IT is advantage Grimsby Town at the halfway stage of this FA Trophy Semi Final after a second half strike from Nathan Arnold earned the Mariners a 1-0 win away at Bognor Regis Town.
The winger’s eleventh goal of the campaign ensured Paul Hurst’s men will take to the field for next week’s second leg at Blundell Park with a one-goal lead to their name.
Town boss Hurst made six changes from the side that beat Southport in the National League on Tuesday night.
Danny East replaced Richard Tait at right-back, Shaun Pearson was restored to the starting line-up after sitting out the midweek win through illness, this time in place of Josh Gowling, and Gregor Robertson came in for Evan Horwood at left-back.
Craig Clay came in for Jon Nolan in the centre of the park with Anthony Straker deputising for the injured Andy Monkhouse on the left and Jon-Paul Pittman coming into the starting XI with top scorer Padraig Amond stepping down to the bench.
The Mariners settled quickly on the South Coast and forged the best chance of the first period within four minutes.
Arnold sped down the right channel and got into a good position in the area but home stopper Grant Smith was down smartly to turn the ball away for a corner.
Grimsby were making the early pressing and finding joy on the right flank through East and Arnold, both men seeing crosses diverted away by Rocks’ defender Sami El-Abd.
Patrick Hoban was looking lively up top for the Mariners and the Oxford loanee capitalised on a slip in the home defence to fire in a 25-yard effort that was well gathered by Smith.
The hosts were seeing plenty of the ball but making few inroads on James McKeown’s goal, apart from at set pieces.
East did have to be alert to break up play as Pearce got into a dangerous position on the left. And from the resulting corners, first Pittman and then Toto Nsiala were on hand to clear corners on the stroke of half-time.
Within three minutes of the restart the visitors had a great chance to get their noses in front. Arnold was again the supply line with skill on the right, his cross was met by Craig Disley but the skipper steered an effort just wide of the far post on his right foot when well-placed.
Bognor responded well and captain Jason Prior worked some space for a shot but dragged it across the face of goal, failing to trouble McKeown.
Then the impressive Calvin Davies broke down the right wing and crossed but Nsiala was up to the aerial challenge again.
The home side made the first change just before the hour with Stuart Green replacing Snorre Nilsen and then Hurst followed suit with a double switch that saw Amond and Tait replace Hoban and Straker.
But it was the hosts who were getting themselves on top of the encounter. Craig Robson headed wide on the stretch from a Dan Beck corner before substitute Green fired over from 20 yards after a great run from deep in midfield.
The introduction of Amond had caused the Rocks’ defence more problems with the former Morecambe man utilising his pace to get in behind the home back-line and he was involved in the Mariners’ goal on 75 minutes.
A long clearance from McKeown was flicked on by Amond into the path of Arnold and he took a touch into the area before firing the ball beyond Smith.
Bognor responded by bringing on Gary Charman for Beck, whilst the Mariners looked to ex-Arsenal midfielder Conor Henderson to shore up shop.
Again the Rocks had plenty of the ball but they failed to create a clear-cut opening, instead it was the Mariners who had the best chance of the closing stages.
Pittman capitalised on some slack defending and fired goalwards from a narrow angle, only to see Smith turn the ball away.
Even with four minutes added on, McKeown remained unfazed between the sticks for the Mariners, who will make the long trip back to North East Lincolnshire ahead of Tuesday night’s league game at Guiseley.
Att: 2,629 (400 away)
Highlights later tonight on Mariners PlayerHD.