Grimsby Town 0 - 0 Eastleigh
GRIMSBY Town were left to rue missed chances as 10-man Eastleigh held on for a goalless draw at Blundell Park.
The Mariners attacked throughout the contest but despite creating several good opportunities to break the deadlock, they could not beat visiting goalkeeper Ross Flitney.
The Eastleigh stopper made some excellent saves to keep the score goalless at half-time and despite losing midfielder Josh Payne to a straight red card soon after the interval, the away side held firm to earn a point.
Town continued to put pressure on the Eastleigh goal for the remainder of the game but were unable to find a way through and as a result, lost their third-place position in the National League table, albeit with an opportunity to get it back in midweek.
Town started with the team that finished the remarkable game at Aldershot on Tuesday, where the Mariners eventually won 4-3.
That meant a first start for Jordan Stewart, while Omar Bogle was also selected in the XI, as Pat Hoban and the injured Andy Monkhouse dropped out.
James McKeown began in goal, with Richard Tait, Toto Nsiala, Josh Gowling and Gregor Robertson forming the defence.
Stewart, Craig Disley, Jon Nolan and Nathan Arnold were the midfielders, with Padraig Amond starting alongside Bogle in attack.
Hoban was named among the substitutes, along with Shaun Pearson, Craig Clay, Danny East and Ryan Jennings.
Eastleigh made the long trip north looking to further their own play-off claims, with Chris Todd’s side sitting two places and two points outside the all-important top five at kick-off.
They would look to the likes of strikers Matt Tubbs and James Constable to fire them to a first victory over the Mariners in six attempts since earning promotion from the National League South.
An early sign of promise came with Stewart using his trickery to create an opening down the right but when the ball was eventually played into the box, Bogle sent it out for a goal kick.
A cross from Nolan was headed clear on four minutes but Town kept possession and the move led to Amond hitting the target with a header that keeper Flitney had to punch clear.
A wild effort by Tait went well wide from 35 yards as the hosts continued to attack in the early stages, before Eastleigh’s first shot came through Tubbs and was deflected out for the game’s first corner. Town struggled to deal with the ball from the flag but when it came back to Jai Reason, he sent his cross out for a goal kick.
The Mariners almost took the lead on 13 minutes after Amond did well to chase the ball down on the right side of the Eastleigh penalty area. The Irishman pulled it back for his strike-partner Bogle but his first-time shot was blocked by Flitney.
Another great opportunity came when Disley tried his luck with a volley from distance on 18 minutes. Flitney did well to get to the shot and then got back up quickly to deny Amond from the rebound, with the ball then bouncing off the striker and rolling just wide of the far post.
Amond linked up with Bogle two minutes later but again, they were not able to take the chance as Bogle’s shot was deflected behind for a corner. Then, from the flag, Flitney was called into action again to push a Bogle header over the top.
The Grimsby pressure continued when the ball came to Arnold on the edge of the box after the corner was half-cleared but again it was Flitney who ensured the scoreline remained goalless, diving to his left to keep the winger’s curling effort out.
Town had done everything but score and the visitors had their goalkeeper to thank for that, with Flitney making a string of great saves.
At the other end, McKeown was having a quieter afternoon but the away side had shown some signs of attacking intent, with Constable having a shot blocked before midfielder Andy Drury missed the target.
After the Mariners did almost all of the early attacking, their visitors were coming into the contest more as the half-hour approached, playing a neat passing game and looking for gaps in the home backline.
A mix-up at the back almost let Tubbs in after Gowling’s header back towards McKeown fell short but the striker could not capitalise as he headed it out for a goal kick from a narrow angle.
Arnold won a corner for Town on the left after a good ball by Robertson on 35 minutes and Nolan’s delivery was headed behind for another flag-kick on the opposite flank. This time, Flitney punched it clear of danger.
Amond then beat the Eastleigh offside trap to get on the end of a ball over the top two minutes later but he could only crash a volley against the side-netting from a narrow angle on the right.
