.GRIMSBY Town missed the opportunity to move closer to the top of the league as table-toppers Cambridge United won a tight contest at Blundell Park
In a game between the Conference’s top two at kick-off, few real chances were created by either side.
But the visitors got their breakthrough when striker Adam Cunnington scored from close range midway through the second half.
The Mariners had a golden opportunity to equalise when Lenell John-Lewis was fouled in the penalty area but his spot-kick was well saved by keeper Chris Maxwell.
Town attacked in search of a leveller but it was not to come and the visitors held on to move eight points clear at the top.
Town boss Paul Hurst was forced to make two changes to his starting XI after Saturday’s comfortable away victory at Aldershot.
Ross Hannah missed out through injury, while Alan Goodall also picked up an injury in the last game of his loan spell from Fleetwood and has returned to the west coast club.
That meant there was a return to the starting line-up for Liam Hearn in place of Hannah, while Aswad Thomas came in for Goodall.
James McKeown started in goal, with Sam Hatton, Shaun Pearson, Chris Doig and Thomas forming the defence.
Patrick McLaughlin, Craig Disley and Scott Kerr were the midfielders, with Scott Neilson in the free role behind strikers Hearn and John-Lewis.
The Town substitutes were Joe Colbeck, Andy Cook, Clayton McDonald, Richie Jones and Alex Rodman.
The visitors came to Cleethorpes looking to maintain their unbeaten start to the season and extend their advantage at the summit of the Skrill Premier.
Among their ranks was ex-Town centre-back Ian Miller, who would have been out to prove a point to his former employers.
The visitors had the first opportunity of the game when a free kick taken by keeper Maxwell from inside his own half was flicked on by striker Cunnington but McKeown got to the ball ahead of Harrison Dunk.
Thomas had to concede the games first corner by heading a Kwesi Appiah cross behind. That quickly led to a second corner and then a third as the away pressure continued until McKeown gathered the ball.
Town’s first attack of note saw McLaughlin send over a great cross from the left but nobody in black and white could connect with it in front of goal.
A foul by Pearson gave Cambridge a free kick on the right but Richard Tait’s delivery was headed clear by Doig.
Appiah was shown the first yellow card for diving in an attempt to win a free kick, before John-Lewis sent a low shot through to Maxwell at the other end.
The next yellow card was not long in coming, as Hatton was booked for bringing down Dunk on the Cambridge left on 19 minutes.
Another superb cross from McLaughlin led to a Grimsby corner on the left three minutes later but after his delivery was headed on, Neilson volleyed over the bar.
The away side had dominated possession and territory over the opening quarter of the game but neither goalkeeper had been seriously tested yet.
Appiah hit a low shot wide just after the half-hour, then Cunnington sent a weak effort through to McKeown soon afterwards.
Town replied through John-Lewis, who turned and fired a low shot from the edge of the penalty area that Maxwell had to get down to his left to stop.
Another foul on Appiah after a patient build-up by the visitors gave them a free kick within shooting range. Michael Spillane tried his luck with a low, curling shot around the Town wall but McKeown did well to tip the ball around the post for a corner.
The game stopped when Cambridge’s Tom Champion and Josh Coulson clashed heads when they both jumped for a ball in midfield, although both were passed fit to continue.
Two added minutes were signalled at the end of the half, with both sides still aiming to unlock the opposing defence.
A foul on Thomas gave Town the chance to get the ball into the Cambridge box but John-Lewis was beaten to Kerr’s delivery in the air.
That proved to be the last chance of a cagey first half, where few genuine chances were created by either team and the goalless scoreline was a fair reflection of the game so far.
No changes were made at the interval and Pearson was seemingly harshly booked after Dunk looked to have run into him near the edge of the Town box. The Mariners survived the free kick as Disley put the ball out for a corner.
Another Cambridge attack came when Neilson gave the ball away to Cunnington in midfield but Hatton got back to block a cross by Dunk.
The visitors were beginning to get on top though and they had a free kick in a dangerous area when Disley brought Appiah down. Spillane’s set-piece was poor though and went straight into the Grimsby wall.
A long ball forward by Maxwell looked to have led to a chance when Appiah controlled it as he ran into the Town box but the offside flag went up against the striker.
At the other end, a deflected shot by Hatton caused problems for Maxwell as he failed to prevent a Mariners corner. Town kept possession from the flag but could not create a goalscoring opportunity.
McKeown was called into action on 57 minutes to tip a shot from Dunk over his bar. Liam Hughes headed over the bar from the resulting corner.
Rodman replaced Neilson as the home side made the first substitution on the hour, with defences still largely on top.
A good spell of Town possession five minutes later led to Rodman chipping a ball towards John-Lewis near the penalty spot but Maxwell came off his line to claim the catch and end the move.
McKeown had to concede a corner after Hatton sliced an attempted clearance high into the air and from it, the visitors took the lead. The ball was sent low into the box and diverted towards goal. Mckeown made a superb block but CUNNINGTON got to the rebound to finish from six yards.
The away side immediately looked for a second when a cross from the right was met by Appiah but his header went through to McKeown.
Then, the Mariners were given a chance to get back on level terms within three minutes of conceding when John-Lewis was fouled inside the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. The striker stepped up to take it himself but his kick was brilliantly saved by Maxwell.
Grimsby’s response to going behind had been good and Disley went close with a header from a Thomas cross but Maxwell got a fingertip to it and pushed the ball over his bar.
The hosts were piling on the pressure as Cambridge looked to hold onto their narrow advantage.
But the league leaders soaked it up and had a chance of their own when Appiah turned and shot wide from the edge of the box.
Cook was sent on in place of Hearn with 14 minutes remaining and Town’s next chance came with a free kick near the right touchline but McLaughlin’s ball was headed clear.
Appiah will feel he should have sealed the points for Cambridge when he ran clear into the penalty area but McKeown did enough to put him off by racing off his line and the striker drilled his shot into the side netting.
Colbeck replaced John-Lewis, who appeared to be struggling with an injury, on 80 minutes, with the Mariners still looking to haul themselves level.
Disley put a header wide at the near post after Cook had won the ball in the air on the edge of the area with six minutes left.
Town kept attacking in search of a vital goal but it was not to come and the visitors closed out their victory to remain unbeaten and march on at the top of the league table.
The Mariners are next in action when they travel to Salisbury City on Saturday.