Ryan Petterson looks back on an eventful year.
The Mariners kicked off 2016 with a 1-1 draw with Guiseley at Blundell Park. Ollie Norburn had given the visitors the lead, but Padraig Amond's close-range finish gave Town a deserved share of the spoils.
Young goalkeeper Callum Bastock was handed a six-month contract by Paul Hurst, after his second year YT spell had been cut short by injury.
Conor Henderson signed for the Mariners on a deal until the end of the season. The 24-year-old, who had just spent a month with Town on loan, had been released by his parent club Crawley.
Next up for the Mariners was a trip to Welling in the National League. A second-half hat-trick from top scorer Amond and a further strike from skipper Craig Disley sent Town to an excellent 4-0 away win in front of a mammoth travelling contingent.
Midfielder Jon Nolan signed for Town until the end of the season after being released by Lincoln City.
Hurst's side kept the good run going with a 3-1 win at Weston-Super-Mare in the FA Trophy, followed by a 5-0 romp against Altrincham at Blundell Park. Goals from Omar Bogle, Andy Monkhouse (2), Nathan Arnold and a customary finish from Amond cemented Town's place in third position. The victory made it eight wins from the last nine league games.
But Town couldn’t finish the month off in style and suffered a disappointing 1-0 defeat at Gateshead.
Left-back Evan Horwood joined the Mariners on a loan deal from League Two side Northampton Town.
Grimsby Town legends Justin Whittle, Paul Groves, Wayne Burnett and John Oster came back to play on the hallowed turf of Blundell Park in the Chairman's Challenge fundraising game.
Town kicked the month off with a comfortable 3-0 victory against Havant and Waterlooville in the FA Trophy, followed by a late and crucial win at Bromley in the league. Jon-Paul Pittman's 84th minute strike had completed a turnaround, after the home side had taken the lead after just six minutes, and Nolan's equaliser on 32 minutes.
Wigan winger Ryan Jennings joined the club on a loan deal until the end of the season. The 20-year-old had been on the fringes of the first team squad at the DW stadium, having made one senior appearance for the Latics.
The Mariners were left frustrated after Boreham Wood came and parked the bus at Blundell Park in a 0-0 draw.
And Hurst's side had an afternoon to forget as they were beaten 4-2 by FC Halifax Town at The Shay. A huge away following of 1,767 was left disappointed as the Shaymen adapted better to the wet and windy conditions, and claimed a fully deserved win.
That defeat marked the start of a great run by the Mariners as they put the horror show in West Yorkshire behind them, with league and FA Trophy double wins against Woking ensuing.
The third month of the year got underway with a TV date at the New Lawn against second-placed Forest Green Rovers. Disley's headed goal gave Town a superb away victory, after a solid defensive performance against a side who hadn’t tasted defeat since Boxing Day. We'll meet again…
Town backed that up with a 1-0 home victory against a stubborn Southport side.
The Mariners got past a spirited Bognor Regis over two legs to seal a place in the FA Trophy final at Wembley Stadium, with a 2-2 draw at Guiseley sandwiched in between.
Town had twice fought back from behind but were ultimately unable to collect all three points as Guiseley earned a share of the spoils at Nethermoor.
The Mariners signed young striker Jordan Stewart on loan from Swindon Town.
Wrexham were the next visitors to Blundell Park and Disley's early goal proved enough see off the Welsh side and inflict their first defeat in nine games.
But the good run and Town's promotion hopes suffered a blow when a below par performance at Macclesfield resulted in the first defeat in eight for the Mariners. Despite Nolan's 58th minute equaliser, old tormentor Reece Styche, who looked to be offside, slotted the winner past James McKeown to make it 2-1.
Town were live on TV again at the beginning of April for another top-of-the-table clash as they travelled to first-placed Cheltenham. The Mariners couldn’t get the job done, though, and suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time all season, despite a Monkhouse equaliser on 52 minutes. Hurst’s side lost 3-1 with ex-Town midfielder Harry Pell getting on the scoresheet for the Robins.
