AN EARLY Kayden Jackson strike and a stunning Ben Davies free kick ensured Grimsby Town made a winning return to the Football League with victory over Morecambe.
After a six-year exile from the elite 92 clubs, the Mariners had to wait just six minutes of their first game back to get on the scoresheet, with Jackson steering a low shot into the net.
Town went on to dominate and they added a second goal through right-back Davies just after the hour.
The hosts were forced to play the final 20 minutes with 10 men after Josh Gowling was sent off for denying Kevin Ellison a goalscoring opportunity.
But that proved to be the only down side of a brilliant afternoon for the Mariners and their supporters, who packed Blundell Park for its first League game since 2010.
Town started with eight players who were making their full debuts for the club and another in Andrew Boyce who was making a second debut having rejoined for a second spell.
That left just James McKeown and Josh Gowling in the starting XI who remained from last season’s squad, with Omar Bogle and Shaun Pearson both named on the bench to boost that number to four.
McKeown began in goal, behind a back four of Davies, Boyce, Gowling and Danny Andrew.
Tom Bolarinwa, Sean McAllister, Luke Summerfield and James Berrett were the midfielders, with Jackson partnered by Scott Vernon in attack.
The return to League Two means manager Paul Hurst can now select seven substitutes, so Ashley Chambers, Dominic Vose, Rhys Browne, Dan Jones and Andy Warrington were all named in reserve.
Morecambe had been listed among many bookmakers’ pre-season favourites for relegation so Jim Bentley’s men made the long journey from the west coast with something of a point to prove on the opening day.
They would look to the likes of striker Jack Dunn and veteran winger Ellison to cause problems for the Town backline.
A noisy Blundell Park greeted the teams on a sunny afternoon but it was the visitors who worked the first opening in front of goal, although Aaron Wildig could not generate the necessary power from 20 yards to trouble McKeown.
The raucous home fans did not have to wait long to celebrate their side’s first goal back in the League though. It came on six minutes and saw JACKSON pick up the ball on the right of the penalty area and calmly steer it past visiting keeper Barry Roche into the far corner of the net.
Two minutes later, the Mariners almost made it 2-0 when a driving run by Bolarinwa down the left led to him pushing the ball through for Vernon. The striker lifted it beyond the keeper but the ball was cleared off the line.
Morecambe looked to hit back and they won the game’s first corner, which was eventually cleared by Davies.
Town had settled very quickly and were doing most of the attacking, moving forward with intent at every opportunity as their visitors looked to find a way into the contest.
The hosts came close to a second goal on the quarter-hour as Jackson almost found himself on the scoresheet for a second time. The Barnsley loanee did well to win the ball and find his way to a shooting position inside the box but dragged his effort just wide of the far post.
Another opportunity came when a free kick taken by Andrew near halfway was headed on inside the box but the angle proved too tight for Jackson, who could only find keeper Roche.
At the other end, a speculative shot from 40 yards by Alex Whitmore caused no problems for McKeown, who watched it and claimed a comfortable catch.
Summerfield won a corner for the Mariners on the left on 23 minutes but Andrew’s delivery was headed clear of danger.
The visitors launched an attack on the break three minutes later which saw the ball worked to Dunn on the left. He advanced and sent over a low cross but McKeown beat Ellison to the ball.
Town’s next chance came on the half-hour with a move that started and ended with Berrett. The midfielder played the ball through for Jackson and after cutting inside on his left foot, he played it back across goal for Berrett, who fired just over the bar from 12 yards.
Morecambe then had an opportunity of their own when a long kick forward by Roche was headed on for Tom Barkhuidzen but he could not get enough on the ball to divert it past McKeown, who dived to stop it.
A free kick for a foul on the left gave the away side another chance to get the ball into the box but they were unable to make anything of it as Michael Rose’s delivery beat everybody and went out for a goal kick.
After a Davies free kick was cleared at the other end, Morecambe were presented with their best chance of the game when a mistake at the back left Barkhuidzen one-on-one with McKeown. The keeper won the duel though, blocking the attacker’s shot and keeping Town ahead.
A foul by Bolarinwa on Wildig earned the winger the first yellow card of the game three minutes before the break but the resulting free kick from Rose was easy for McKeown, who came off his line to catch the ball.
Three added minutes were signalled by the fourth official, with the visitors now doing most of the attacking as they looked for a leveller before half-time.
But they were unable to find a way through before the referee’s whistle brought an entertaining first half to an end, with the Mariners going into the dressing rooms with the advantage.
Wildig was replaced by Cole Stockton for the visitors before the restart and Town won an early corner when a Berrett cross was headed behind. Davies hit it low to the near post, where Summerfield missed the target.
Berrett hit a low shot from 25 yards that Roche had to dive to stop on 48 minutes as Grimsby went in search of a second goal.
The hosts had another opportunity to attack when Davies was bundled over on the right touchline two minutes later. The right-back took the free kick himself but Morecambe cleared the danger.
At the other end, an attempt by Ellison was blocked by Davies, before quick thinking by McKeown saw him find Jackson with a long ball forward. He then played the ball back to Bolarinwa, who shot over the bar.
A spell of Morecambe pressure followed, with Boyce doing well to stop an attack and get the ball clear.
Jackson worked another opening for himself inside the Morecambe penalty area on 55 minutes and after his shot was blocked, the ball came back for Summerfield to fire wide from 20 yards.
And the Mariners went close again soon afterwards when Berrett linked up well with Vernon for the former to hit a dipping first-time effort that went narrowly over the bar.
A Morecambe corner from the right right was well dealt with by Gowling and Town broke, eventually winning a corner of their own after a Davies cross was headed behind. The flag-kick was deflected out for another one and after this one was initially headed clear, the ball was worked back and Boyce sent a header wide of the near post.
Town finally had their second goal on 63 minutes – and it came in spectacular style. A run through the middle by Andrew was halted as he was fouled 25 yards out and DAVIES stepped up to smash an unstoppable free kick past Roche.
Town were on the up at that point but they were to be reduced to 10 men with 19 minutes to go, as Gowling, who had been impressive all afternoon up to now, brought Ellison down on the edge of the box and was shown a straight red card.
Pearson was sent on in pace of Bolarinwa to cover the gap left at the back, while Bogle replaced Vernon in attack at the same time. Rose went on to fire wide from the free kick, although a slight deflection meant a corner was given, which was cleared.
Lee Molyneux was sent on for Morecambe in place of Liam Wakefield for the visitors, who now knew getting one goal back would get nerves jangling around the ground.
McKeown was shown a yellow card for timewasting with 10 minutes to go, with an opening day win now firmly in the Mariners’ sights.
Jackson came off to a standing ovation on 88 minutes, as Chambers was sent on for the last two minutes plus stoppage time.
Chambers’ first contribution was to set off on a run into the Morecambe box that ended with a shot being blocked, as four added minutes were signalled by the fourth official.
Bogle had a shooting chance in the third of the extra minutes but could only send a weak effort through to the keeper.
But that did not matter as the referee’s final whistle was not much longer in coming, bringing more celebrations among the 6,004 crowd as an excellent opening day performance was rewarded with a clean sheet and three points.
The Mariners have now set the standard for the season and they will aim to continue that through the campaign.
They are next in action with a cup trip to Derby County on Tuesday.