Grimsby Town 0-1 Braintree Town
GRIMSBY Town endured a frustrating night as Braintree won at Blundell Park to keep themselves firmly in the race for the play-offs.
In a tight game of few genuine chances, the Mariners had most of the possession but struggled to break down a solid visiting defence.
And Braintree capitalised when substitute Taylor Miles grabbed what turns out to be the only goal of the game 13 minutes from time.
It was the second time in consecutive games Town had failed to score and meant they failed to reclaim third place in the National League table, with Braintree closing to within four points in sixth.
Two changes were made to the Town side after the goalless draw with Eastleigh on Saturday, with Andy Monkhouse and Pat Hoban coming back into the XI in place of Jordan Stewart and Omar Bogle.
James McKeown started in goal, with Richard Tait, Toto Nsiala, Josh Gowling and Gregor Robertson forming the defence.
Nathan Arnold, Craig Disley, Jon Nolan and Monkhouse were the midfielders, with Padraig Amond selected alongside Hoban in attack.
Bogle dropped to the bench, where he was joined by Shaun Pearson, Craig Clay, Jon-Paul Pittman and Ryan Jennings.
Braintree made the trip north from Essex sitting one place outside the play-off zone. They would be looking for the win that would further their own top-five claims and reduce the gap to the Mariners, who started the evening in fourth.
The away side won the first corner of the game on three minutes after a cross from Dan Sparkes on the left was blocked by Nsiala. Chez Isaac’s ball was headed behind by Robertson and a third corner then came when Nolan headed out at the far post.
The pressure continued when Isaacs’ ball from the right flag was sliced out for another corner but this time, McKeown punched the ball clear.
Town were looking to play a patient passing game in the early stages in difficult conditions on a wet pitch.
A low cross from Hoban was cut out before it could reach Amond in the Braintree penalty area, although that was the only further hint of goalmouth action in an opening quarter of an hour where defences were on top.
A Monkhouse cross from the left on 20 minutes was headed clear by Matt Fry before it could reach Hoban, then Amond was caught offside from a Hoban pass after Monkhouse had headed on a long ball forward from McKeown.
The visitors had been doing most of the defending but they won a corner when a shot by Sparkes on the turn was deflected out of play, although the flag-kick caused no problems for Town.
A foul by Tait just inside the Braintree half earner the right-back the first yellow card of the night on 27 minutes but the resulting free kick came to nothing as Nolan brought the ball clear after Gowling had won the initial header.
A good ball by Hoban set off a Grimsby attack down the right and it eventually led to Nolan winning a corner, although the Mariners were unable to seriously test visiting keeper Tom King from the flag.
A slip by Monkhouse let Sean Long have a free run down the visitors’ right and after he chipped the ball towards the far post, McKeown was forced to tip it over the bar for a corner. That quickly led to another one on the left but this time, the ball was cleared upfield.
Midfielder Mitch Brundell smashed an effort well off-target from 25 yards on 37 minutes as Braintree kept looking for opportunities on the break.
Amond became the second Town player to see a yellow card after accumulating a number of fouls.
The next action of note saw the away side win another corner on the right, which led to captain Kenny Davis flashing a shot wide from the edge of the box.
A corner came at the other end soon afterwards but it did not lead to a goalscoring opportunity for the hosts.
A better chance for the Mariners came when King came for a cross from the Town left but dropped the ball. It eventually came to Monkhouse on the edge of the box but he could only lift a shot over the bar.
One added minute was signalled as Nolan tried to dig out a cross on the left side of the penalty area but he could not keep it in play, lifting the ball onto the roof of the net.
That meant it remained goalless at the break, with Town seeing more of the ball but both sides creating little of note in a half short on excitement for the supporters.
No changes were made at the interval and Town were the first to attack after the restart, with Nolan making a run into the box before a shot was blocked and the ball eventually went out of play off Monkhouse for a goal kick.
A cross by Monkhouse, who had swapped wings with Arnold, was headed over the bar by Hoban four minutes in as the home side continued to look for a breakthrough.
Hoban was given a free kick for a foul on the right, midway inside the Braintree half, on 50 minutes. Nolan’s delivery did not clear Sparkes, who had formed a one-man wall.
Gowling was penalised for a foul on striker Michael Cheek on the edge of the Town box three minutes later but the centre-back made up for his error by heading Isaac’s free kick clear for a throw-in.
Soon afterwards, the Mariners created an opportunity of their own when Arnold set Monkhouse off on a run down the right. He then found Hoban on the edge of the box but the striker fired wide.
A long, looping ball into the box from Nolan came at the end of another spell of Town possession but although Amond got his head to it, he could only help it over the bar.
Gowling conceded another corner as he headed a cross from the left clear of immediate danger, before Cheek was outmuscled by Nsiala as he looked to shoot after the ball came to his from the flag-kick.
A shot by Sparkes soon afterwards deflected off Disley for yet another Braintree corner but after it was played short, Isaac’s cross was blocked by Monkhouse.
A low ball acros the six-yard box then narrowly evaded the run of Cheek and Town cleared their lines through Tait.
Pittman was the first Grimsby subsitutue to be sent on, with Hoban making way for his fellow striker two minutes after the hour.
Defender Mark Phillips was booked for upending Disley as he made progress through the middle. That meant a Town free kick in a promising, central position but Nolan could only hit the Braintree wall with his shot from 25 yards.
The visitors were inches away from taking the lead when a cross from the right fell for Cheek but it was just too far ahead of him to get the contact required to put the ball into the net. Instead, stretching, he could only prod wide.
Town boss Paul Hurst then made his final two substitutions, sending Bogle and Jennings on for Amond and Monkhouse.
Braintree’s Isaac then picked up an injury and was unfit to continue, with Taylor Miles replacing him.
A push on Tait on the halfway line gave Town a free kick and after the right-back pumped the ball into the box, Pittman won the header but it ran through to Tait.
The Mariners were punished soon afterwards as the away side took the lead with 13 minutes left to play. Gowling looked to try and let the ball go out of play but it was taken off him and substitute MILES cut in before slotting past McKeown from a tight angle.
Sparkes was replaced by Anthony Edgar for the visitors soon after the goal, as they now set about the task of holding onto their newly-gained advantage.
Edgar was soon being shown a yellow card for pulling Jennings back as he looked to launch a Town attack near the halfway line.
Davis was also booked for a foul on Jennings on 84 minutes but Town were unable to create anything from the resulting free kick, which was cleared. The hosts kept possession though and when the ball was put back into the box, it came down for Gowling but his header caused no problems for keeper King.
Town kept pressing for an equaliser and they looked to have an opening as the game moved into four added minutes, although the visitors managed to get the ball clear as far as Tait, who fired high and wide from 25 yards.
Gowling was booked for a foul on Long, before Town were given a final chance to snatch something from the game with a free kick on the left, level with the 18-yard line. With McKeown up to add to the attack, the ball from Arnold’s set-piece was touched onto the crossbar, before a scramble in the penalty area led to another effort from Tait crashing off the bar.
But that was as close as the Mariners got as they slipped to a disappointing and potentially damaging defeat.
They must now regroup ahead of a huge game at Dover on Saturday which may go some way to deciding where the two sides finish in the final league table