GRIMSBY TOWN 0 BRADFORD CITY 2
THERE were again encouraging signs for Grimsby Town supporters despite a 2-0 loss to Bradford City last night at Blundell Park.
The Mariners matched their League One opponents for long periods in an entertaining friendly encounter, before being undone by second-half goals from James Hanson and Mark Yeates.
A familiar face in the Bantams’ ranks was that of former Mariners’ Player of the Year Alan Connell, who started up front alongside Hanson.
Managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst opted for a five-man midfield, deploying full-back Sam Hatton in the holding role alongside Andi Thanoj and Paddy McLaughlin.
Wingers Alex Rodman and Scott Neilson completed the quintet with last season’s top marksman Andy Cook the lone striker.
New signing Paul Bignot made his home bow at right back with Shaun Pearson, Chris Doig and Aswad Thomas also playing in front of goalkeeper James McKeown.
Town started brightly on a muggy night in Cleethorpes with Pearson glancing a header just wide from McLaughlin’s early free kick.
The visitors responded well with Hanson rising to power a header past the post from Kyel Reid’s centre.
Yeates then picked up a loose ball on the edge of the ‘D’ but his curling effort drifted just wide of the target.
Reid was an excellent supply line down the left and his next cross was met on the run by Nathan Doyle but the City midfielder’s half volley was always rising.
Then came the Mariners’ best chance of the half. Neilson, playing against his former club, wriggled free of two challenges before setting Cook free in the box.
The big striker turned inside one challenge but couldn’t force the ball beyond Jon McLaughlin, who stood big in the Bantams’ goal.
Cook had another effort on target shortly after when he met McLaughlin’s corner but his effort lacked power and was easy for the City ‘keeper.
Hatton then smashed a 25-yard free kick well over the crossbar before the Bantams took control of possession with some neat football.
But for all their territorial advantage, City rarely threatened McKeown in the home goal and they only had Hanson’s header over to show for their efforts as the teams went into the break level.
The Mariners made one change at the break with Craig Disley replacing Thomas. That prompted a reshuffle in the Town ranks with Hatton slotting in at left back as Disley took up his customary role in the centre of the park.
Town’s best move of the game came on 56 minutes. It was started by Rodman, who dragged defenders across the face of goal with a mazy run.
He laid the ball off for Disley, who picked out the run of Neilson. He in turn fed Thanoj, who spread the ball out to Bignot, busting a gut to get into the space that Rodman had vacated.
And the former Blackpool man got his shot away but saw the ball deflected for a corner.
But just as the Mariners looked to be getting on top of the game, they were struck by the sucker punch of a Bantams’ goal on the hour.
Garry Thompson broke down the right and got to the byline. His cross took a nick on its way across goal and fell invitingly for Hanson who was left with the simple task of tapping into the empty net from five yards.
And there was a chance for a second just moments later when Nakhi Wells burst through a gaping hole in the Town defence but McKeown was alert to the danger.
The Mariners’ best hopes of getting level seemed to be coming from set pieces and Pearson came close with another header, this time from a corner.
Scott and Hurst, who had earlier brought Scott Kerr into the mix, added more firepower in the shape of Lenell John-Lewis, Ross Hannah and Dayle Southwell for Cook, Neilson and Rodman and they enjoyed one of their best spells of the game shortly after.
A cross looped up perfectly for John-Lewis but his acrobatic effort was blocked, as was Hannah’s follow-up.
From the resulting corner, McLaughlin frantically clawed the ball away from Pearson’s head before the Mariners’ defender headed the next centre over, with Bignot well-placed behind him.
There were further run-outs for youth teamers Paul Walker and Tom Charlesworth, as they replaced Doig and Thanoj late-on but shortly after the visitors sealed their victory with a second goal.
Substitute Louie Swain was felled and Yeates stepped up to curl his 25-yard free kick over the wall and into the bottom corner of McKeown’s goal.
There was one last chance for the Mariners to get on the scoresheet as Kerr threaded a ball through for Hannah who opened up his body to create the angle for the shot but saw McLaughlin rush out to block the effort.
Mariners: McKeown; Bignot, Thomas (Disley 46), Pearson, Doig (Walker 82); Hatton, McLaughlin (Kerr 61), Thanoj (Charlesworth 82), Rodman (Southwell 70), Neilson (Hannah 70); Cook (John-Lewis 70).