LEAGUE Two champions-elect Doncaster Rovers proved too strong for Grimsby Town as they won convincingly at Blundell Park.
The Mariners produced an excellent performance for much of an entertaining first half and got their reward when Sam Jones opened the scoring on 34 minutes.
But their lead was not to last long as the division’s top scorer John Marquis equalised within three minutes before completing the turnaround with a header two minutes before the break.
And after a spririted first-half showing, the hosts were over-run after the break as Doncaster showed their quality and struck three more times to give the scoreline a one-sided appearance.
Marquis completed his hat-trick with an emphatic finish three minutes after the hour and as Town looked for a way back into the contest, the visitors made sure of the points when Andy Williams made it 4-1 and substitute Alfie May grabbed a fifth from a corner in the closing stages.
Three changes were made to the Town side after the draw at Accrington Stanley last time out, with Brandon Comley, Dan Jones and Calum Dyson coming into the XI as Craig Disley, Dominic Vose and Scott Vernon dropped out.
James McKeown started in goal, with Zak Mills, Andrew Boyce, Gavin Gunning and Danny Andrew forming a defence which was unchanged from last week.
Comley, Chris Clements, Jones and Jamey Osborne were the midfielders, with Sam Jones lining up alongside Dyson in attack.
Disley and Vose were both named on the bench, along with Shaun Pearson, Tom Bolarinwa, Danny Collins, Adi Yussuf and Luke Maxwell.
Doncaster made the short journey to Cleethorpes looking for a win which would see them seal promotion if other results later in the afternoon were to go their way.
Strikers Marquis and Williams would look to provide the firepower for Darren Ferguson’s side, who were backed by a sell-out away following.
Town started brightly, with Mills winning an early free kick after a run down the right. Andrew swung it across but Sam Jones’ header bounced wide.
Sam Jones then went on a run through the middle on five minutes which led to the game’s first corner, although the ball from the flag was headed clear.
Clements was shown the first yellow card soon afterwards for a foul on Marquis but it was the Mariners who were dominating the early stages and they had another corner on 11 minutes, which was pushed away from danger by visiting keeper Ian Lawlor.
Doncaster’s first opening came from an interception in midfield which led to striker Andy Williams playing a low ball across the penalty area, where it was dealt with by Mills.
A foul on Dan Jones gave Town a free kick on the right inside the Rovers half but nothing came of it as the ball went through to Lawlor.
At the other end, a low cross from the left looked to have presented a tap-in for the visitors but with McKeown stranded, nobody in red and white could get that vital touch and the ball rolled away to safety.
Doncaster were starting to come into the game by the quarter-hour and slick passing around the edge of the box looked to have created an opening for them but good defending saw the ball cleared from danger.
A cross from Osborne on the Town right was blocked for a corner on 18 minutes but Andrew’s kick was headed away and Matty Blair brought the ball clear, skipping past Osborne but seeing his run ended by a good challenge from Mills before he could get a shot in.
Soon afterwards, midfielder Tommy Rowe called McKeown into action with a shot from 20 yards but the keeper was equal to it, pushing the ball away for a throw-in.
Dyson went into the referee’s notebook when he was shown a yellow card for handball following a long throw from the Town left.
The closest either team had been to breaking the deadlock so far came on 25 minutes, when only a clearance off the line by Gunning stopped the visitors from going in front after more slick passing around the box led to a goal-bound back-heel from midfielder Gary McSheffrey.
Town went one better on 34 minutes when they did manage to open the scoring. Good work by Comley on the right saw the ball go to SAM JONES and he turned, worked an opening and placed a low shot beyond Lawlor and into the bottom-right corner of the net.
Two minutes later, the Mariners had another chance when Sam Jones turned provider, playing a ball through for Dyson to run onto but Lawlor raced out to narrow the angle and catch the Everton loanee’s shot.
Instead, Grimsby’s lead was only to last two minutes as Doncaster got themselves back on level terms. Town were unable to clear the ball inside their own penalty area and MARQUIS was on hand to beat McKeown from close range to make it 1-1.
Doncaster won a corner on the right three minutes before the break and from it, the turnaround was complete when McSheffrey’s delivery towards the near post found the unmarked MARQUIS, who sent a good header across goal and into the net.
Two minutes of added time were signalled and a Doncaster free kick from the halfway line looked about to cause problems when it was pumped into the box by Mathieu Baudry, only for McKeown to be fouled.
That proved to be the last action of note in a first half where the Mariners had played well for the most part and worked hard to get themselves in front, only for their visitors to hit back and show why they look set to be crowned champions with Marquis’ quickfire double.
No changes were made before the restart and a push by Luke McCullough on Osborne gave Town an early opportunity to get the ball into the danger zone. Andrew took it but his delivery was headed out for a throw-in.
Williams was booked for a foul four minutes in but again, the hosts could not create any danger from the free kick.
A dangerous-looking cross from Blair towards the far post came at the end of a Doncaster attack two minutes later but McKeown got to it first.
At the other end, Sam Jones was fouled as he looked to hold the ball up near the left edge of the penalty area. The free kick was played in to the former Gateshead attacker, whose header missed the target at the near post.
A cross from Rowe had to be headed away by Boyce as Doncaster threatened again, before the defender was forced to concede a corner on the right, which was cleared by Gunning.
A free kick from McSheffrey on the right was comfortably collected by McKeown, before Jones got to the by-line at the other end but could not find a team-mate when he pulled the ball back.
The next time Doncaster attacked, they stretched their lead when MARQUIS beat the Town offside trap and got away from Gunning before finishing emphatically past McKeown from the edge of the box to complete his hat-trick.
Vose replaced Dan Jones after the goal, before Mills became the latest to be shown a yellow card for a foul on Marquis.
Town won a corner on 70 minutes but the low delivery was cleared, then Osborne went close with a shot from 25 yards after a good pass from Vose.
Bolarinwa came on for Comley in Grimsby’s second substitution and it signalled the start of a good spell for the men in black and white as they aimed to force their way back into the contest.
A good ball from Sam Jones out to Andrew on the left led to a cross which keeper Lawlor got to first, then a promising run through the middle by Bolarinwa was stopped after he took a heavy touch.
Harry Middleton replaced McSheffrey for the visitors on 76 minutes, then Osborne was fouled on the edge of the box after cutting in from the left. Vose took the free kick but Lawlor dived to keep his shot out and push the ball away from danger.
And the miss was to prove costly as Doncaster made sure of their victory with a fourth goal on 79 minutes.
WILLIAMS was the man to get on the scoresheet this time, cutting in from the right and checking back before picking his spot and finding the far corner of the net.
Town kept looking for a second goal and they perhaps should have had it when good play by Bolarinwa eventually led to him squaring for Sam Jones, although he could not force it into the net from close range.
Cedric Evina replaced Niall Mason for the away side for the last nine minutes, before May came on for Marquis with four minutes to go.
And there was still time for Doncaster to get a fifth goal, as a corner from the left was not dealt with by McKeown and MAY claimed the goal after the ball ended up in the net.
Town would have been hurt by the scoreline as their efforts had deserved much more but the visitors’ quality meant they took another step towards the League Two title.
The Mariners are next in action on Saturday, when they travel to Blackpool.