Tranmere Rovers 1 - 0 Grimsby Town
GRIMSBY Town rounded off their regular season with a single-goal defeat by Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park.
The Mariners, with one eye on the play-off games to come, named a much-changed side for the trip to Merseyside and went behind to a goal from Steven Jennings.
Few genuine chances were created by either side after that, with Tranmere knowing results elsewhere were going against them and meaning they would be unable to join Town in the end-of-season lottery.
As expected, Town boss Paul Hurst made several alterations to his team, with the main focus firmly on the play-off semi-finals.
Only Richard Tait, Shaun Pearson and Danny East remained from the XI that started last week’s home defeat by Chester.
Andy Warrington played in goal as James McKeown was one of those to be rested, with Tait, Pearson, Gregor Robertson and East forming the defence.
Ryan Jennings, Conor Henderson, Craig Clay and Nathan Arnold were the midfielders, with Jon-Paul Pittman and Pat Hoban selected as the strikers.
On the bench were Omar Bogle, Marcus Marshall, Harry Clifton, Josh Venney and Toto Nsiala.
Tranmere came into the game knowing a win could see them sneak the final play-off spot, depending on the result of the game between Braintree and Altrincham.
They would look to the likes of Lois Maynard and James Norwood to fire them into that position, with veteran striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher and former Mariner Jack Mackreth both on the Rovers bench.
Town’s first attack of note came on four minutes but Tait’s cross from the left proved to be too strong for the run of Hoban.
Adam Mekki created the first moment of danger for the Grimsby defence but after a run into the box, his shot was blocked.
A spell of Town possession saw Tait have a shot blocked, before an effort from Jay Harris at the other end had a similar outcome.
Pittman headed over the bar from a left-wing Tait cross on 15 minutes, then a long ball from Mekki found Norwood but his shot was pushed out for a corner by Warrington at his near post. The hosts failed to cause any problems from the flag.
A shot by Hoban was blocked as both sides struggled to carve out any genuine chances at the 20-minute mark.
But Arnold did manage to create a good opportunity two minutes later, turning and running into the box but hesitating before shooting, allowing the ball to be poked out for a corner.
Town were punished soon afterwards when the home side took the lead on 24 minutes. A cross from Jay Harris came into the box and after Warrington didn’t come for it and Pearson diverted the ball towards his own goal, JENNINGS stepped in to put it into the net.
Warrington was called into action soon after the goal and made a good block from Norwood, who then put a follow-up shot wide.
A Tranmere free kick was headed clear by Tait, before good covering from East stopped another home attack soon afterwards.
Another free kick on the half-hour looked to have caused problems for the Mariners but Tait did well to stop Harris from having the opportunity to score from close range.
A poor challenge on Tait earned Harris the first yellow card of the game on 35 minutes but Town were unable to make the resulting free kick count.
A chance for the Mariners came six minutes before the break but after the ball came to Hoban on the edge of the penalty area, his effort was blocked.
Another Tait cross three minutes later created an opportunity for Jennings but he could not get enough on his header to worry home keeper Scott Davies.
One added minute was played at the end of the half and with no further chances for either side before the referee’s half-time whistle, it was Tranmere who went into the dressing rooms with the advantage.
No changes were made before the restart and the first attacking opportunity of the second half came with a Town free kick. Henderson sent it into the box but his delivery was too close to keeper Davies, who gathered the ball at the second attempt.
A long ball forward almost led to a chance for Mekki after it was missed by Jennings but the attacker was unable to profit.
Soon afterwards, a Harris cross was not dealt with by the Town defence but Pearson reacted well to make a good block from Lee Vaughan and keep the deficit at one goal.
The first substitution of the game saw Marshall replace Arnold for Town on 54 minutes, before Warrington made a good save three minutes later, getting down to turn a shot from Mekki away for a corner, which was headed clear by Pittman.
A chipped cross by East was headed on by Hoban but he was ruled to have fouled the Tranmere keeper and a free kick was given to the home side.
Tranmere then won a corner at the other end but it was flicked away from danger by East.
Town’s second change saw Venney come on for Pittman on 62 minutes, with Marshall and Jennings moving into slightly more advanced positions in support of Hoban as Venney slotted into a three-man midfield.
Liam Hogan replaced Vaughan for the hosts three minutes later, before a Town corner eventually led to Jennings shooting wide after an effort from Venney was blocked.
Bogle then came on in place of Hoban as Hurst used his third and final substitution with 16 minutes left on the clock, before Jake Kirby replaced Maynard for the hosts.
A foul on Jennings gave Town a free kick in a promising position close to the edge of the Tranmere box on 78 minutes. Henderson’s shot hit the home wall and looped up before bouncing just wide of the target. Keeper Davies got to the corner first, ahead of Pearson.
Jennings was fouled again on 83 minutes but the Mariners were unable to make anything of the resulting free kick.
Soon afterwards, a chance for the hosts to make it 2-0 came when Kirby got on the end of a ball forward but he could only shoot wide after Warrington came out to narrow the angle.
Defender Michael Ihiekwe headed wide from a Tranmere corner after Warrington had made a good save from Norwood, with the home side still looking to increase their lead.
But Town had another opportunity to get the ball into the home box from a free kick with two minutes left. From it, the ball broke for Clay to hit a volley that flew just wide.
The Mariners won a corner as the clock ticked into the last minute but after the ball broke inside the box, nobody was in the right place to turn it into the net.
As the game moved into three minutes of added time, a good run by Henderson led to Jennings getting the ball but his shot was blocked.
And in the last of the added minutes there was another Town free kick but again, they were unable to profit from it in what was the last meaningful action of the game.
That meant the Mariners slipped to a second defeat on the bounce but the serious business now starts, with Braintree Town the opponents in the play-off semi-finals.
The first leg will be at Blundell Park on Thursday, with the second leg in Essex on Sunday.