On a nervy afternoon and in front of over 7000 home fans, Grimsby Town managed a well-fought 2-0 victory against relegation rivals Barnet.
A Rob Atkinson left foot volley and an injury time goal from Mark Hudson ensured that the gap is now only one point going into the final game of the season.
Barnet entered the game under new management. Former Bees manager Paul Fairclough was brought in at the expense of Ian Hendon, who was sacked after their mid-week loss at Accrington Stanley.
Barnet’s squad looked capable of getting the draw that they needed to secure League Two football for their club for another season.
John O’Flynn, who has scored 16 goals for Barnet this season, started up front with 41-year-old Paul Furlong, and Albert Adomah looked to give Grimsby problems on the right wing.
Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro was an injury doubt for the Mariners before the game but was passed fit and started up front with Tommy Wright. There were two changes for Town from the team that beat Darlington last week. Wright started in place of the ill skipper Lee Peacock who hadn’t trained all week but still made the bench. The other change was Dean Sinclair coming back into central midfield after injury in place of injured Peter Sweeney.
The teams went in goalless at half time, but not without their chances. The Mariners biggest chance came when Akpa Akpro put Mark Hudson through on goal, only for his touch to let him down. His shot came off the goalkeeper and into the path of Michael Coulson who fired wide and hit the side netting.
Barnet’s only notable chance came on 37 minutes when Micah Hyde shot from outside the box, but it was comfortably saved by Nick Colgan.
Barnet came out for the second half looking the most likely to score. Adomah tried a curling shot that went over Colgan’s bar. O’Flynn then had a chance to put the Bees in front but headed over from an Adomah cross.
Neil woods made the first substitution of the day, replacing Tommy Wright with Lee Peacock. This seemed to lift the Mariners, who enjoyed the next 5 minutes of possession but without any clear chances.
The away fans screamed for a penalty after Paul Furlong had gone down in the box but referee Nigel Miller waved play on.
Sensing a turning point, Town made another change. Michael Leary replaced Sinclair for Grimsby just before Akpa Akpro won a corner as the hour mark approached.
From the corner kick, the Mariners took a precious lead. Devitt’s kick was half-cleared but the ball was sent back into the penalty area and Rob Atkinson controlled it on his chest before turning and hooking it over Cole and into the net.
The players, fans and staff burst into celebration. A relief that the scoring had finally been opened.
Grimsby were galvanised by the goal as they poured forward in search of a second goal. Peacock thought he should have had a penalty when he went down under a Barnet challenge but Mr. Miller disagreed, booking the Town skipper for diving.
Barnet’s next chance came when O’Flynn made progress inside the Town half before shooting straight at Colgan from 20 yards.
Adrian Forbes was sent on in place of Coulson for the hosts and the former Millwall man made an immediate impact, forcing Cole into a save from an 18-yard shot and winning a corner.
Leary was booked for a foul on Furlong inside the Town half but the resulting free kick did not bring any danger.
Then, Colgan had to make another save when Mark Hughes headed Devera’s cross towards goal. The Town stopper dived to his right to claim the ball well.
Akpa Akpro forced Cole to push away a stinging shot on 69 minutes after O’Flynn had sent a header wide at the other end. Then, there was a chance for Town to seal the victory when Akpa Akpro turned and shot from the edge of the area. Cole was beaten but the shot came back off the post, with Peacock unable to beat the keeper from the rebound.
Barnet kept coming forward and all it would have taken was one goal to break Grimsby’s hearts.
All eyes were on the fourth official to see how long the game would be extended by and there were groans from the anxious home fans as five extra minutes were signaled. Grimsby’s whole season and 100 years of Football league history were now reduced to five nervous, tense minutes as Barnet refused to lie down.
By this point fans were already lined up on the side of the pitch waiting for the full time whistle. Others were in the stands biting what was left of their nails. Somehow, the ball broke through to Hudson, who once again found himself through on goal with only the ‘keeper to beat. He kept his composure and slotted the ball to the ‘keepers right, sparking a mini pitch invasion from the elated Grimsby fans. The pitch was quickly cleared and play was allowed to continue. Moments later the final whistle was blown, prompting another pitch invasion.
A huge three points for the Mariner’s to keep their side in the survival race and taking it to the final game of the season.