Another corner on the Town left came when right-back Joe Partington had to head over his own bar following a Tait cross. Again though, the hosts could not make it count as Nolan’s delivery beat everybody and went out for a goal kick at the far post.
One additional minute was played at the end of the half and another chance for the Mariners came when Bogle tried a shot from 20 yards that was comfortably saved by Flitney, with Nolan possibly in a better position.
That meant it remained goalless at the interval, with Town no doubt disappointed not to be going into the dressing rooms with the lead after seeing plenty of chances come and go.
No changes were made by either side before the restart and Town were immediately on the attack as Amond chased a ball down on the right but could not flick it over Flitney.
A major flashpoint came three minutes in when Eastleigh looked to launch a break and as the ball was pushed through, Tait slid in to reach it and Payne went into the challenge with the right-back with his studs showing. Referee Michael Salisbury brandished the red card for the midfielder and Eastleigh were down to 10 men. Drury was also booked for dissent in the aftermath.
Soon afterwards, a cross from the left was met by Amond with a header but Flitney reacted quickly to tip the ball over the bar. That quickly led to another, then a third flag-kick in quick succession saw a flicked header from Disley put behind for another corner. This time, the move ended with the ball in Flitney’s arms.
At the other end, an Eastleigh free kick from midway inside the Town half came to nothing as Gowling was fouled when the ball was played into the box.
Tubbs beat Nsiala easily on the away right to create another opening for them but Tait was in the right place to tidy up when the striker crossed the ball.
A Tait cross on the hour was met by Bogle but the ball was cleared for a corner, which in turn, was hacked away for a throw-in.
Arnold won a corner on 65 minutes after good work by Disley but from the flag, the Mariners captain headed over the bar.
Eastleigh were defending deeper after going down to 10 men, with the onus now firmly on Town to attack.
But the visitors made a change in their frontline on 67 minutes, as Yemi Odubade came on to replace Tubbs.
Soon afterwards, Amond tried to lob Flitney with a first-time shot after receiving a good pass from Nolan but although he got it over the keeper, the ball also sailed clear of the crossbar.
Hoban and Jennings came on for Bogle and Stewart with a little less than 20 minutes left on the clock as Town boss Paul Hurst looked for something different in a bid to force an opening goal.
Jennings won a corner on the right on 74 minutes but after Flitney punched Nolan’s ball clear, Tait sent a shot just wide from 25 yards.
Another golden chance for Town to take the lead was missed a minute later when Hoban did well to work an opening on the left but when he pushed it across to the onrushing Nolan, the midfielder could only hit Flitney.
At the other end, a chance for the visitors came when substitute Odubade beat Nsiala to go one-on-one with McKeown but as he tried to take the ball around the keeper, McKeown dived on the ball.
That signalled the start of a good spell for Eastleigh, who began to see more of the ball in attacking areas.
But it was the hosts who had the next opportunity, with a good build-up down the left eventually leading to the ball being worked across the pitch for Jennings to shoot at Flitney.
A Town corner from the left on 83 minutes was punched out for a flag-kick on the other side and this time, Town kept possession until Jennings’ chip into the box was caught by the keeper.
Another corner came when a cross by Arnold was headed behind by Partington but when Arnold sent the ball across from the flag, the referee spotted an infringement and blew for an Eastleigh free kick.
Odubade was giving Nsiala a tough time down the visitors’ left and he won a free kick against the centre-back near the edge of the Town box with five minutes to go, Reason swung it in but McKeown punched clear.
The Mariners kept up the pressure at the other end and won another corner through Jennings on the right, although it did not lead to a goalscoring opportunity.
Four added minutes were signalled and Town kept attacking in search of that elusive goal which would see them stay third in the league table.
But it was not to come and with Dover winning at Wrexham, the Mariners slipped a place to fourth.
They will now aim to move back up to third by beating fellow play-off contenders Braintree at Blundell Park on Tuesday