra minutes when a loose ball came back to Parkin on the edge of the box but he lifted it over the bar.
The tension was rising as the clock ticked down but any nerves among the Mariners fans were finally put at ease when they grabbed a third and decisive goal with two minutes left. Nolan’s purposeful run took him to the edge of the box before ARNOLD took over, rounding the keeper and slotting home to spark huge celebrations.
That was the goal which finally put to an end Grimsby’s exile in non-league football and confirmed them as a Football League club once again.
Pearson replaced Arnold for the final few seconds before the referee’s final whistle led to more celebrations on the pitch and in the stands.
Town will be back at Wembley next Sunday, when they will look to make it a double with victory over FC Halifax Town in the FA Trophy final