Grimsby Town 0, Fleetwood Town 2
A TOP-CLASS display by Fleetwood on the opening weekend of the Conference campaign was justly rewarded with a third straight win over Grimsby in non-league’s elite division.
Town dominated the first half but had to wait almost an hour for Andy Mangan to break the deadlock, then his replacement George Donnelly wrapped up the points in added time.
Manager Micky Mellon handed full debuts to half of his 12 summer signings and they did not let him down.
The backbone of the side which finished fifth in their first season at this level – Scott Davies, Steve McNulty, Jamie McGuire, Magno Vieira – was retained, while another mainstay of last season, Anthony Barry, operated at right-back in the absence of the injured Shaun Beeley.
The starting XI included three players (Scott Brown, Matt Flynn, Alan Goodall) drafted in late in the summer in response to the injury curse which struck Town’s wide players, though left-back Paul Edwards was a surprise starter after missing most of the friendlies.
Vieira was presented with Fleetwood’s first scoring opportunity on six minutes, when last season’s top scorer forced his way into the box but scuffed his shot. Barry then had a similar chance and forced James McKeown into a fine save.
A long clearance by Davies then left the home defence in turmoil. A defender miscued his clearance and then McKeown mistimed his punch under pressure from Mangan, conceding a corner from which Vieira headed off-target.
Town dominated the first half as the centre-half pairing of skipper McNulty and Rob Atkinson, returning to the club he left in the summer, denied their hosts any shots on target.
Davies, starting his first game as Town’s official No.1, had little to do before the break, other than claiming a free-kick taken by Serge Makofo.
At the other end, a Barry free-kick was saved by McKeown, who was also tested by Edwards and McNulty before the interval.
The hosts were forced to make the first change two minutes before the break, when Gary Silk came off worse in a crunching clash with Edwards.
The Mariners went on the offensive after the restart but Michael Coulson could only shoot into the side-netting. Mellon changed his strikeforce on 54 minutes, when summer loan recruit Richard Brodie replaced Vieira, and Town made the breakthrough two minutes later.
Fellow striker Mangan beat Scott Garner and drove a left-foot shot to the bottom right corner.
The home side tried to respond immediately but Anthony Elding’s long-range shot sailed over the bar.
Grimsby’s best chance of the game arrived on 68 minutes, when Coulson’s cross from the right was met at the far post by Makofo, whose curling shot was kept out of the top corner by a tremendous Davies save.
The hosts were awarded a free-kick when McNulty crashed into Liam Hearn and a melee followed, with a player from each side booked (Atkinson and Damian Spencer).
Goalscorer Mangan made way for Donnelly with ten minutes remaining and the substitute immediately curled an effort just wide.
The closing stages were played out in a fiery atmosphere as Grimsby pressed desperately for an equaliser. Spencer appealed for a penalty, then Artus and Hearn had shots blocked.
Garner’s spectacular overhead effort from a free-kick finished on the roof of the net and Hearn had a goal disallowed for a foul by Spencer.
Town wrapped up the points deep into added time, when Brodie fired the ball across McKeown and Donnelly was in the right place to hammer home.
It was difficult to single out a man of the match in this outstanding Fleetwood performance, which should have the Cod Army in good voice for tomorrow’s opening home game against Darlington, who also made a winning start.
Grimsby: McKeown, Silk (Wood 43), I’Anson, Garner, Ridley, Disley, Thanoj (Artus 70), Makofo, Elding (Spencer 70), Coulson, Hearn; not used: Pearson, Eagle.
Fleetwood: Davies, Barry, Flynn, McNulty, Edwards (Seddon 68), Atkinson, Goodall, S Brown, McGuire, Mangan (Donnelly 80), Vieira (Brodie 54); not used: St Louis-Hamilton, Cox.
Ref: T Harrington (Cleveland), Att: 4,061