The Hatters returned to action at Edgeley Park, and, in a veritable rollercoaster of a contest, recorded a first Football League triumph over Grimsby for nearly 17 years that kept them two points clear at the top of the table.
Victory for County by the odd goal in five, and a ninth successive win in all competitions, was eventually secured 16 minutes from time through Louie Barry’s second of the game – albeit after a spirited comeback by the ‘Mariners’.
Much earlier in the afternoon, goals for Barry, from the penalty spot, and Tanto Olaofe within a minute of each other during the opening stages had got the Hatters off to a flyer. But in a contest that saw two additional penalties awarded, the Hatters missed one and the visitors, having already pulled a goal back on the stroke of half-time, converted theirs to set up a more nervy encounter before Barry struck the decisive blow.
The heavy rain and wind gusts wrought by Storm Babet had mercifully given way to lighter sky and clouds, as the Hatters took to the field in the dry and with the same starting line-up as they had put out for their last four League Two fixtures. There was one change on the bench – with Kyle Knoyle returning from injury after a seven-week absence to replace Callum Camps.
The Mariners, who had been the last team to beat County by more than one goal when claiming the points at EP a year and one week previously, launched the contest’s first attack after a couple of minutes – with Harry Clifton cutting in from the left, before unleashing a delivery across the six-yard box that was cleared by Akil Wright.
But the visitors were also without a win away from home during the current campaign – and within five minutes of creating that opportunity, they found themselves two goals down.
County’s first corner, taken low from the left by Antoni Sarcevic, led to a penalty, as Will Collar was pushed to the ground in front of the near post by Niall Maher. Barry stepped up to convert the spot-kick for his eighth goal of the season – and, in doing so, drew level with Oalofe as the Hatters’s leading league scorer… albeit very very temporarily!
For, just one minute later, Oalofe was up to nine in L2, and County had a second, after the striker latched on to a long ball, shrugged off a challenge by Harvey Rodgers and slotted home past visiting goalkeeper Jake Eastwood.
Just after the half’s mid-point, Donovan Wilson broke through on goal for the Mariners – only to be blocked by a combined defensive effort from Fraser Horsfall and Ben Hinchliffe. And, at the other end, two scintillating Barry runs in quick succession led to Oalofe and Sarcevic shots that were blocked by Clifton and Maher, respectively.
Seven minutes ahead of the break, Oalofe picked up a long Hinchliffe clearance and surged into the visitors’ area, before being tripped in his tracks by Eastwood. Referee Simpson pointed to the spot without hesitation for a second time, and Olaofe, on this occasion, dusted himself down to take the kick from 12 yards – but drilled it narrowly wide of the left upright.
Just as five minutes of added time were announced, Grimsby halved the arrears – with Wilson seizing on a loose ball in the County box to blast home past Hinchliffe.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Barry 6 (penalty); Oalofe, 7), Grimsby 1 (Wilson, 45).
Having hauled themselves back into the game at the end of the first half, the Mariners initiated an early chance in the second, as Gavan Holohan fed Danny Amos, whose shot from the left was blocked by Hinchliffe in front of the near post.
A looping delivery from the right at the other end saw Macauley Southam-Hales graze the top of the Grimsby crossbar – but within half a dozen minutes of the resumption, the visitors had drawn level. Hinchliffe brought down Clifton, a third penalty of the afternoon was given, and Holohan sent County’s Number One the wrong way to level matters.
The Hatters, just before the hour, introduced Myles Hippolyte for his first outing of the campaign – but continued to toil rather until a quarter of an hour later, when a Southam-Hales free-kick into the box was headed across goal by Collar for Barry to bundle home from close range and put County back in front.
Substitute Kyle Wootton, after being fed by Wright, tested Eastwood with a low shot that the Grimsby ‘keeper dived to smother. And, in the course of a whopping nine minutes added on at the end, the Hatters’ defence stood firm at the home end to secure the three points – something which they had not done against their visitors in the FL since the penultimate day of 2006.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Barry 6 (penalty) and 74; Olaofe, 7), Grimsby 2 (Wilson, 45; Holohan 52 (penalty)).
Team (4-1-2-1-2): Hinchliffe; Southam-Hales, Wright, Horsfall, Pye; Croasdale (Capt.); Collar, Bailey (Hippolyte, 58); Sarcevic; Olaofe, Barry (Wootton, 78).
Unused Subs: Smith, Knoyle, Madden, Pond, Richardson.
Booked: Hinchliffe, Hippolyte.
Man of the Match: Sarcevic.
Attendance: 9,498 (902 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.