THE Mariners head into a crucial Easter double-header still firmly in the hunt for the Vanarama Conference title, with Saturday’s visit of Gateshead coming just 48 hours before a trip to relegation-threatened Alfreton Town. Last weekend’s 2-0 win at Welling saw Town move up to 2nd in the league table and just one point behind Barnet, after both the Bees and Bristol Rovers could only manage draws in their fixtures.
The Heed, too, remain in the promotion hunt, although a midweek draw at Dartford leaves them needing to bridge a seven-point gap to reach the play-off positions. Gary Mills’ side are winless in four games having found themselves in the midst of an injury crisis, and they’ll likely need five wins from their final five matches to stand any chance of catching Forest Green, who currently occupy the final play-off spot.
Incredibly, this weekend will be the eighth meeting in just two seasons between Grimsby and Gateshead. Of the previous seven, both teams have won two apiece, and all three of the games played at Blundell Park have ended in draws. The Mariners could be back down in 3rd place at the time of kick-off on Saturday, as Bristol Rovers will play on Friday, but could still feasibly finish the weekend top of the league should Town win and Barnet drop points at home to Nuneaton.
Town’s defence is likely to be unchanged after a second consecutive clean sheet last time out, though loanees Danny Parslow and Josh Gowling will be hoping to change that. In midfield, either Scott Brown or Craig Clay will partner Craig Disley, while Jack Mackreth and Nathan Arnold are set to retain their places on the right and left wing respectively. Assuming Lenell-John Lewis and Ollie Palmer continue in attack, it leaves a host of attacking options fighting for a spot on the substitute’s bench, including Jon-Paul Pittman, Christian Jolley, Jordan Chapell and Ross Hannah.
Gateshead have been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks, with several first-team players having been unavailable to boss Gary Mills. John Oster picked up a knee injury two weeks ago and hasn’t been involved since, while Andrai Jones, Matt Robson and Ben Clark may also struggle to be passed fit in time for Saturday. JJ O’Donnell and Phil Turnbull have both been sidelined with foot injuries and neither featured in Gary Mills’ 16-man squad for their trip to Dartford on Tuesday night. The Heed were boosted however by the return of highly-rated Newcastle forward Adam Campbell, who was a half-time substitute in midweek. Mills also hinted he may start young winger Kevin Sainte-Luce at Blundell Park, with ex-Mariner Alex Rodman among those the Frenchman could replace. First-choice goalkeeper Adam Bartlett’s “internal” injury forced the North East club to sign Sunderland stopper Joel Dixon on loan, last week, and it remains unclear exactly how long Bartlett will be unavailable for.
Possible Mariners XI: McKeown, Magnay, Pearson, Nsiala, Robertson, Mackreth, Disley, Brown, Arnold, Palmer, John-Lewis.
Possible Gateshead XI: Dixon, Allan, Curtis, Glokaj, Baxter, Rodman, Pattison, Ramshaw, Sainte-Luce, Shaw, Campbell.
13/08/13: Gateshead 1-2 Grimsby (Conference)
18/01/14: Grimsby 2-2 Gateshead (Conference)
01/05/14: Grimsby 1-1 Gateshead (Conference Play-offs)
04/05/14: Gateshead 3-1 Grimsby (Conference Play-offs)
23/08/14: Gateshead 1-6 Grimsby (Conference)
10/01/15: Grimsby 0-0 Gateshead (FA Trophy)
21/01/15: Gateshead 3-2 Grimsby (FA Trophy replay)
“It's about us doing our job. I am sure Gateshead would like to put a spanner in our works. Maybe that result (last season's play-off semi final) will be more in their minds than ours.
"I know that Gary Mills isn't quite as high up the league as he would have liked. They have been hampered by injuries, they've got a lengthy list, but they've still got some very good players,” Paul Hurst.
“We’ll go and give it everything we’ve got on Saturday, and we’ll make it a tough game for Grimsby. We’ll be trying to win, and that’s all we can do.” Gary Mills.