GRIMSBY Town lost for the first time in 2017 as in-form Exeter City won at Blundell Park.
After two excellent away victories at Hartlepool and Carlisle, hopes were high that the Mariners could make it three wins out of three in January so far.
But instead, it was the men from Devon who took all three points thanks to goals from Reuben Reid, David Wheeler and Ollie Watkins, to extend their own unbeaten run to eight games.
Town, although showing plenty of effort and endeavour, were unable to seriously test Exeter goalkeeper Christy Pym as the visitors claimed what was ultimately a comfortable victory.
Mariners boss Marcus Bignot named an unchanged starting line-up after the victory in the north-east last time out.
That meant a home debut for striker Adi Yussuf, who had scored in each of his two games on the road since joining the Mariners from Mansfield, although fellow new signing Gavin Gunning had to wait for his opportunity after being selected on the bench.
Dean Henderson continued in goal, with Andrew Boyce, Shaun Pearson and Danny Collins forming a centre-back trio.
Ben Davies and Danny Andrew operated as wing-backs, with Craig Disley, Brandon Comley and Zac Mills starting in midfield and Omar Bogle partnering Yussuf in attack.
Sean McAllister made a welcome return from a long-term injury to take a place among the substitutes, along with James McKeown, Dominic Vose, Tom Bolarinwa, Scott Vernon, Dan Jones and Gunning.
Exeter made the long journey north looking to continue a good run of form that had seen them win three and draw one of their last four away games as part of a seven-match unbeaten run since a 3-2 defeat at Carlisle in mid-November.
The Grecians sat 12th in League Two at kick-off, three points and two places adrift of Town.
Before the game, both sets of players and supporters joined in a minute’s applause in memory of former England manager and Grimsby player Graham Taylor, who died on Thursday aged 72.
When the action got under way, Henderson was the first goalkeeper to be called into action as he comfortably claimed a cross from the Exeter left on five minutes.
Good pressure by Yussuf saw Town win a throw-in on the left in a promising position and after Andrew’s long throw was returned to him, his chipped cross led to Disley heading wide of the near post.
The first corner then came when Bogle linked up with Andrew and the left-back’s cross was headed behind. Davies took the flag-kick but Pearson’s near-post header missed the target.
Another Andrew cross almost found Disley as the home side’s confident opening to the game continued, before a free kick from the right provided another opportunity to get the ball into the box, although Davies’ delivery was cleared.
Exeter were then gifted an opportunity when Henderson picked up a back-pass and an indirect free kick was given inside the Town penalty area. The ball from it was touched back to Craig Woodman, who blasted it straight into the Grimsby wall and out for a corner, which was headed clear.
Almost immediately, Yussuf was brought down as he tried to break over the halfway line and Lloyd James was shown the first yellow card of the game for the foul.
A foul by Pearson to the left of his own penalty area gave the away side a free kick in a dangerous area on 19 minutes but the ball from it was cleared.
A spell of Exeter possession ended with James hammering a volley over the bar, before the offside flag went up against Bogle as he met a chipped cross from Comley at the other end.
The best chance of the game so far came on 25 minutes, when Disley found Yussuf on the edge of the Exeter penalty area. With his back to goal, the forward held the ball up for strike-partner Bogle, who placed a low effort just wide from 20 yards.
A second yellow card for the visitors came when Watkins was adjudged to have dived near the edge of the Town box two minutes before the half-hour.
Ryan Harley looked to have created an opening for Exeter on 33 minutes after he cut in from the right but he was unable to make the run count as the ball was stopped by Henderson.
A better chance for the away side came moments later when a volley into the ground bounced up and had to be headed off the line for a corner, which came to nothing.
Yussuf won a corner at the other end soon afterwards but Davies’ ball was headed away at the far post and Exeter broke, with Harley eventually shooting wide after a headed clearance from Pearson fell to the midfielder.
A foul by Comley gave the visitors a free kick in a central position five minutes before the break and after a set-piece routine, a shot from Woodman was pushed away by Henderson for a corner. From the flag, Exeter took the lead when the Mariners failed to clear the ball and REID pounced to fire it past Henderson from close range.
One additional minute was played at the end of the half but the Mariners were not able to create any further opportunities in front of goal, meaning they went into the dressing rooms at the interval with a one-goal deficit.
Gunning was sent on for his Grimsby debut in place of Pearson before the restart, with Town changing shape as Mills moved to the right wing and Davies moved into a central midfield role.
Andrew had the first chance for the hosts of the second half, bringing the ball under control before firing wide at the near post.
Bogle then dragged a low shot wide from 20 yards, before a spell of Exeter possession.
Yussuf did well to win a corner, which eventually turned into another one after Gunning’s shot was deflected wide.
Collins was booked for a foul after the referee had allowed an advantage to be played and although they were unable to capitalise on that occasion, the visitors did manage to double their lead just before the hour. Collins gave the ball away with a square pass across the back and midfielder WHEELER took full advantage, taking it forward and beating Henderson with a low shot that went into the net off the far post.
Another chance for Exeter came when Boyce gave possession away on 64 minutes but this time, Reid could not get enough power on his shot to worry Henderson, who made a comfortable stop.
Town responded with a double substitution, sending Vose and Bolarinwa on in place of Yussuf and Comley.
Vose’s first action saw him win a corner on the left but when the ball was eventually played into the box following an initial short pass, it was cleared from danger.
Bogle had a shot blocked at one end and a first-time effort was flashed over the bar at the other, before Exeter had the chance to make absolutely sure of the three points when Reid sent Watkins through on goal. Henderson kept the midfielder out though, stopping his shot from the edge of the box.
Reid was replaced by William McAlinden with 15 minutes to go and Harley had another opportunity to put the result beyond doubt when he shot from the edge of the penalty area on 79 minutes but again, it was comfortable for Henderson.
At the other end, Mills sent an effort wide of the far post as the Mariners continued to look for a way back into the game.
But any lingering hopes the home players and supporters may have had of getting something out of the match were dashed once and for all on 80 minutes when Exeter scored a brilliant third goal. WATKINS was the man to get on the scoresheet, showing quick feet to work an opening inside the box before rifling past Henderson.
Town kept pushing forward in search of what would now be just a consolation goal as Jordan Tillson was sent on for the last three minutes for the visitors, with Robbie Simpson also coming on for the closing stages.
Four added minutes were signalled to be played at the end of the game and the away side saw out the remainder of the contest to register a fourth win in their last five games away from St James’s Park and go above the Mariners in the league table.
Town are next in action on Saturday, when Notts County are the visitors to Blundell Park