The Imps maintained their place at the top of SkyBet League Two after taking all three points in a typically pulsating and incident packed Lincolnshire Derby at Sincil Bank.
Although there was only one goal in the game it didn’t tell the whole story of a game which was played out in front of over 9,000 supporters in the stadium. Harry Toffolo’s stunning first half strike earned the points for the home side, stretching their lead at the top of the table to five points from second placed Bury.
City started the game with a new face in the starting eleven, Cian Bolger making his debut after his midweek switch from Fleetwood Town in place of the suspended Jason Shackell in the heart of the Imps’ defence. Grant Smith and Tom Pett were two other changes to the side which started last weekend’s draw away at Swindon Town. This week’s other new acquisitions, Danny Rowe and James Brown were on the bench for City.
As expected the game got underway to quite the atmosphere with a packed out Sincil Bank at full volume and City were the side making the most of things. Harry Anderson was causing problems down the right just being thwarted at the last on two occasions in the opening few minutes. The action was being played out at breakneck speed and with typical derby urgency, both sides looking to eek any small advantage in every area of the pitch.
After a Grimsby Town corner on the right, Sebastian Ring curled a shot over the top for the visitors, before Imps’ skipper, Lee Frecklington connected sweetly with the ball but he too saw his shot creep the wrong side of the crossbar.
The Imps were putting on the pressure and had a sustained period of possession, pinning the visitors into their own half and they were to open the scoring with a fantastic strike after just 12 minutes. Michael O’Connor and Anderson, linked to win a corner in front of the visiting supporters, O’ Connor drifted the ball in, it was half cleared to the edge of the area and HARRY TOFFOLO was there, thundering the ball home at the near post past a helpless James McKeown sending the home fans into raptures.
City’s dominance of possession continued, Grimsby were holding station but struggling to win the ball back so forcing them onto the backfoot. John Akinde won a footrace with Alex Whitmore for the ball out on the left, he played the ball inside and play quickly switched to the right, Frecklington made a late surging run into the box and turned the ball towards goal but the visitors just did enough to divert it from danger.
Grimsby carved a rare opportunity on the break, Ring playing the ball into the City box from the left to Elliot Embleton, the Sunderland loanee taking a touch before slicing his effort wide with Bolger and Bostwick in close attendance.
Within moments of that half chance for the visitors, Akinde then was given a chance to fire on goal after Toffolo’s forward run and neat backheel found the striker but he snatched at the ball giving McKeown the chance to save. The intensity of the game wasn’t to break, it was as combative as ever, but the visitors started to slowly make their way forward and Ludvig Öhman was to connect with a left wing corner only to see it blocked then cleared from under the nose of Wes Thomas. Grimsby clearly took heart from the opportunity missed and won a third corner in relatively quick time and Öhman was the man threatening the Imps’ goal, this time Smith was there on the line to save the header at the back post from the Mariner’s number five.
The game settled down somewhat in terms of chances were concerned as half time approached, but the tenacity in the tackle was still clearly in evidence. Grimsby pressed for the leveller as the first half went into stoppage time, Embleton the one looking to orchestrate things for the Mariners but his dangerous curling centre was met by a confident claim from Smith, coming off his line despite two visiting players very close to the City ‘keeper.
The Imps 1 Grimsby Town 0
The second half began with the same intensity from which the first ended, Grimsby winning an early corner that didn’t threaten the City goal whilst Michael Bostwick went close to extending The Imps’ lead, rising majestically to meet an O’Connor free kick but the ball flashed just over the top of McKeown’s crossbar. It was a gripping encounter as both sets of supporters were constantly backing their sides with the game now flowing almost from one end of the field to the other, with the sound almost following the flight of the ball.
City thought they’d grabbed a second following a tremendous run and cross from Toffolo down the left which was knocked down to McCartan who sidefooted home, but the joy was shortlived as there had been an infringement in the box spotted by the officials. Then Akinde was denied by McKeown after the striker used his strength and determination to brush off Alex Whitmore, but the Mariner’s ‘keeper showed all his experience to race off his line and time his intervention to perfection.
Danny Rowe came on with just under half an hour to go to a tremendous reception, making his second January debut for the Imps as the home side went in search of a second goal, as City were having more of the ball, pressing higher up the pitch and forcing the Mariners to play the ball backwards.
With just the one goal between the sides, Grimsby were always hopeful of the equaliser despite the lack of opportunities for them to level proceedings but they struggled to break through the Imps’ defence. The Imps meanwhile were close to netting a second following a clever free kick routine between Neal Eaardley and Rowe, but the substitute’s low centre was just cut out by Davis as it skidded across the edge of the six-yard box.
The visiting side’s cause was harmed when McKeown was shown a straight red card. The visiting 'keeper raced off his line to try to beat Rowe to the ball which was lofted into opposition territory, the Mariner's stopper brought down the City man who would have been through on goal. With Grimsby now down to ten men the home fans were now hopeful of a second goal to celebrate and as a result the atmosphere again lifted going into the final 15 minutes of the game.
The Imps were tormenting the visiting defence and the chance for the elusive second goal came when Akinde was hauled down right on the edge of the Grimsby area, Eardley tried to curl a free kick home, his first effort hit the wall before rebounding back to the full back, he hit the second attempt on the half volley which just flew over the top.
The Imps played out the final minutes of the game in opposition territory before the final whistle was met by rapturous applause as City leave with three points and the bragging rights.
The Imps 1 Grimsby Town
21 Grant SMITH
4 Michael O’CONNOR
7 Tom PETT
8 Lee FRECKLINGTON
14 Harry TOFFOLO
16 Michael BOSTWICK
17 Shay McCARTAN
23 Neal EARDLEY
24 Cian BOLGER
26 Harry ANDERSON
29 John AKINDE
1 Josh VICKERS
6 Scott WHARTON (90’ for Pett)
9 Matt RHEAD (90’ for Akinde)
12 Ellis CHAPMAN
15 James WILSON
19 Danny ROWE (61’ for McCartan)
20 James BROWN
Booked: O’Connor 4’ Toffolo 42’ Akinde 45’
Goal: Toffolo 12’
1 James McKEOWN
3 Sebastian RING
5 Ludvig ÖHMAN
7 Jake HESSENTHALER
8 Mitch ROSE
17 Harry CARDWELL
22 Elliot EMBLETON
24 Harry DAVIS
25 Alex WHITMORE
27 Luke HENDRIE
39 Wes THOMAS
23 Sam RUSSELL (79’ for Whitmore)
2 Reece HALL-JOHNSON
4 John WELSH
16 Martyn WOOLFORD
18 Charles VERNAM (74’ for Cardwell)
21 Akeem ROSE (75’ for Öhman)
30 Ben PRINGLE
Booked: Thomas 13’ Hessenthaler 39’ Whitmore 50’ Davis 71’ Öhman 84’
Red Card: McKeown 76’
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: Darren Cann &Daniel Robathan
4th Official: Scott Oldham
Attendance: 9.650 (1,552 Grimsby Supporters)