*So close .. a smart save by the Grimsby keeper denies Ryan Colclough just before half-time. Picture by Jonathan Moore.
Mark Simpson reports on Grimsby Town 2 Altrincham 0
Both teams came into this game feeling that recent results had not matched performances, both having slipped some way from the top six positions they had occupied before their first meeting, an entertaining 3-2 win for then-leaders Grimsby in early-October.
The fog that had accompanied us across the Pennines had lifted by the time we arrived at Blundell Park, but it remained bitterly cold.
The Altrincham team showed one change from Tuesday night’s defeat by Stockport County (Jordan Hulme for Kennedy Digie), with new loan signing Kevin Berkoe on the bench, whilst Grimsby also made changes from their narrow defeat by leaders FC Halifax Town on the same night, with Hull City loanee Andy Smith and Danny Amos debuting at full-back. A third new signing, Sam Burgess, was on the bench.
The pitch looked in reasonable condition, with just the odd bare patch or two, which was to be expected at this stage of the season. As befits a team who were in the Football League as recently as last season, there was a healthy home attendance of 4,573, with 132 Altrincham fans making the long trip to the east coast.
Altrincham won an early corner after good work by Jamie Morgan and Ryan Colclough, but it was cleared by the Grimsby defence.
Grimsby’s immediate counter saw Erico Sousa dispossessed by Tom Hannigan. A Ryan Taylor error almost put Jordan Hulme in, but Luke Waterfall covered well.
Josh Hancock then nearly capitalised on a slip by Shaun Pearson, but Waterfall saved his team again with a timely challenge. Ben Fox’s long-range effort for Grimsby was then blocked by Hannigan after eight minutes.
Jake Moult went down with a knock but recovered without treatment. Morgan then got a shot away after hesitant Grimsby defending, but was well wide of the far post.
Grimsby then went close as John McAtee’s cross was met by Taylor, but his effort deflected wide for a corner off Toby Mullarkey after 17 minutes. McAtee was drifting into space well in the number 10 role.
Alty keeper Tony Thompson and skipper Moult then collided defending a corner, and Altrincham were fortunate to be given the ball after the incident. Sousa then bent in a lovely cross which Fox headed over after 21 minutes.
Sousa then won a free-kick for obstruction against Morgan on the left by-line, which led to another corner as Grimsby were clearly on top at this stage, but the corner came to nothing.
Sousa and Fox then put Taylor in on goal, but Thompson saved well at his feet. Altrincham were finding it really hard to get and keep possession as the half-hour mark approached.
After 32 minutes, Sousa bent a shot wide of goal, but he was proving a real threat down the left-hand side for the Mariners. Moult then fouled McAtee to give Grimsby an attacking free-kick, which again Altrincham defended well, but the Robins were creating nothing of significance.
McAtee then broke dangerously down the left but was flagged offside after 36 minutes. At this point, Altrincham were probably praying for half-time as Grimsby continued to dominate, with Alty’s usual passing game not in evidence as Giles Coke and Fox dominated central midfield.
A good Altrincham move then almost put Hancock in, after which Colclough’s run led to a shot saved by Max Crocombe. Jordan Maguire-Drew then won a corner off Andy White in first-half added time, which Waterfall headed straight at Thompson who tipped over, leading to another corner that caused some mayhem in the penalty area without leading to a clear-cut chance, as the half-time whistle blew, probably much to the visitors’ relief.
Neither side made a change at half-time. Normal service was resumed as Grimsby won an early corner, which was half-cleared to the edge of the box, where McAtee buried a fantastic right-foot volley past Thompson to give Grimsby a well-deserved lead after 47 minutes.
Two minutes later, Maguire-Drew mis-kicked a presentable chance from a Sousa cross. At the other end, after good hold-up play by Hulme, Dan Mooney bent a left-foot shot over the bar.
Back in the Robins’ penalty area, McAtee hurt himself treading on the ball but recovered quickly. Coke then broke forward, but the referee denied him a free-kick as he hit the floor.
Next, Moult was penalised for an aerial challenge on Fox, but the free-kick came to nothing.
Play had become a little more even and end-to-end, which was encouraging, but McAtee then did brilliantly to create himself a chance on the hour-mark but shot wide.
A couple of minutes later, McAtee was involved again, with a shot well turned over by Thompson, who also caught the corner.
After 63 minutes, Altrincham threw on A-Jay Leitch-Smith for Hulme, who had cut an isolated figure up front for the Robins. Grimsby then won themselves another corner down the right, which resulted in a close-range header which Morgan headed off the line.
Grimsby then brought on Max Wright for Sousa, who had been brilliant on the Grimsby left (67 minutes). McAtee then tried another volley which was off target, and still Altrincham were creating precious little.
Wright broke down the left, but Maguire-Drew could not quite meet the cross, after which Ben Pringle replaced Mooney (71 minutes), and almost immediately had a shot blocked.
For all their dominance, you began to wonder if Grimsby would regret not taking more advantage of their clear superiority, particularly as Altrincham almost played themselves into trouble twice without sustaining further damage to the scoreline.
Grimsby then won yet another corner (78 minutes) which Waterfall headed over under pressure, after which Kevin Berkoe made his debut in place of White.
With 10 minutes to go, the game was getting messy, which was an improvement on Grimsby domination, but was not likely to lead to an undeserved equaliser.
And, indeed, Grimsby earned the margin their performance deserved, when Maguire-Drew bent a left-foot shot into the top corner for another superb Mariners goal (84 minutes), which it was hard to begrudge them given their dominant performance.
The superb McAtee was then replaced by Scott Burgess, another debutant.
Colclough had a shot blocked as the Robins sought consolation, after which Evan Khouri replaced Maguire-Drew (88 minutes). Four minutes’ added time remained for an unlikely comeback, as Colclough had another shot blocked, but there was no real prospect of that happening, as Coke had a shot blocked, and the game petered out for a comfortable and well-deserved Grimsby win, the margin being the least that Grimsby deserved.
Grimsby: Crocombe, Pearson, Smith, Waterfall, Amos, Maguire-Drew, Coke, Fox, Sousa, McAtee, Taylor. Substitutes: Longe-King, Wright, Grant, Khouri, Burgess.
Altrincham: Thompson, Morgan, Hannigan, Mullarkey, White, Moult, Osborne, Mooney, Hancock, Colclough, Hulme. Substitutes: Berkoe, Pringle, Leitch-Smith, Furman, Digie