GRIMSBY Town’s automatic promotion hopes were all but dashed as Wrexham won at Blundell Park.
The Mariners slipped six points behind league leaders Barnet with two games to go as they lost by a single goal, with Joe Clarke the man on-target.
Town were unable to create significant problems for the visiting defence in the first half and they were punished when Clarke struck from 25 yards.
After the break, the Mariners pushed forward but they could not find a way through as Wrexham held firm to end Grimsby’s superb 10-game unbeaten run and extend their own sequence to four games without defeat.
Five changes were made to the Town side that won at Alfreton on Easter Monday as boss Paul Hurst reverted to the same XI that began the game against Gateshead last Saturday.
That meant Craig Clay, Jon-Paul Pittman, Daniel Parslow, Christian Jolley and Josh Gowling all came out of the starting line-up, with Jolly and Gowling ruled out through injury and the others handed places on the bench.
James McKeown started in goal, with Carl Magnay, Toto Nsiala, Shaun Pearson and Gregor Robertson forming the defence.
Jack Mackreth, Craig Disley, Scott Brown and Nathan Arnold were the midfielders, with Lenell John-Lewis partnered by Ollie Palmer up front.
Clay, Pittman and Parslow were joined as substitutes by Ross Hannah and Jordan Chapell.
Wrexham had endured a disappointing season but had seen an upturn in form after sacking manager Kevin Wilkin following the FA Trophy final defeat by North Ferriby United.
Their side included former Town loanee Connor Jennings, who was joined in attack by Andy Bishop, while another to watch in the Dragons’ side would be midfielder Jay Harris.
Brown hit an early volley wide of the target after the Mariners had started the game on the attack, with Mackreth seeing a lot of the ball in the opening exchanges.
Wrexham’s first real attack saw a shot from midfielder Kyle Storer blocked for the game’s first corner, which was comfortably cleared.
A good break by the Mariners saw Disley find Mackreth after an intelligent flick by John-Lewis but the winger lost possession after cutting inside.
Harris shot wide from 25 yards for the visitors on 11 minutes after a passing move going forward.
Bishop then got to the ball ahead of Nsiala after a ball from Steve Tomassen but the striker lifted the ball onto the Pontoon Stand roof from 18 yards.
Wrexham were starting to get on top at the quarter-hour mark and they appeared to be coping better with the windy conditions as Town struggled to keep possession for significant passages.
And they took the lead two minutes later when CLARKE picked the ball up 25 yards out after a good build-up and he had the time and space to curl a left-footed shot beyond McKeown and into the net.
Town were not being allowed to settle on the ball by their visitors, who crowded out Arnold and Robertson to ensure an attack was not allowed to develop down the left on 21 minutes.
A Mackreth cross from the right was headed clear, before Blaine Hudson got to the ball ahead of Palmer after Arnold had played it forward from the left.
Instead, it came back to Arnold but his cross sailed out at the far post for a goal kick. Arnold won a corner on the left on 29 minutes and after it was headed on at the near post, nobody in black and white could get to the ball to force it past visiting keeper Andy Coughlin, who was yet to be called into any serious action.
A foul on Magnay gave Town a free kick but after it was taken quickly, Magnay’s cross was headed away by Storer.
Palmer did well to control a long ball forward from Nsiala four minutes after the half-hour but he lacked support when looking to cross.
Defender Manny Smith got to Arnold’s delivery first and after the ball came back to the winger, his follow-up cross was also cleared. Another corner came when a floated cross by Robertson had to be headed behind.
Bishop curled an effort wide for Wrexham, before Palmer hit a first-time shot over the bar from 25 yards soon afterwards after John-Lewis had held the ball up for his strike partner.
Robertson went down with an injury after a late challenge three minutes before the break but was passed fit to play on after receiving treatment.
Three added minutes were played at the end of what had been a disappointing first half from a Grimsby perspective, with the Mariners unable to test keeper Coughlin and Wrexham therefore holding their one-goal advantage at the interval.
Chapell replaced Robertson for Town before the restart, with the Torquay loanee lining up on the right wing and Magnay switching to left-back and Mackreth dropping back to cover the right-back position.
A free kick against Magnay gave Wrexham the first chance to attack but Harris chose to shoot from 35 yards and watched the ball go over McKeown’s bar.
At the other end, a foul on John-Lewis gave the Mariners a free kick but Brown’s delivery was poor, going too far ahead of everybody and dropping out of play for a goal kick.
Palmer looked to have an opening through the middle after two Wrexham defenders tried to leave the ball to each other but the Mansfield loanee could not make enough progress to turn it into a goalscoring chance.
The ball came back to Tomassen and he shot from 30 yards but the ball flew over the bar. At the other end, Clarke won a corner off Brown on the Wrexham right but Harris’ delivery was headed away by Mackreth.
A ball from Harris found Jennings inside the box for the away side but good work by Pearson and Nsiala meant he could not get a shot away.
Town were looking to attack whenever possible but Wrexham were still creating the better chances and Jennings found himself in a similar position again soon afterwards, although the Town centre-backs were again in place to thwart him.
The flag-kick caused no problems and the hosts cleared. Mackreth sliced the ball away for a corner when there looked to be little danger as Wrexham tried to walk the ball into the Town net.
The home crowd appealed for a foul as Tomassen challenged Disley but referee Ian Hussin ruled the tackle was a fair one and allowed play to go on.
Arnold had a chance to bring the Mariners level on 69 minutes but his shot was blocked from near the edge of the penalty area and Wrexham brought the ball clear.
Hannah replaced Palmer in the Town attack with 20 minutes to go, as the Mariners looked for something different in a bid to change their fortunes.
Bishop was booked for kicking the ball away after Hudson fouled John-Lewis near the halfway line on 76 minutes but again, the hosts were unable to take anything from the resulting free kick.
Rob Evans replaced Storer for Wrexham and Pittman came on in place of Mackreth for the Mariners with 11 minutes left.
A shot from Brown was blocked on the edge of the box, before Hannah did well on the left but John-Lewis could not get to his cross ahead of keeper Coughlin.
Chapell had a chance to shoot from 25 yards as Town continued to attack but he was off-target, sending the ball over the bar.
At the other end, Wrexham were looking or the second goal that would kill the game off but after they worked the ball through for Jennings, he could not get enough on his shot to worry McKeown.
A free kick came for Town when Brown was fouled and from it, the ball was played to Pittman but his header was stopped by Coughlin.
Three added minutes were signalled as John-Lewis chased a long ball into the penalty area but Coughlin got to it first, with the striker knocked over for his trouble.
Wes York came on for Bishop as the visitors looked to run the clock down.
And they managed to comfortably see out the remaining time to pick up a deserved three points and – baring a miracle – condemn the Mariners to the play-offs.
Town are next in action when they travel to Southport on Saturday.