THE invincible form of Torquay United took another big stride forward with a hugely impressive 2-0 win at a strong Grimsby Town outfit.
First-half goals Courtney Richards and Luke Young sealed a fourth consecutive win and extended the unbeaten run to eight on a special day for manager Chris Hargreaves, who was returning to his hometown club.
Grimsby gave everything to retrieve the result after the break but United showed the other side of their game by staying strong and resolute in the face of a determined opponent.
Not surprisingly, Hargreaves stuck with the same starting line-up and substitute options from Tuesday’s 2-0 win at Chester, while his Grimsby counterpart, Paul Hurst, responded to the narrow derby loss at Lincoln by replacing Craig Clay with Patrick McLaughlin.
The Gulls were immediately placing their hosts under pressure, winning a corner in the second minute and Young’s delivery was volleyed inches over by the darting Ryan Bowman.
His next chance moments later was probably even better, as Richards won the ball in midfield and fed the ball wide to Jordan Chapell, who shuffled it back inside for Bowman, but Grimsby ‘keeper James McKeown swallowed up the effort.
The Mariners settled into the game with a period of possession and Angus MacDonald was a little fortunate not to concede a penalty when his hurried clearance saw him catch Lenell John-Lewis in the box.
It would have been very harsh but Grimsby were starting to show their promise, moving the ball down the left before a deep cross was headed narrowly over by the prowling Jon-Paul Pittman.
Home momentum was halted when Pittman was forced to limp off with a muscle injury on 11 minutes to be replaced by Ross Hannah, who once came close to signing for the Gulls.
From nowhere, United were in front from the next attack. Chapell started the move down the right before laying the ball back to Dale Tonge, who delivered quickly into the area for Duane Ofori-Acheampong.
The big striker used his presence to hold the ball and then pick out the onrushing Richards, who finished neatly from the angle and the Gulls had their noses in front again. Scott Neilson possibly should have equalised in the following minute but headed wide.
The frenetic tempo continued and John-Lewis forced Martin Rice into his first save of the afternoon with a dipping free-kick that the Yellow custodian did well to turn wide.
United responded by winning another corner and the home team were struggling to deal with Young’s delivery, but Bowman was denied a second goal by an excellent block from Shaun Pearson. At the other end, Grimsby were getting no change from MacDonald and Aaron Downes.
Meanwhile, Ofori-Acheampong was causing havoc in the Grimsby defence and his strength again created room for Bowman, who was thwarted by the Mariners, only for the loose ball to fall perfectly for Young to lash home a second goal from 15 yards.
It was terrific work from the front pair, matched by the captain supporting from midfield and Yellow confidence really was brimming over. Grimsby now faced a mountainous task to get back in the game.
Chapell very nearly made it 3-0 moments later, exchanging passes with Ofori-Acheampong before unleashing a low shot that forced McKeown into a fine save diving down to his right.
It was a quality block matched by Rice on the stroke of half-time, maintaining the two-goal advantage with a fabulous stop after a powerful drive from the lively John-Lewis. Grimsby ended the half with three successive corners but the Gulls stayed strong at the back.
A knock to Bowman in the first-half forced Hargreaves into a change at the interval, with Ashley Yeoman given a chance to impress for the second 45 minutes.
The pace of the early exchanges after the interval was noticeably slower, as United looked to consolidate, although Toby Ajala came fairly close to ending the game as a contest but his shot was dragged wide.
Hurst turned to his bench with two changes in an attempt to change the pattern, removing captain Craig Disley and McLaughlin for the fresh legs of Clay and Jack Mackreth in the final half-hour.
It worked, and United were soon grateful to Rice for another fine save in turning the ball onto the post in denying the rising head of centre-back Aristote Nsiala after a set-piece from Scott Neilson. The Mariners were definitely cranking up the intensity and the next goal would be crucial.
Substitute Hannah probably should have been the man to score it after a swift Grimsby break but United were left thankful after the shot was sent flying over the bar with Rice exposed by a flick from John-Lewis.
Hargreaves introduced Josh Wakefield for Chapell on 70 minutes but all the action was at the wrong end for United, as Hannah was again picking up space in the area but Rice did brilliantly to race off his line and keep his net unscathed.
It was all Grimsby but the Gulls were doing a good job in trying so low the game down, and the task was helped by John-Lewis hobbling around after a knock and the home team had used all their substitutes.
The man advantage helped United take the sting out of home optimism and the final minutes drifted away to three more excellent points on the road, although there was enough time for Krystian Pearce to make his first appearance of the season as a late replacement for Ofori-Acheampong.
Grimsby (4-4-2): 1 James McKeown; 2 Paul Bignot, 5 Shaun Pearson, 22 Aristote Nsiala, 6 Carl Magnay; 26 Patrick McLaughlin (7 Jack Mackreth 58), 8 Craig Disley (16 Craig Clay 58), 4 Scott Brown, 11 Scott Neilson; 14 Lenell John-Lewis, 18 Jon-Paul Pittman (10 Ross Hannah 11). Substitutes (not used): 12 Chris Doig, 24 Paul Walker (GK).
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 21 Angus MacDonald, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Tom Cruise; 12 Jordan Chapell (22 Josh Wakefield 70), 8 Luke Young (capt), 16 Courtney Richards, 10 Toby Ajala; 9 Ryan Bowman (14 Ashley Yeoman H-T), 24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong (5 Krystian Pearce 89). Substitutes (not used): 23 Jordan Seabright (GK), 26 Daniel Sullivan.
Booked: Ofori-Acheampong 48, Yeoman 58, Cruise 67
Referee: Jason Whiteley
Attendance: 3,300 (103 away).