GRIMSBY Town’s involvement in the Checkatrade Trophy will not continue beyond the group stage after they were beaten by Leicester City’s development squad at Blundell Park.
The Mariners were forced to play the vast majority of a low-key game with just 10 men after goalkeeper James McKeown was sent off for handling the ball outside his penalty area.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Town did most of the attacking and created the better chances for much of the game, with their stand-in keeper Shaun Pearson largely untroubled.
But it was the Premier League youngsters who grabbed the game’s only goal just after the hour, with Kairo Mitchell the man on-target.
And the result, coupled with Walsall’s victory at Sheffield United, meant Town cannot now reach the knockout stages of the tournament, with the final group game against the Blades still to come.
Six alterations were made to the Town starting XI from the weekend defeat by Hartlepool, with Josh Gowling, Craig Disley, Zak Mills, Kayden Jackson, James Berrett and Tom Bolarinwa all coming into the team.
McKeown started in goal, with Mills, Shaun Pearson, Gowling and Danny Andrew forming the defence.
Bolarinwa, Disley, Berrett and Dominic Vose were the midfielders, with Kayden Jackson and Shaun Tuton selected as the strike partnership.
Josh Venney, Luke Summerfield, Scott Vernon, Dan Jones and Max Wright formed the five-man substitutes’ bench.
The Leicester team would have been largely unknown to Mariners fans, although those among a record lowest attendance for a competitive game at Blundell Park of 609 would hope to see some stars of the future.
Striker Admiral Muskwe would hope to be the main threat to the Town defence, supported by Harvey Barnes and Mitchell.
A long throw from Mills was headed clear on four minutes and the visitor broke through the middle, with midfielder Dylan Watts eventually hitting a shot from 20 yards that was pushed away for a corner by McKeown.
A cross-shot by Bolarinwa flew harmlessly out for a goal kick, before a foul on Berrett gave Town a free kick in a dangerous position near the left edge of the Leicester box on eight minutes. Vose’s low shot was blocked for a corner, from which Andrew saw a defender get in the way of his drive from 20 yards.
Leicester won a free kick at the other end soon afterwards for a foul by Andrew but Josh Debayo’s delivery was poor and the ball was headed clear.
Proceedings took a bizarre turn on 16 minutes when McKeown came out to collect the ball at the edge of his penalty area. Play initially continued but the flag was raised by the assistant on the Main Stand side and referee Mark Haywood brandished a straight red card for the Mariners stopper, who had been adjudged to have deliberately handled the ball outside the box.
Pearson took over the gloves as McKeown made his way down the tunnel, before the resulting free kick was blocked.
A positive run from Tuton into the Leicester box led to a corner, which quickly turned into another one. And a third corner in relatively quick succession came as Disley looked to connect with a header from a cross on the right.
Vose hit a weak shot well wide from 20 yards as Town continued to do most of the attacking, although Gowling was shown a yellow card for pulling back Mitchell when Leicester launched a forward move. The free kick from the right led to the ball being headed wide of Pearson’s target.
A cross from Mills on the right was headed out for a corner but the delivery from the flag was headed clear.
David Domey was booked for a foul on Jackson on the half-hour but Town could not make anything of the free kick as Vose’s chipped delivery was headed away from danger.
The visitors won a corner when Gowling challenged Muskwe on the right and the biggest cheer of the evening so far came when Pearson claimed a comfortable catch from the flag-kick.
Jackson did well to chase the ball down on the Town right on 36 minutes but when he played it towards the Leicester box, defender Yohan Benalouane stepped in to stop the danger.
A Leicester corner soon afterwards was worked to Watts but Pearson was equal to his shot, tipping the ball over the bar for another corner, which did not lead to any problems.
Vose was fouled to bring about a Grimsby free kick two minutes before the break but the winger could only fire it high and wide from 25 yards.
Three added minutes were signalled to be played at the end of the half and in the second of them, Vose hit a wild shot well wide from long range after spotting visiting keeper Ben Hamer off his line.
No further chances were created by either side before the referee’s whistle brought an uninspiring first half to a close with the score still goalless.
Raul Uche was introduced as a half-time substitute for the visitors before the restart and a quickly-taken free kick for a foul on Vose led to a shooting opportunity for Bolarinwa, whose effort was blocked from inside the box.
Tuton worked an opening on the edge of the box on 51 minutes but his shot was comfortably saved by keeper Hamer.
Jackson then flashed a low effort across goal after being picked out by Berrett, before Mills got back well to deal with a long ball and head it safely back to Pearson.
A mistake by Jackson saw him give possession away soon afterwards and the away side looked to take advantage, although Uche’s shot from 20 yards was straight at Pearson, who stopped the ball and held onto it comfortably.
A cross from Jackson on the right was cleared away for a corner on 58 minutes, which eventually led to another that failed to cause any problems.
The best chance of the game so far came a minute later and went the way of the Mariners. A good ball from Berrett found Jackson on the right and he crossed for Tuton, whose stooping header produced a good save from Hamer.
Matt Miles replaced Watts in the Leicester midfield just after the hour, with Jones replacing Bolarinwa for Town moments later.
Another good chance for the hosts came after an excellent build-up down the left. The ball was crossed but after it broke for Vose, his shot was again saved by Hamer.
But when the first goal eventually came on 64 minutes, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock. A cross from the left was missed by Pearson and Gowling as well as MITCHELL, who recovered to put the loose ball into the empty net.
Town’s response was good, with Berrett driving through the middle before playing the ball to Jackson, who won a corner on the right. The Mariners could not turn it into a goalscoring opportunity, although they won another corner soon afterwards, which was headed clear by Elliott Moore.
A deflected Uche shot was caught by Pearson after Barnes had shown his pace to get to the penalty area and create the shooting chance on 70 minutes.
Summerfield replaced Vose and Vernon came on for Tuton as Town made their final substitutions a minute later.
Vernon’s first involvement saw him hit a snap-shot from a narrow angle which was caught by Hamer.
Mills did well to burst forward and win a corner on 75 minutes but Berrett’s delivery was caught by the keeper.
A free kick from Mills on 84 minutes was cleared for a corner, which was also sent away from danger.
Three added minutes were signalled by the fourth official, with the away side now looking to see out the remainder of the game and collect all three points.
Vernon was fouled as Town looked for a dramatic late equaliser which would have taken the contest to a penalty shoot-out but Mills’ free kick was caught by Hamer.
It proved to be the last chance of the game, meaning Leicester claimed the victory and left the Mariners bottom of the group with no points from their two games so far.
Town now return to league action with a long trip to Exeter City on Saturday.