PREVIEW: Grimsby Town v Luton Town
Grimsby Town find themselves embroiled in a far tighter battle for the play-offs than they would have imagined this season, writes Mike Simmonds.
The Mariners finished fourth last term, with 83 points to their name, eventually losing to promoted Newport County over two legs.
This time round, Grimsby currently occupy sixth place, with surprise packages Alfreton, Halifax and Nuneaton all both above them in the rankings.
One thing on their side though is that the Mariners still have 11 games remaining after a number of postponements earlier in the campaign, so a top five place is comfortably still in their own hands.
They did bolster their squad recently, with a double signing from League Two Scunthorpe as they brought in Andrew Boyce and Connor Jennings on loan.
Leaving the club though was striker Liam Hearn, who had netted 27 league goals in the 2011-12 season, but suffered badly with serious injuries over the last two campaigns.
The Mariners have been hard to beat as usual on home soil, winning nine, drawing six and losing three thus far, scoring 34 and conceding just 20 in 18 games.
They are on a decent run too in front of their own fans, going six without defeat, although victories’ have been hard to come by, with four draws stunting their promotion push.
The last visiting side to leave with three points was Macclesfield back on December 28, while Nuneaton and Cambridge have also won at Blundell Park this term.
Team news: Mariners right back Paul Bignot could be out for two weeks with his ankle/knee injury sustained on Saturday, with Sam Hatton expected to deputise.
Boss Paul Hurst told the Grimsby Telegraph: “Paul’s ankle is sore, which we knew about, but his knee is also sore.
“But we’re hopeful that it’s not an injury that should end his season, and from the initial diagnosis we would like to think he might be back in 10-14 days.
“Sam Hatton will obviously come in. There’s not been a lot between them all season, so that’s where having the strength in depth helps.”
Winger Joe Colbeck remains ahead of schedule in his recovery from an ankle injury sustained at Southport last month, but is unlikely to be involved against Luton.
For the Hatters, Luke Guttridge, Jonathan Smith and Danny Fitzimons are all injured, but the rest of the squad are fully fit.
Top Skrill Premier goalscorer: Mariners: Ross Hannah (9). Hatters: Andre Gray (26).
Man in the middle: Ross Joyce - official has taken 19 matches this season, showing 51 yellows and four reds.
Reffed Luton twice, both away and ending in goalless draws at Gateshead and Lincoln, while has taken Grimsby’s 1-0 win at Hyde and the 2-2 draw with Gateshead.
Been on the line in the Championship this month too, during Doncaster Rovers’ 2-1 win over Watford.
Last campaign he brandished 101 yellows and five reds in 31 games, but is something of a good omen for Town as they are yet to lose under his charge.
He officiated the 2-1 win at Lincoln, plus draws at Mansfield and Wrexham last campaign, while also had the whistle for the 3-1 win at Tamworth and 0-0 draw at Alfreton the season before.
In charge: Paul Hurst – spent almost his entire career at Rotherham, making over 400 appearances, before hanging up his boots in 2008.
After retiring, he became joint manager of Ilkeston Town along with former team-mate Rob Scott and the pair later took over Boston United before joining Grimsby in 2011.
On September 6 last year, Scott was suspended for circumstances not released by the club, leaving Hurst in sole charge.
When Scott was sacked for gross misconduct later that month, Hurst took permanent charge and signed an improved deal earlier this year.
View from the opposition: Paul Hurst told the Grimsby Telegraph: “Luton have proved that they’re the best team in the league over the course of the season and we know it’s going to be a big test for us, but one that we will go into with confidence after the result on Saturday.
“We’re pitting ourselves against the best team in the league and the team that will go up as champions – it’s just a matter of when.
“Their so-called ‘wobble’ came to an abrupt end on Saturday and they ‘only’ managed to score three against Chester.
“From our point of view, it’s a challenge that we have to rise to.
“We’re the home side and we’ve got to try to match their quality and if we can, try and get the better of them.
“It would be great if we were in their position, but we’ve got our own ambitions to still get promoted. We’re in a good place, it’s in our hands, but we’ve got some really tough games coming up.”
One to watch: Connor Jennings – dangerous striker who is on loan from Scunthorpe United.
The 22-year-old spent the early part of the campaign at Macclesfield, scoring 14 league goals in 16 appearance, before he picked up an injury and returned to Glanford Park.
Left the Iron on loan to join Grimsby on March 1 and has scored once in six appearance so far.
Friendly faces: Winger Scott Neilson was on loan at Grimsby, before joining Luton in January last year, playing eight times and scoring once.
After he was released by John Still, went back to the Mariners and has made 27 league appearances this year, scoring five goals, with two coming in his last three matches.
We’ve got form: Luton have never enjoyed their times at Grimsby over recent years, winning six, drawing seven and losing 12 of their 25 visits in total.
Hatters have only managed 25 goals at Blundell Park, with the hosts scoring an impressive 53 in that time.
Town started off life well with a 3-1 win way back when the teams met in an old Second Division affair in 1898, their biggest ever triumph in Cleethorpes.
It’s been the scene of some hammerings too though as twice Town have shipped five, letting in six once and even going down 7-1 in an FA Cup tie when Lenny Lawrence was in charge on January 6, 1996.
Last time out: Luton fell to a 4-1 defeat in the league last season as in front of the TV cameras, they were blown in the opening half with Joe Colbeck, Andy Cook and Ross Hannah putting Grimsby 3-0 in front.
Dean Beckwith scored an own goal on 71 minutes, while Scott Rendell pulled one back with 14 minutes to go.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Dean Beckwith, Janos Kovacs (Connor Essam 46), Jake Howells, Ronnie Henry (Yaser Kasim 57), Alex Lawless, Jon Shaw, JJ O’Donnell, Scott Rendell, Stuart Fleetwood (Jake Robinson 65), Andre Gray.
Subs not used: Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, Dan Walker.
Referee: Peter Banks.
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