Grimsby Town 1 Aldershot Town 1
SUBSTITUTE Ross Hannah’s late penalty rescued a point for Grimsby Town in their opening day clash with Aldershot at Blundell Park.
The away side had been the better of the two for three quarters of the game and deservedly led through Joe Castler’s opening goal.
But the Mariners showed character to get themselves back into the game and Hannah struck from the spot soon after coming on.
Town bosses Rob Scott and Paul Hurst named five of their eight summer signings in their starting XI, with Scott Kerr, Scott Neilson, Clayton McDonald, Paul Bignot and Patrick McLaughlin all handed debuts.
James McKeown started in goal, with Bignot, Shaun Pearson, Clayton McDonald and Aswad Thomas making up the back four.
Craig Disley, Kerr and McLaughlin were the midfielders, with Joe Colbeck, Liam Hearn and Neilson forming a three-man attack.
The Grimsby substitutes were Sam Hatton, Lenell John-Lewis, Hannah, AndI Thanoj and another of the summer signings, Alex Rodman.
Aldershot made the long trip north looking to take the first step towards wiping out their ten-point deduction for going into administration.
Andy Scott’s side was much-changed from the one that finished bottom of League Two last season but would have been out to make a flying start to life in the Conference.
A foul on Thomas on the left gave Town their first opportunity to attack from the resulting free kick but McLaughlin’s ball to the penalty spot was cleared before a Neilson cross from the opposite flank proved to strong.
Disley won the game’s first corner on seven minutes, although McLaughlin’s delivery was headed away from danger.
The Mariners were looking to keep possession in the early stages and were showing some good signs, although the visitors had also shown some promise through wingers Adam Mekki and Mark Molesley.
Town could have taken the lead in strange circumstances when a back-pass from defender Adam Webster almost caught keeper Glenn Morris out but the stopper got back to head the ball and keep it out.
A spell of Aldershot pressure around the 20-minute mark led to midfielder Craig Stanley firing a volley from 25 yards that deflected up off Pearson but McKeown was there to claim the catch when the ball came down.
Pearson had to concede a corner three minutes later as the visitors continued to come into the game and the ball was eventually cleared by Thomas after a shot from Stanley was blocked.
A foul by Neilson then gave the away side a free kick 30 yards out but Martin Rowlands failed to make the most of it, chipping the ball through to McKeown.
A deflected shot by Mekki led to a corner on the right on 28 minutes and McKeown had to punch it away for another corner after Disley was first to it in the six-yard box.
This time, the driven delivery found right-back Joe Castler but he could only head wide at the far post.
Aldershot were now the side on top and striker Matt Patterson was the next to try his luck with a shot on the turn from 25 yards that drifted past McKeown’s far post.
Grimsby’s next attack led to a free kick for handball on the right but McLaughlin’s ball to the far post was headed behind by Pearson.
Aldershot were forced into making the first substitution of the game on 39 minutes, when Mekki went down injured after a challenge with McDonald and had to be replaced by Mani Oyeleke.
A lengthy delay while the winger received treatment contributed to the four minutes of added time signalled by the fourth official before half-time.
Town ended the half well, with Hearn winning a corner on the right but the kick from McLaughlin was cleared.
That proved to be the last chance of the half, meaning the scores remained level at the break.
Neither goalkeeper had been called into much serious action but the visitors would probably have felt they were the better side over the course of the opening 45 minutes.
John-Lewis replaced Neilson for Grimsby before the restart but it was the away side who made the brighter start with two early corners and a Patterson header that was comfortable for McKeown.
Town looked to have created a chance through Bignot and McLaughlin on the right side of the penalty area seven minutes in but the former York City man ran the ball out for a goal kick.
A foul by Disley on Oyeleke gave Aldershot a free kick on 57 minutes and it led to the first goal, as McKeown could only half-clear the delivery with a punch and CASTLER smashed the loose ball home from inside the box.
Town’s response saw them win a corner on the right two minutes later but referee Darren Handley blew for a free kick to the visitors as McLaughlin sent the ball across.
Aldershot could have doubled their lead when Oyeleke beat McDonald to get into the box but his shot was poor and McKeown made the save.
Rodman replaced Kerr for the Mariners on 65 minutes, before Oyeleke drove a shot just over the bar from 20 yards for the visitors.
Town then went close to an equaliser when a throw-in was headed back for Thomas on the edge of the box but his shot went just wide.
Disley was booked for a late challenge on Stanley before another Town corner again failed to trouble Shots keeper Morris.
A foul on John-Lewis gave the hosts another chance to attack but McLaughlin’s free kick from midway inside the Aldershot half was headed behind by Pearson.
Rodman was the next to send a free kick into the danger zone after a foul on Thomas but it had the same result, with Pearson heading wide.
Jordan Roberts replaced Molesley for Aldershot with 13 minutes to go, before Hannah came on in place of Hearn for Town.
The Mariners were given a golden chance to level the scores when Hannah was brought down as he looked to connect with a Colbeck cross from the right. The referee pointed to the penalty spot and HANNAH stepped up to rifle it into the net with his first touch for 1-1.
The goal completely changed the pattern of the game and suddenly, it was the Mariners who were looking the more likely to win it.
They could have taken the lead on 82 minutes, when a long throw from McLaughlin was flicked on but John-Lewis could only prod the ball over the bar from eight yards.
Colbeck won a corner with two minutes left but when the ball came to him 30 yards out after McLaughlin’s ball was cleared, he could only fire well wide.
At the other end, Oyeleke won a corner when his cross was diverted behind by McKeown but the kick caused no problems.
Four minutes of added time were played at the end of the game and the away side could have claimed all three points when striker Brett Williams hot a low shot from 18 yards but McKeown got fingertips to it to ensure the only damage was a corner.
Town were given one final chance to win the game with a free kick 25 yards out but McLaughlin could only shoot over the bar.