RUSSELL Slade’s first game back in charge of Grimsby Town ended in a victory over play-off-chasing Cambridge United at Blundell Park.
After a scrappy first half where the visitors had looked the more threatening of the two sides, the Mariners improved after the break and took the lead through a Calum Dyson penalty.
Chris Clements doubled the advantage with six minutes to go, although Cambridge got one back through Brad Halliday to ensure a nervy finish for the hosts and their supporters.
But Town held on to ensure they got their Easter programme off to the perfect start with three hard-earned points.
The new Grimsby boss made just one change to the starting XI from last week’s excellent away win at Blackpool, with James Berrett coming in for Dan Jones.
James McKeown started in goal, with Zak Mills, Andrew Boyce, Danny Collins and Danny Andrew forming the defence.
Gavin Gunning lined up ahead of the back four, with Jamey Osborne, Clements and Berrett making up the midfield and Dyson continuing alongside Sam Jones up front.
Dan Jones dropped to the bench, where he was joined by Ben Davies, Shaun Pearson, Craig Disley, Dominic Vose, Tom Bolarinwa and Adi Yussuf.
Cambridge came into the game sitting two points and two places outside the play-off zone, so they had everything still to play for as they looked to make a late bid for promotion.
Midfielder Luke Berry would be aiming to add to the 15 goals which have made him the club’s top scorer this season.
An early Cambridge free kick was hoisted clear by Collins, with the defender also making another clearance after a cross from the right as the visitors made the better start to the game.
Town won the first corner of the afternoon on nine minutes after Dyson won a header and flicked the ball on for Osborne on the right, although Gunning’s header from the flag-kick was blocked.
Jones tried a shot on the turn from 30 yards four minutes later but his first-time effort was blocked, with the ball looping up into the arms of visiting keeper Will Norris.
A foul on Berrett on the right soon afterwards gave the Mariners another chance to get the ball into the danger zone from the right but Andrew could only find Norris, who made a comfortable catch.
A chance then came at the other end when a cross from George Marris on the right was met by Berry but his header went just off-target.
Town were given another free kick in a promising position when Osborne was fouled near the left edge of the Cambridge penalty area on 20 minutes. Clements curled it towards the far post but Norris was there first to push the ball clear for a throw-in.
At the other end, a cross from Halliday was blocked for a corner on the right but the delivery from the flag was cleared by Gunning.
Berrett was shown the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Marris and the resulting free kick led to a corner, which was cleared.
Osborne was spoken to by the referee after protesting when a decision was not given his way after he went down under a challenge from Jake Carroll.
A Cambridge free kick just before the half-hour was dealt with by Dyson, before another attack down the away left was stopped by Mills.
The visitors looked by far the more dangerous of the two sides, although manager Shaun Derry would have been disappointed that they had not called McKeown into any serious action so far.
Town had an opportunity to create some danger of their own with a long throw from Andrew on the left but after it was headed on, a foul was eventually given the away side’s way.
A good chance for Cambridge came five minutes before the break, when a powerful burst by Uche Ikpeazu led to an opening for Berry, who shot just over the bar from 20 yards.
Town then appeared to have an opening down the left when Andrew played a ball forward for Dyson but as he struggled to bring it under control, defender Greg Taylor played the ball off him for a goal kick.
Cambridge were still looking more threatening as the game moved into two added minutes, with a low shot from the edge of the box being deflected out for a corner. Again though, the visitors could not trouble McKeown from the flag and the scoreline remained goalless at half-time.
No changes were made before the restart and Town had the first attack of note in the second half when Dyson found Osborne on the left. He worked his way into the box but the ball was cleared after he pulled it back.
A home penalty shout for handball after a cross from Mills on the right was waved away by the referee, then a long throw from Andrew on the opposite flank soon afterwards was headed into the arms of keeper Norris.
Osborne saw a shot from the edge of the box deflected behind for a corner as Town put together a better spell of possession in the final third, although the flag-kick was cleared at the near post.
The signs for the Mariners were encouraging though and things were to get even better on 57 minutes when Osborne was brought down inside the box and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. DYSON stepped up and beat the dive of Norris to open the scoring.
Cambridge immediately made a substitution, sending Medy Elito on in place of Marris as they looked to get back into the game.
And the substitute could have had an almost instant impact as a chance fell to him with his first touch. The ball came to Elito inside the box but his shot was well saved by McKeown with his feet.
A low drive from Liam O’Neil soon afterwards skipped off the wet surface and proved too hot for McKeown to hold onto, although the keeper was able to gather it unchallenged at the second attempt.
Jones was shown a yellow card for a foul on Harrson Dunk on 66 minutes but the resulting free kick was poor and went away for a goal kick.
Grimsby’s first substitution saw Bolarinwa replace Berrett, while Adam McGurk came on in place of Conor Newton for Cambridge at the same time.
A free kick from Clements on the right was cleared, before Gunning had to concede a corner at the other end to stop Carroll from getting the ball on the edge of the box. The ball from the flag was headed away by Dyson.
Town were forced to do some defending as Cambridge put together a brief spell of pressure around the 77-minute mark but they coped well with it and the danger was dealt with.
Ikpeazu then had a half-chance for the visitors after cutting in from the left but his low shot went wide of the far post for a goal kick.
The Mariners were looking for a second goal which would seal the three points and they had a chance after a good run down the right by Bolarinwa. He got to the by-line, kept the ball in and crossed but after it was headed back across goal, nobody could get the vital touch.
Soon afterwards, Ikpeazu sent another effort off-target for the visitors as they kept looking for an equaliser.
But when the second goal came on 84 minutes, it was the home supporters who were celebrating. Jones found Osborne on the left and his low cross was swept into the net by CLEMENTS to make it 2-0 and seemingly put the result beyond doubt.
Disley replaced Jones for Town and Paul Lewis came on for O’Neil for Cambridge as both sides made a further change with three minutes to go.
And the away side ensured it would be a nervy finish to the game as they pulled a goal back with a minute to go. A cross from the left was missed by McKeown and HALLIDAY headed home from a narrow angle at the far post.
Five added minutes were signalled by the fourth official and Cambridge pushed for an unlikely equaliser but the Mariners held firm to collect maximum points.
Town are next in action on Easter Monday, when they travel to Cheltenham Town.