PADRAIG Amond scored a last-minute penalty to give Grimsby Town the perfect start to their Christmas fixture programme with a hard-earned victory over fellow promotion contenders Dover Athletic.
In a tight game between two of the National League’s top five at Blundell Park, the Mariners shaded things throughout and created the better chances.
Dover defended well and as the clock ticked down, it looked like the south coast side may get their reward by leaving Cleethorpes with a point.
But Town were not to be denied and after Conor Townsend was fouled inside the box, Amond found the net from 12 yards to seal the win.
One enforced change was made to the Grimsby side that suffered a last-minute defeat in the FA Cup at Shrewsbury in midweek, with Omar Bogle replacing the injured Jon-Paul Pittman.
James McKeown started in goal, with Richard Tait, Toto Nsiala, Josh Gowling and Townsend forming the defence.
Nathan Arnold began on the right wing, with Craig Disley and Craig Clay in the centre of midfield and Andy Monkhouse on the left.
Bogle was partnered in attack by Amond, while Gregor Robertson, Shaun Pearson, Marcus Marshall, Conor Henderson and James Alabi were all listed as substitutes.
Dover were looking to maintain the form that had seen them rise to third on the National League table, one point and two places ahead of the Mariners.
Former Town left-back Aswad Thomas was named in the visitors’ starting XI, while Ricky Miller would look to provide the main goal threat for Chris Kinnear’s men.
Bogle hit a weak snap-shot from 25 yards that went through to Dover keeper Andy Rafferty as the Mariners had the first attack of the game, before Miller sent an effort high and wide at the other end.
Jack Parkinson was the next to try his luck for the visitors but after being teed up 20 yards out, he could only shoot over the bar.
Town’s next attack came on four minutes and saw Townsend go on a run down the left before looking for Amond. The ball would not come don for the striker though and Dover cleared.
A foul by Parkinson on Clay gave Grimsby a free kick inside the Dover half on seven minutes but Townsend’s ball was eventually cleared by defender Tyrone Sterling.
Clay looked to have a shooting chance but instead, opted to pull the ball back across goal, where nobody in black and white was there to connect with it. Clay, Bogle and Monkhouse linked up well around the visitors’ penalty area soon afterwards, with the move leading to an opening for the central midfielder.
Thomas then threw the ball towards the penalty spot, where Ricky Modeste was penalised for a high foot as he attempted an overhead kick. Town had done most of the attacking over the opening 10 minutes but a chance for Dover almost came on 13 minutes, although Gowling got to the ball ahead of Miller to clear for a throw-in.
A shot by Miller from the edge of the box was caught by McKeown, before Arnold set off on a pacy run down the Grimsby right and sent over a low cross that was just too far ahead of Amond for him to make contact with.
A Dover free kick from midway inside the Town half on 18 minutes was taken by Nick Deverdics but Nsiala’s clearing header made sure the danger was dealt with.
Tait won a corner after a good move down the right two minutes later but Townsend’s ball was collected by Rafferty.
This time, Modeste cleared Townsend’s ball but the Mariners retained possession and won another corner through Clay. Another corner, this time on the left, came for the hosts on 24 minutes.
Town kept attacking but were unable to seriously test keeper Rafferty, who claimed another comfortable catch from a Bogle cross.
Soon afterwards, a vital header stopped a Town cross from the left from finding its target, before Clay got a glancing header to a ball from Bogle on the opposite flank but could not steer it towards goal.
A clever backheel from Bogle looked for Townsend inside the box on 34 minutes but defender Sean Raggett read the danger and got a foot to the ball before it could reach the onrushing left-back.
At the other end, a long throw by Sean Magri was headed behind for a Dover corner but the ball from the flank was partially cleared by Nsiala, before Monkhouse completed the clearance.
Bogle saw a shot blocked after more good work by Townsend on the left and a cross from Arnold on the right was claimed by Rafferty as the Mariners continued to do most of the attacking.
Deverdics’ ball was headed away by Monkhouse, who chased it towards the halfway line but could not keep it in play. But they had a free kick to defend four minutes before half-time after a foul by Gowling midway inside the Grimsby half.
