It was the game Lincoln City supporters had been waiting for since the fixtures were released in June. The Imps hadn’t won at Blundell Park in the Football League for 12 years.
The travelling 1,878 fans – a number boosted by the club’s success in the National League and FA Cup last season – wanted to come to Cleethorpes and gloat. They wanted to show the historically bigger side 38 miles up the A46 that their side had moved on from the dark and dismal days of relegation in 2011.
But it was never going to be that easy. Lincoln manager Danny Cowley had acknowledged that very sentiment in his pre-match press conference.
Grimsby Town’s Mitch Rose shields the ball from Lincoln City’s Josh Ginnelly
Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley applauds the fans at the final whistle
Grimsby (4-4-2): McKeown; Dixon, Clarke, Collins, Davies; Summerfield (Rose, 69), Berrett, Dembele (Jaiyesimi, 79), Woolford; Matt (Vernon, 61), Jones
Subs not used: Killip, K Osborne, Hooper, Cardwell
Lincoln (4-4-2): Vickers; Eardley, Habergham, Raggett, Dickie; Woodyard, Bostwick, Anderson (Maguire-Drew, 82), Arnold (Ginnelly, 61); Palmer (Rhead, 70), Green
Subs not used: Farman, Long, Whitehouse, Waterfall
Attendance: 7669 (away 1878)
He was confident, though. Buoyed by the 2-1 win over Barnet in midweek he made just one change. Former Mariner Nathan Arnold recovered from a foot injury in time to occupy the left wing spot ahead of Josh Ginnelly.
Grimsby boss Russell Slade made two changes to the side that drew 2-2 against Colchester. Jamille Matt, on loan from Blackpool, came in for Scott Vernon. Sam Jones, whose late penalty levelled the game, was preferred in place of JJ Hooper.
It was, as expected, a fast and frantic start.
Siriki Dembele, the young Grimsby winger, showed signs of the danger he would pose throughout the game, as he took advantage of a loose ball on the right and played in a cross that cannoned off Sean Raggett inside the Lincoln penalty area. The Grimsby fans in the Lower Smiths Stand shouted handball. Referee Carl Boyeson waved his arms. No penalty.
It was the sign for Lincoln’s fans to raise the noise level in the Osmond End. Grimsby’s fans reminded them of the darker days. ‘Where were you when you were s***?’ they sung. After all, before this one Lincoln’s travelling contingent in Cleethorpes had struggled to get above 900.
Ten minutes played and the Imps fans were watching on nervously as Grimsby came forward through the centre. Some tidy touches by James Berrett in central midfield opened space up for Dembele to again demonstrate his skill on the ball as he turned Raggett before trying to thread a pass out wide for right back Ben Davies. Davies received the ball but couldn’t dispatch the delivery he wanted.
Referee Boyeson spoke to Lincoln boss Cowley and his brother and assistant Nicky for stepping out of his technical area one too many times as they tried to spark a reaction from their players. ‘You’re not at the Emirates now, Cowley,’ came one shout from the Main Stand. A dig at Lincoln’s FA Cup run last season in which they became the first non-League side to reach the quarter-finals for 103 years before losing 5-0 at Arsenal.
Grimsby Town fans cheer on their team during the Sky Bet League Two match at Blundell Park
It took just over 20 minutes for Lincoln to register their first effort on goal. Left back Sam Habergham delivered a corner from the right but Ollie Palmer’s shot was tame and went wide of James McKeown’s goal.
Cowley, convinced it had deflected off a Grimsby player for a corner, sprung out of his technical area again and threw his arms up in front of fourth official Alix Pashley.
Despite the poor effort by Palmer it was a sign for Lincoln’s players to start attacking from the wings.
Harry Anderson, who joined from Peterborough, raced down the right and played a pass along the six-yard box but neither Palmer or the advancing Arnold at the far post could convert.
But with the Imps choosing to push their wingers up the pitch it gave Dembele the chance to move wide before moving inside. His pace caught out central midfielder Michael Bostwick who was booked for a foul on the 20-year-old.
Arnold, who scored the third goal in Grimsby’s 3-1 play-off final win at Wembley against Forest Green in 2016, had a chance to send his former side a goal down shortly afterwards but his 25-yard drive went narrowly wide.
Robert Dickie of Lincoln City attempts to break the deadlock with a header on goal
The Cowley brothers again turned on the officials after two penalty appeals were turned down. First Anderson went down before Palmer also fell to the ground. A free-kick, rightly, was awarded to Grimsby for a foul by Palmer on Danny Collins.
Boyeson blew for half-time a short time later and looked pleased not to be flanked by Lincoln’s management duo.
But it wasn’t just the two brothers from Essex who showed they can get a bit animated when things don’t go their way.
Slade – a football manager of 23 years – almost took his trademark cap off in anger when Matt appeared to be shoved inside the Lincoln penalty area by Raggett. How those two enjoyed a good old fashioned battle between centre forward and central defender.
Slade’s blood pressure had only started to go down when striker Sam Jones was tackled fairly by Habergham again in the box. The atmosphere was building once more.
Cowley of Lincoln City and assistant Nicky Cowley react after a missed chance late in the game
- League Two
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Berrett nearly put Town ahead when he managed to get a shot on goal. Goalkeeper Josh Vickers pushed it around the post for a corner.
Nothing came of Martyn Woolford’s delivery but the Mariners, playing in front of the Pontoon Stand, were growing in confidence.
Jones, on four goals for the season, was ready to celebrate a fifth moments later only for his effort to trickle past Vickers.
Cowley, noticing his side were getting pressed, opted for a more direct approach with just over 20 minutes to play. Matt Rhead, known for his large frame and ability to frustrate opposition defenders, as well as supporters, replaced Palmer.
‘You fat b******,’ was the response from the Town fans.
Lincoln’s best chance arrived when Bostwick hit cleanly on the volley but goalkeeper McKeown made a comfortable save.
The off-the-pitch spat involving both sets of management and fourth official Pashley continued right until the death. A few choice words were exchanged between Grimsby assistant Paul Wilkinson and Imps assistant Nicky Cowley when substitute Ginnelly clipped Diallang Jaiyesimi.
‘Mariners, Mariners, Mariners,’ came the cry from the Grimsby fans in the Pontoon when Town were awarded a free-kick just outside the Lincoln area with four minutes left. Woolford stood it up but Raggett headed clear.
Russell Slade shouts instructions to his team from the technical area during the League Two tie
Grimsby captain Nathan Clarke was booked when he hauled down striker Matt Green as he tried to break forward from his own half.
Jordan Maguire-Drew had the chance to make himself an Imps hero as the seconds ticked down and but his left-footed strike was tame.
At full-time the Cowley brothers and Slade shook hands. Cowley also applauded the home fans as he made his way down the tunnel. An acknowledgement of the part the 7,669 supporters had played. A fair result but not according to the Lincoln manager.
‘We’re disappointed overall,’ he said. ‘The biggest mistake is to play like you don’t want to make a mistake and unfortunately I think we did that in the first half.
‘After that we should have won the game. We had the lion’s share of possession, territory and good chances – but we don’t want to be nearly men. Some of those chances had to be taken towards the end and they weren’t.’
For Slade it was a second clean sheet of the season but he felt his side’s attacking threat should have been more potent.
He added: ‘I just wanted a little bit more from us going forward. There was no lack of effort but our final balls in that last third were disappointing. That is the difference between drawing a tight game and winning a tight game.
‘It was a typical derby clash and the atmosphere was great to be a part of – it’s just a shame we couldn’t get a winning goal.’
Grimsby Town fans chant in the direction of the Lincoln City fans at the end of the game