Aldershot came next, and it was a Tuesday night to remember for Town. The Mariners were 2-0 down at the break and a third loss on the bounce loomed but Bogle changed the game when he came on at half-time. He and Amond got Town level just 11 minutes into the second period, before Arnold put them 3-2 ahead in the 67th minute. But the lead lasted just two minutes as Rhys Browne equalised for the home side, and we’ll hear that name again later. Nolan earned all three points for Town with a superb lobbed shot three minutes from time.
But Town had another difficult week to follow as they picked up just two points from a possible nine. They were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Eastleigh, before losing 1-0 to a late goal against fellow promotion candidates Braintree Town, also at Blundell Park, and couldn’t hang on to Bogle’s penalty at the Crabble as Dover managed a 1-1 draw to keep them in the play-off places.
But another Amond hat-trick got Town back to winning ways three days later as they won 3-1 at Woking. This lifted the Mariners to third in the table and took Amond’s tally to 30 goals.
But the Mariners were beaten 2-1 at home to Chester the following Saturday with Disley grabbing Town’s only goal late on. But despite the defeat Hurst’s side had secured their spot in the play-offs for a fourth year running, with a game to spare.
The club’s annual awards ceremony took place the following week with Amond scooping most of the awards including Supporters’ Player of the Year, while Nolan picked up the Supporters’ Young Player of the Year gong.
Hurst chose to rest several players for the final game of the season at Tranmere, who could still sneak into the play-offs themselves, with goalkeeper coach Andy Warrington making his first league appearance for the Mariners and Grimsby-born youngster Josh Venney being brought on from the bench in midfield. Town lost 1-0 and Tranmere missed out on the play-offs by two points, finishing sixth. The Mariners ended up in fourth place on 80 points; 21 behind champions Cheltenham, and were ahead of Dover by goal difference. This meant Town would host third-placed Braintree Town in the first-leg of the play-offs before travelling to Cressing Road for the second, while Forest Green and Dover would face each other.
A strong, well-drilled Braintree side came to Cleethorpes and Town struggled to break them down. Braintree captain Kenny Davis put a penalty past McKeown and gave his side something to hold onto going into the second-leg.
The chips really were down. Could Town overturn the deficit against a team who had only conceded 12 league goals at home all season?
Another tremendous away following saw over 1,000 Town fans make the long trip down to Essex.
Hurst opted for a 4-3-3 formation as his side searched for a way back into the tie, and ultimately the Football League. Town started the better of the sides and were creating more chances, but just couldn’t find the back of the net. But they weren’t giving up. Hurst injected more pace to his wings with the substitutions of Arnold and Marcus Marshall, giving his team that extra edge. The momentum was with Town who finally had their golden opportunity as they were awarded a penalty after Mark Phillips fouled Josh Gowling in the area. Amond picked the ball up instantly and looked desperate to bring Town level. He drilled it into the back of the net, sending the Town fans behind the goal into raptures. It was 1-1 and the Mariners were on a mission now. They weren’t leaving Essex without a place in the play-off final. Braintree went into extra time with just 10 men as Phillips was sent off in the final minute of normal time for a foul on Nolan. Bogle finally made the Iron pay as he headed the winner past keeper Tom King in the 111th minute to make it 2-1.
Town were through to the play-off final for the second year in a row, and were eyeing up a potential Wembley double win as they also had Halifax at the national stadium in the FA Trophy final a week later.
The Mariners would face Forest Green, who sacked manager Ady Pennock in the final week of the season, in the play-off final and they were unbeaten against the Nailsworth side all season as they picked up a draw at Blundell Park and all three points at the New Lawn.
Around 13,000 Town fans flocked Wembley to support the Mariners.
The first-half of the play-off final was fairly even until Bogle bagged a brace just two minutes before the break and ensured Town were 2-0 up at half-time. Forest Green fought back, though, and Keanu Marsh-Brown reduced the margin to one goal as he beat McKeown on the hour-mark, but Town weathered the storm. In the 94th minute, Arnold scored Town’s memorable third goal to put clear daylight between them and their opponents and bring the club’s six-year Football League absence to an end.
The roar at the final whistle was deafening as Town’s time as a non-league club was now history.
The players and staff embarked on an open-top bus tour during the next week to parade the play-off final trophy and were welcomed by thousands of jubilant Town supporters.
Part 2 >>