Bogle did well to turn away from Raggett as the game moved into one minute of added time but he could not beat Richard Orlu on the edge of the box and was penalised for a foul on the defender.
The keeper pushed the ball out and no away attacker could convert the rebound in what was the last action of the half. The last attacking opportunity of the half came with a Dover free kick from just inside the Town half and from it, McKeown was forced into his first real save of the match when Deverdics’ delivery was headed towards goal.
That meant it remained goalless at half-time, with Town the better side but Dover showing signs they were also capable of going on and winning the game.
A cross from Deverdics on the left was headed towards goal by Modeste but McKeown dived to keep it out, before the rebound was hammered wide. No changes were made before the restart and Dover could have had the lead within three minutes of the second half, when the Mariners had their keeper to thank for keeping the scores level.
An opening almost came for Town at the other end on 51 minutes, when a cross from Bogle looked to have found Amond and bounced over Rafferty but the ball did not fall for the Irishman to get a shot on goal.
The game was moving from end to end, with both sides looking for what could prove to be a crucial opening goal.
Townsend’s ball to the far post was headed behind for another corner by Orlu and this time, Clay had a shot blocked from the edge of the box after the ball was only partially cleared. Arnold stretched but could not make contact with a chipped cross from the left, before Bogle won a corner on the right.
Townsend’s flag-kick was claimed by Rafferty. Grimsby kept the pressure up and a low cross from Amond was swept behind for another corner by Orlu, who got to the ball ahead of Bogle.
Stefan Payne was the next to have a shooting chance for Dover but he could not capitalise on it, firing high over McKeown’s bar and against the Osmond Stand roof.
The free kick was dealt with by the Town defence and Arnold broke, running through the middle but shooting over the bar from 20 yards. Clay was shown a yellow card for bringing Modeste down on the halfway line as the attacker looked to break two minutes after the hour.
A foul on Townsend by Modeste near the left corner flag gave the Mariners a free kick in an excellent position and from it, the left-back’s ball found Nsiala but he could only head wide.
Again though, they were unable to profit from it, as the ball was headed as far as Bogle but his cross was taken by keeper Rafferty. Disley was fouled to bring about another Grimsby free kick, this time near the halfway line.
The game stopped briefly for Thomas to receive treatment after going down injured and after the ex-Town defender had to come off, he was replaced by Toby Ajala.
The substitute made an immediate impact, using his pace to get past Townsend before sending a low ball across the six-yard box that rolled agonisingly past the far post after Miller was unable to get to it.
At the other end, Tait linked up with Amond with 16 minutes left on the clock but good defending meant the striker was unable to get a shot in and the ball went out for a goal kick.
Bogle was replaced by Alabi as Town boss Paul Hurst made his first substitution on 78 minutes.
The Ipswich loanee’s first involvement saw him win a free kick to the left of the Dover penalty area but Townsend’s ball from it was cleared, before Monkhouse dragged a low shot wide from the edge of the box.
Another Monkhouse effort was blocked, before a deep Townsend cross from the left went out for a goal kick at the far post as the Mariners continued to pour forward.
Marshall came on in place of Monkhouse on the Grimsby left with a little over five minutes to go, as the hosts kept looking for a breakthrough.
Clay went on a driving run through the middle soon afterwards but ran into defenders on the edge of the box, then he had another chance after getting the ball from Amond but could only shoot over the bar.
AMOND stepped up and confidently sent Rafferty the wrong way to break the deadlock. And as the clock ticked into the final minute, the Mariners had their moment to win the game, when Townsend was fouled by Orlu inside the box and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot.
Now, with four minutes of added time to be played, Town’s task was to hold onto their newly-acquired lead and see out the game to collect three vital points.
Payne’s shot was blocked and Grimsby’s lead remained intact. But their visitors were given an opportunity when a foul by Gowling gave them a free kick in a central position, 25 yards from goal.
Pearson came on for Arnold for the final few seconds, before the referee’s final whistle confirmed Town’s win.
They will now head to Solihull Moors for an FA Trophy replay on Tuesday, before an away match in the league at Guiseley on Boxing Day.