GRIMSBY Town fell to a third defeat on the bounce as they were beaten by Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium.
The Mariners, roared on by 4,012 travelling supporters, went behind with just three minutes gone as Liam Mandeville’s brilliant 25-yard free kick produced what turned out to be the only goal of the game.
Doncaster dominated the first half without increasing their lead but Town improved after the break, albeit without causing enough problems for the home defence.
Three changes were made to the Grimsby side that lost at home to Portsmouth last week, with leading scorer Omar Bogle among those to miss out due to an injury.
His place was taken by Scott Vernon, while Tom Bolarinwa and Shaun Pearson also coming into the XI as Josh Gowling and Ashley Chambers dropped to the bench.
James McKeown started in goal, with Zak Mills, Pearson, Danny Collins and Danny Andrew forming the defence.
James Berrett, Luke Summerfield, Brandon Comley and Bolarinwa were the midfielders, with Kayden Jackson joining Vernon in attack.
Ben Davies made a return to the bench, where he was joined by Gowling, Chambers, Craig Disley, Dan Jones, Shaun Tuton and Dean Henderson.
Doncaster were looking to claim the three points that would see them go back to the top of the League Two table ahead of the 3pm kick-offs.
Among the main threats to the Town defence would be top scorer John Marquis, who was looking to add to his 10 league goals so far this season.
An early foul by Pearson gave Doncaster a free kick in a promising central position and from it, the hosts took the lead. MANDEVILLE stepped up to curl the ball beyond McKeown and into the net with just three minutes on the clock to give the Mariners the worst possible start.
Another opening almost came for the home side when Tommy Rowe took advantage of a mistake in the Town defence to take the ball into the penalty area on eight minutes but he could not pick out a team-mate and the Mariners cleared.
After a tough opening 10 minutes of the game, Town began to see more of the ball and their first attack of note came when Vernon won the ball in midfield and Summerfield burst through the middle, although he was stopped on the edge of the box.
Rovers had been the better side in the early stages and they won a corner on 16 minutes, which was headed away for another one on the opposite flank. This time, the Mariners struggled to clear their lines but Marquis could not connect with a shot from eight yards and the ball rolled through to McKeown.
A foul on Berrett gave Town a free kick on the left on 20 minutes and from it, they almost had an equaliser. Andrew’s delivery into the box was met by Collins but he could only glance a header just wide of the far post.
An even better chance came two minutes later when Jackson battled well to win the ball on the left. He played a low ball across the six-yard line and Berrett was just beaten to it but it broke for Vernon, who could only volley over the bar.
A home penalty appeal came when Marquis went down under a challenge as the ball was lifted into the Grimsby box but referee Richard Clark waved play on.
The hosts were looking the more dangerous as the half-hour passed, with Town yet to test Doncaster goalkeeper Marko Marosi.
At the other end, McKeown managed to get just enough on the ball from a low cross by Matty Blair on the right to ensure it stayed out of reach of any home attackers.
Andrew and Harry Middleton were both spoken to by the referee after an altercation on the Grimsby left as Doncaster continued to do most of the attacking, with Town’s possession reduced to little more than hopeful clearances at times.
Vernon battled well to win the ball before finding Comley to start a Town attack four minutes before the break. It eventually went to Jackson inside the box but a good challenge meant he did not get he opportunity to shoot.
Doncaster’s next chance fell to Mandeville but his attempt from 20 yards flew over McKeown’s bar.
One added minute was signalled to be played at the end of the half and a foul on Jackson just outside the home penalty area gave the Mariners an opportunity to create something. Summerfield slipped as he took the free kick but the ball broke for Bolarinwa, whose shot was cleared for a corner.
The flag-kick was safely cleared and that proved to be the last action of a first half which had been dominated by the hosts. Town had struggled to keep the ball and create chances against a good Doncaster side and would need to improve after the break if they were to get anything from the game.
No changes were made before the restart and an early free kick from Harry Middleton drifted out for a goal kick at the far post as the hosts had the first chance to attack.
Another chance came when Berrett turned into trouble and gave the ball away to Rowe, who eventually shot wide.
Town had an opportunity of their own when Niall Mason lost possession and Bolarinwa took the ball through the middle but could not get enough power on his shot under pressure from keeper Marosi. Vernon tried to get to the loose ball but was unable to force it into the net as the home defence recovered.
The Mariners had looked better since the interval and had put more pressure on the home defence, albeit without seriously troubling Marosi.
A Jackson cross was intercepted before it could reach Vernon, before a Doncaster corner led to Mills heading away as far as Marquis, who fired wide.
At the other end, an Andrew cross was met by the head of Pearson but the ball was cleared for a Town throw-in.
Soon afterwards, Mills won a corner on the right but Collins could not direct his header from Berrett’s delivery towards goal.
Pearson was booked for a foul on Andy Williams on the right edge of the Town box on 70 minutes but nobody in red and white could connect with the ball from the resulting free kick as it was played low into the box.
Williams was replaced by Riccardo Calder soon afterwards, before a foul by Comley gave Doncaster a free kick in a similar position to where the goal was scored from. Again, Mandeville stepped up to take it but this time, McKeown got down to push the ball away from danger.
Pearson was adjudged to have committed a foul on the Rovers left on 75 minutes but Middleton’ ball into the box from the resulting free kick was caught by McKeown.
Town boss Marcus Bignot then made a change, sending Tuton on in place of Jackson in attack.
Marquis won a corner with 10 minutes to go but the ball from it was cleared for a throw-in, which was also well-defended by the visitors.
Pearson was replaced by Jones on 82 minutes, shortly before Collins gave away another free kick on the edge of the Town box. Middleton’s powerful ball from it was headed over the bar for a goal kick.
Another foul by Collins saw him shown the yellow card but the free kick, this time from much further out, came to nothing.
Middleton was replaced by Joe Wright for the hosts for the last three minutes plus stoppage time.
Berrett became the latest Town player to be booked when he brought Calder down just inside the Mariners half.
Three added minutes were played and in the last of them, the Mariners almost had that elusive leveller. Andrew sent a cross in from the left and Summerfield met it but could not direct it towards goal. Instead, it drifted out for a goal kick at the far post and Doncaster were finally able to celebrate their win.
Town had improved in the second half but ultimately, lacked a cutting edge to haul themselves back into the contest.
The Mariners are next in action on Boxing Day, when Accrington Stanley are the visitors to Blundell Park