GRIMSBY Town lost out to a late goal as Portsmouth took all three points away from Blundell Park.
A superb free kick from substitute Cal Naismith four minutes from time settled what had turned into an intriguing contest which had been looking to be heading towards a hard-earned draw.
The visitors dominated the first half as the Mariners struggled to find a way into the game but they came into it after the break, albeit without seriously threatening a goal.
But in the end, the away side had the quality to find a way to win the game and got their reward with Naismith’s strike.
Three changes were made to the Town side that lost to Crawley in their last outing, with James Berrett, Brandon Comley and Ashley Chambers coming in for Tom Bolarinwa, Craig Disley and Dominic Vose.
James McKeown kept his place in goal despite rumours in the build-up that Dean Henderson could be in line for a debut, with Zak Mills, Danny Collins, Josh Gowling and Danny Andrew forming an unchanged defence.
Berrett, Luke Summerfield and Comley formed a midfield trio, with Chambers and Kayden Jackson supporting striker Omar Bogle.
Bolarinwa and Disley were both selected on the bench, where they were joined by Shaun Pearson, Josh Venney, Andrew Boyce, Scott Vernon and Henderson.
Portsmouth made the long journey north looking to add to an excellent record which had already seen them win seven times on the road this season.
Striker Michael Smith would aim to be a major threat for Paul Cook’s side, while midfielder Gary Roberts would be looking to add to his seven league goals so far this term.
Carl Baker looked to create an early chance for the visitors but lost his footing after bursting into the Mariners penalty area, before Jackson was beaten by right-back Gareth Evans as he looked to get onto a flick-on from Bogle at the other end.
The away side won the first corner on three minutes and after defender Matt Clarke glanced his header away from goal, they kept possession but could not turn it into a chance.
A long throw from Andrew was punched clear by visiting keeper David Forde, then midfielder Danny Rose shot wide from 25 yards at the other end.
Gowling had to head clear for a corner on 10 minutes but Baker’s delivery from it came to nothing as Collins won the first header and the ball was then caught by McKeown.
A corner came at the other end after Berrett had battled to win the ball two minutes later but Summerfield’s ball was pushed away by Forde before Enda Stevens completed the clearance.
Portsmouth were on top in the early stages though and another corner came soon afterwards, which led to a header clearing the crossbar for a goal kick.
A foul by Clarke gave Town a free kick in a promising central position on the quarter-hour. Bogle shot from it but his effort was slightly too high.
Baker hit a shot from 20 yards after good build-up play from the visitors but it was straight at McKeown, who made a comfortable save.
Another shot from Baker came in soon afterwards as the away side continued to dominate but this time, it was off-target.
A low cross from the away left was pushed clear by McKeown, with the Mariners still struggling to make an impression at the other end as the half-hour mark passed.
The hosts were given the opportunity to get the ball into the danger zone on 38 minutes with a free kick wide on the right. Mills’ ball to the 18-yard line was won by Gowling but Portsmouth then managed to get the ball clear.
A short stoppage came when centre-back Christian Burgess went down injured but he was passed fit to continue after receiving treatment.
One added minute was signalled to be played at the end of the half and with no further chances created by either side before the referee’s half-time whistle, the game remained goalless at the interval.
Portsmouth had been the better team throughout the half and the Mariners had created very little to worry
Forde in the visitors’ goal, although the south coast side had not managed to make a breakthrough, meaning it was still all to play for in the second half.
No changes were made before the restart and the first opportunity of the half went to the away side when Burgess found Smith inside the box but the striker’s shot from a narrow angle was stopped by McKeown.
Town won a free kick just inside the Portsmouth half five minutes in but it was headed clear, as was Andrew’s follow-up ball from the opposite flank.
A foul by Gowling on Kyle Bennett earned him the first yellow card of the game and after the resulting free kick was played low to Bennett, his cross was headed clear by Collins.
A low cross from Stevens then proved to be just too far ahead of Smith for him to connect with the ball on the six-yard line.
Town’s first opening of the half came shortly afterwards, when a long throw from Mills was headed away as far as Chambers. He looked to find the far corner of the net but Forde managed to claw the ball away.
A Mariners corner then came on 54 minutes but the danger from it was dealt with by Smith and the away side broke. Andrew got back to initially stop the attack but he then gave the ball away and Baker saw a shot saved by McKeown.
Bolarinwa replaced Chambers in the game’s first substitution three minutes before the hour, before Mills did well to head clear after a cross from Baker.
Smith got to a bouncing ball inside the Town box first but he hooked it over the bar and the score remained goalless.
Bolarinwa then lifted the home crowd with a run and low shot from 25 yard that Forde had to tip away for a corner, which was comfortably caught by the keeper.
A foul on Bennett on the edge of the Town box gave Portsmouth a free kick and earned Mills a booking on 65 minutes. Bennett took it but he fired just high and wide of the target.
Bogle was then fouled near the halfway line but Mills’ driven ball into the box was caught comfortably by Forde.
Vernon was sent on in place of Comley with 20 minutes left to play as Town boss Marcus Bignot looked to add extra firepower to his side.
Summerfield won a corner on the right soon afterwards, although the Mariners were unable to test Forde from the flag-kick as Jackson eventually lifted a shot over the bar.
Portsmouth made a double substitution on 75 minutes, with Naismith replacing Roberts and Conor Chaplin coming in for Bennett.
The visitors won a corner when a cross from the right was blocked by Andrew and after it was glanced away from goal, Danny Rose sent the ball back into the box and Town eventually cleared.
Bolarinwa then set off on a run that was stopped by a foul by Stevens near the edge of the penalty area, which saw the left-back yellow-carded. Summerfield’s free kick was headed away but Town retained possession, although after some pinball around the Portsmouth box, the away side survived.
Town had been better in the second half but they were to fall behind with just four minutes to go. A foul by Berrett meant a free kick was given in a central position, 30 yards from goal, and from it, substitute NAISMITH stepped up to hit a superb effort over the wall and beyond McKeown to open the scoring.
The hosts immediately set out in a bid to restore parity and they almost had an equaliser within a minute of falling behind, although Forde managed to gather at the second attempt after Vernon’s shot.
Noel Hunt was sent on in place of Smith in the Portsmouth attack for the remainder of the game, which was to include an additional five minutes, as signalled by the fourth official.
A foul just inside the away half gave Town a free kick but Mills’ ball was headed wide for a goal kick.
That proved to be the last chance for the Mariners to get anything from the game as Portsmouth closed out their win.
Town are next in action when they make the short trip to Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.