Town 1 Dover 1
GRIMSBY Town scored their first goal of the season but had to settle for their third consecutive draw.
Patrick McLaughlin put the Mariners ahead with 16 minutes to go but Dover Athletic hit back through midfielder Matt Lock.
Town had a chance to reclaim their lead through Scott Brown but in the end, they were lucky to escape with a point when substitute Chris Nannetti saw a stoppage time penalty saved by James McKeown.
Shaun Pearson returned to the Town line-up after completing a three-match ban for picking up 15 yellow cards last season.
He slotted into a new-look back three in place of Aswad Thomas, who limped out of Tuesday’s goalless draw with Nuneaton.
Pearson’s inclusion was the only change in personnel, with McKeown starting in goal and Toto Nsiala and Andrew Boyce making up the centre-back trio.
Carl Magnay and McLaughlin were deployed as wing-backs, with Craig Disley, Brown and Craig Clay in the centre of the park and Alan Connell again joining Lenell John-Lewis in attack.
After being filled with youngsters in midweek, the Town bench had a more experienced look to it this time around as the injury crisis showed the first signs of easing.
Paul Bignot, Jack Mackreth and Jon-Paul Pittman were all fit enough to be named as substitutes, along with Caine Winfarrah and Lewis Bemrose.
Dover made the long journey north looking for their first points of the season after losing their first two games since being promoted to the Conference Premier.
Chris Kinnear’s side would be looking to strikers Nathan Elder and Stefan Payne to hit the net and get their points tally off the mark.
A foul by McLaughlin gave Dover an early free kick level with the left edge of the Town penalty area but it was headed clear by Disley. The Mariners then broke and launched an attack that ended with Magnay shooting at visiting keeper Mitch Walker.
A good chance came soon afterwards when John-Lewis beat the keeper to a loose ball and headed it over him but a good piece of covering defending meant the ball could be cleared before it crossed the line.
Disley’s push on the edge of the area gave the visitors a free kick in an excellent, central position on nine minutes but the initial shot hit the Town wall, before defender Tyrone Sterling fired the rebound wide on the volley.
At the other end, John-Lewis found Disley on the right of the Dover area but the midfielder failed to hit the target with his shot.
A shot on the turn by John-Lewis was deflected through to Walker, before Clay and Disley combined on the quarter-hour but Tom Wynter showed enough strength to hold off the home skipper.
Ricky Modeste was adjudged to have been fouled by Clay on the right on 20 minutes and the resulting free kick from Lock was headed away for a corner by Boyce. This time, the ball was headed away by Disley.
Dover kept possession though and another corner came soon afterwards, won by Modeste on the right. Lock’s outswinger was cleared but again, the away side kept the ball until Lock’s swirling cross was claimed by McKeown.
A Town free kick for a foul on Connell near the halfway line then failed to cause any problems for the visiting defence.
Another foul on Connell, this time by Richard Orlu 25 yards from goal, gave the Mariners a chance to test Walker from the free kick but the former Bournemouth striker’s tame shot was deflected through to the keeper, who gathered gratefully.
Neither side was really looking like opening the scoring at the half-hour mark but a minute later, the away side went close to breaking the deadlock when Modeste slipped a ball through for Payne but he could only drill an effort wide of the far post.
That seemed to galvanise the Mariners briefly and Brown hit a half-volley just over the bar on 33 minutes.
The hosts were still causing few problems for Walker and his defenders though, with the former England C stopper rarely forced into any serious action.
A Dover corner on the left was headed clear by Brown, before a cross from Clay after good play by Magnay at the other end led to a Town flag-kick, which was also dealt with.
Nsiala had to put in a good tackle on the edge of his own box after Payne used his pace down the left but the Town defender did well to time his challenge and stop the attack.
Craig Stone hit a volley wide for Dover after a free kick had been headed away from immediate danger by Nsiala with two minutes of the half remaining.
No additional time was played at the end of what had been a disappointing half from the point of view of the home supporters, as their side had failed to test the Dover defence on enough occasions.
The visitors would have been happy with their opening 45 minutes, having held the Mariners relatively comfortably and created some opportunities of their own.
No changes were made to either side before the restart and Town almost had an opening when McLaughlin tried to slide the ball through to Connell inside the box but Orlu got a boot to the ball first.
A cross from Magnay was cleared for a corner but it was also comfortably dealt with by the visitors.
The best chance so far was created by the Mariners on 53 minutes, when a spell of possession led to Brown finding Connell on the right and his cross was headed against the post by John-Lewis, who was very unlucky not to score.
John-Lewis and Connell linked up well on 57 minutes, before Connell launched another attack when he sent Brown through, although it ended when McLaughlin could not get a shot away from the edge of the box.
A foul by Disley gave Dover a free kick on their right on the hour but the delivery beat everybody and went out of play at the far post.
Magnay sent Disley away down to right to start another Town attack but nobody in black and white could connect with the captain’s cross and Stone cleared.
Chris Kinnear spotted McKeown off his line soon afterwards and tried a speculative shot from his own half but it lacked direction and landed in the Osmond Stand.
Pittman came on for his Town league debut in place of Connell with 23 minutes of the game remaining, as Paul Hurst made his first substitution.
A chipped cross from the Dover right narrowly eluded the head of Sean Raggett but got a deflection off a Town defender before it went out for a throw-in. From that, McKeown had to make a good save from Stone, before the referee blew for a Grimsby free kick.
Town had been frustrated throughout the game but with 16 minutes to go, they finally broke the deadlock when a 20-yard shot by McLAUGHLIN got a deflection that wrong-footed Walker and looped into the net.
Jake Reid, who had replaced Payne up front for Dover, fired wide at the near post from a narrow angle as the newly-promoted side looked to get back on level terms.
Pearson was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul in a central position, 30 yards from his own goal. Substitute Nannetti, who had replaced Wynter, powered a shot over McKeown’s bar.
Town had a chance to make it 2-0 with six minutes to go, as John-Lewis found Pittman but his shot was blocked. The ball then bounced around the Dover box but nobody could force it into the net.
And they were made to pay when Dover forced an equaliser with four minutes left on the clock. It was a superbly worked goal, with Nannetti running at the Town defence before passing to LOCK, who calmly slotted past McKeown and into the bottom corner of his net.
Town were now forced to try something different in a bid to regain their lead and Mackreth was sent on in place of Clay for the last few minutes.
The hosts could have snatched all three points back when a low cross looked set to be converted by Brown but he could not force it into the net and keeper Walker made the stop.
There looked to be a late twist in the tale when Dover were awarded a penalty three minutes into stoppage time after Elder was pulled down by Boyce, who was booked. But when Nannetti stepped up to take the spot-kick, McKeown saved his team by diving to his right and pushing the ball away.
That meant it finished honours even for the Town’s third game in a row, although it could easily have been different had Nannetti taken his chance.
The Mariners are next in action when they travel to Gateshead on Saturday.