Town won, and that’s all we could’ve hoped for. Well, we could’ve hoped for more – like Barnet and Bristol Rovers dropping points (and I would’ve hoped to avoid a sunburnt forehead, but I didn’t know that was going to be a possibility). Anyway, you get my point – we did all that we could do.
We were crammed together quite tightly on the away terrace, behind a goal that was very much in touching distance for the youths at the front. We baked together in the sun as Town (eventually) dismantled an Alfreton side that couldn’t cope with Jack Mackreth’s peskiness down the right.
Before the game, as I meandered through the streets of Alfreton looking for some food, I passed an elderly gentlemen with no teeth who stopped a stranger outside B&M to remark that these ‘bloody Grimsby fans’ were ‘everywhere!’ I’m not sure if he was astonished or just annoyed.
Before I went through the turnstiles I decided to check out the view that non-paying Town fans would get. It wasn’t half bad.
What I thought to be a rather static pre-match conga turned out to be the queue for refreshments. It took me 40 minutes to buy a bottle of water from a woman who appeared to be dealing with the entire away contingent single-handedly.
Anyway, onto the game. Paul Hurst made five changes, bringing in Parslow for Magnay, Gowling for Nsiala, Jolley for Arnold, Clay for Brown and Pittman for Palmer. We’d been waiting a long time for the match to start, and when it did I realised how little I could see from my position behind the goal. The steps at Alfreton are shallow, so if someone who’s 6’4’’ stands right in front of you, you’re going to struggle to see anything.
Luckily the man – who I found to be dancing behind me in the second half, topless – moved, which allowed me to see a bit more. But not much. The pitch at the Impact Arena (the term ‘arena’ being either ambitious or ironic) slopes down towards the home end, and since my view was relatively low, I found myself urging the Town players to shoot from what was probably 35 yards out.
Clay had a volley smothered and John-Lewis went close a couple of times. Jolley romped down the left and was well supported by Robertson, while Clay was ticking things over in the middle. Disley sent a header wide.
McKeown star-fished to deflect a close-range effort wide before holding a free kick under the bar. Alfreton tried, bless ‘em, but Town’s superiority had been telling for a little while – and it really told in the second half.
No changes to personnel or formation. The pace became stunted a little, but as the game wore on, Mackreth wore down the Alfreton left back. Town set up camp about 30 yards out, shifting play across from left to right, before being let down by Mackreth’s delivery.
Palmer replaced Pittman, but nothing much changed. The Mariners kept on plugging, kept on knocking, searching for the breakthrough they desperately needed – and deserved.
Finally the deadlock was broken when another poor corner was cleared straight back to Mackreth. Just as he did against Gateshead, he cut in on his left and got a scuffed shot away that was doing nothing much until Gowling deliberately flicked it inside the post in a way that looked totally accidental.
It was the moment that the 2,500-strong Town following had been waiting for. Unprotected heads and necks had been burnt, but no one cared. Tops were off, scarves were swinging, flags were flapping – and when John-Lewis made it 2-0 from an excellent Clay cross with just a few minutes remaining, shoes were off – and some were dancing on an old tin roof.
Make no mistake – this was a comprehensive performance, no matter what anyone else says. Maybe the scoreline doesn’t do Town’s dominance justice; they played well, they played football and they got the all important victory.
Hurst deserves praise for his team selection – and for building a squad that offered enough quality to rotate for two games in three days.
And to the players: Pittman disappointed most, while Clay showed some classy touches and intelligent passing when things got scrappy in the first half. Robertson was sound in defence and good on the overlap – something Parslow didn’t offer down the right, but he did make an excellent headed clearance off the line when the score was 1-0, so he deserves huge credit for that.
Gowling looked like he had been playing alongside Pearson all season, and looks a sound investment given the precarious situation with Toto’s yellow card count. Mackreth was brilliant and infuriating in the same breath, while Jolley showed glimpses of his capabilities and John-Lewis was rewarded for another battling performance with his late goal.
The Mariners have taken 26 points from a possible 30, which is an incredible run that means the Conference title could still go one of three ways going into the final three games. I’m struggling to remember a more fruitful run of form.
But it looks increasingly likely that promotion will have to be done the hard way. What’s not in doubt, however, is Town’s quality and attitude – and with the fans’ excellent backing, nothing is beyond us just yet.