John-Lewis 38, 70
WINNING a game of football in the Vanarama Conference is about taking your chances when they come, defending stoutly at the other end and getting lucky in the big moments.
Early dominance from United should have seen Grimsby blown away in the first half-hour at the Launa Windows Stadium but the visitors survived the storm and took the lead through Lenell John-Lewis on 38 minutes. Luke Young immediately equalised with a superb free-kick, only for Craig Disley to pounce on sloppy defending before half-time.
When the second-half began to take shape, United were again on top and Aaron Downes equalised with a trademark header but when John-Lewis scored his second of the afternoon, there was nothing left in the Yellow tank.
It was hardly surprising that United boss Chris Hargreaves opted to shake up his defence after the 4-2 loss at Alfreton last weekend. Angus MacDonald and Aaron Downes returned from suspension to bump Krystian Pearce down to the bench, with Courtney Richards moving forward to his favoured midfield role in place of Josh Wakefield.
Lenell John-Lewis spearheaded a Grimsby team that saw two changes from their excellent 1-0 success at Wrexham seven days ago. Shaun Pearson missed out through suspension to be replaced by Chris Doig in defence and midfielder Disley came in for the injured Craig Clay.
Less than a minute was on the clock when United won a corner and Luke Young’s near-post delivery was headed goalwards by MacDonald, forcing Grimsby goalkeeper James McKeown into a fabulous block, pawing the ball clear of his top corner.
Wonder-saves continued to be the theme of the opening five minutes, as McKeown then palmed over a dipping free-kick from Young before a terrific stop with his legs denied Ryan Bowman after the big striker had conjured some space in the right channel with a marvellous turn.
End-to-end football has become part of the menu at TQ1 this season and the Mariners came back with their own corner, headed powerfully by Daniel Parslow, but Martin Rice was equal to the challenge with a strong one-handed save.
After such a frenetic start, both sides seemed content with a spell of midfield sparring before the afternoon burst back into life with an audacious 30-yard free-kick from Young that had McKeown scampering across his line, and the subsequent corner was headed over from a good position by Downes.
Rice had become an interested spectator as United dominated possession and territory, with one flowing move on 24 minutes concluding with Louis Briscoe turning his man before a rising shot that McKeown just tipped over.
Two corners then came over and the second led to a scuffed shot from Briscoe finding Bowman at the far post. He was just two yards from goal but Scott Brown was perfectly positioned to bravely thrust his body in the way of a certain goal.
Handball shouts then reverberated around the Launa Windows Stadium when Carl Magnay appeared to raise an arm in the box to block a fizzing cross from Courtney Cameron but referee Richard Martin showed no interest in the penalty claim.
Except for scoring, United had done everything right in the opening half-hour but a combination of Grimsby resilience and two harsh bookings for the Gulls, one of which will rule Young out of the FA Cup game at Aldershot next week, had the TQ1 natives hollering with frustration.
Credit where it is due, however, and John-Lewis stunned United with a brilliant finish on 38 minutes, steering a first-time volley past Rice from 15 yards. It was extremely harsh on those in Yellow and completely against the run of play but that is the way football so often works when you spurn chances.
Opportunities from set-piece situations have become the bread and butter for United this season, and Young once again had the whole stadium on their feet with yet another sensational goal added to his superb collection.
Less than a yard outside the box and with a six-man wall to beat, United’s skipper neglected the obvious option of a powerful strike at goal. Instead, his delightful curler nestled beautifully in the top corner for a fully-deserved equaliser.
Once the Gulls had pulled level, it was imperative to stay on top of the visitors but the opposite happened, as horrible hesitancy between Downes and Rice allowed the Disley the room to sneak in behind before poking the ball over a stranded Yellow custodian to give Grimsby the half-time lead.
Under a gloomy October sky, United stormed out for a big second-half but the more confident outfit looked like the Mariners, who were naturally buoyed by their surprise advantage at the break.
Ruing the missed opportunities of the first 45 minutes was now an exercise in futility and the outstanding Young created a chance through sheer determination, but the final stinging shot from Briscoe was a fraction off target.
Seizing the initiative, Hargreaves immediately turned to Duane Ofori-Acheampong as the man to add fresh legs to the attack, with Cameron making way in a move that saw Briscoe switch to the right flank and Toby Ajala to the left.
When the next set-piece arrived, the Gulls were back on level terms. Young once again delivered an enticing cross and Downes climbed highest to nod into the turf and the ball bounced happily over the Grimsby defender on the line.
Every Yellow heart expected United to learn their lesson from the first-half but the reality was a big gap in the midfield for Scott Neilson to surge forward for a shot that was, mercifully, aimed straight at the grateful Rice.
Wonderful entertainment was the best description for a game that had both sets of supporters completely enthralled and the next twist in the tale was a low drive from Richards well held by McKeown.
A spirited response from Grimsby had the visitors in front for a third time, with John-Lewis flashing a header toward the bottom corner from a Neilson cross and Rice was just unable to keep the ball from creeping over the line, despite initially looking like he had made the save.
Neilson was then withdrawn for Nathan Arnold, as Grimsby looked to shut up shop for three massive points and it was difficult not to feel concerned that poor goals conceded would again be United’s nemesis.
The Gulls needed inspiration and Young was the obvious man to provide that spark but his afternoon was placed in jeopardy by a cynical challenge from Disley leaving the Yellow captain nursing a sore ankle.
A quick rub and spray from physio Gareth Law had Young hobbling back into the action, while Grimsby removed Scott Brown from the engine room for the fresh legs of Paddy McLaughlin.
The game entered its final ten minutes with the Mariners to set up camp in their own area and United opted to respond by removing Ajala for the direct running of winger Jordan Chapell, with Briscoe moving back into a central role as part of a three-pronged attack.
Hargreaves had rolled his dice and it was now down to his players to pull the result out of the bag, but the threat from Grimsby remained very real, as a dancing run from Arnold ended with a low shot clipping the outside of the post.
One more chance was all United required to save a point, as the Mariners continued to slow down proceedings with yet another substitution. Rhys Oates was the man to come on for the outstanding John-Lewis.
Momentum refused to come back United’s way and Grimsby held on for a massive win, but the Gulls will look back on the opening 30 minutes, when a spate of early chances were missed to set the tone for the match.
Every ounce of Yellow energy must now turn to a huge game at Aldershot in the FA Cup game next week, as United look to get over a stumbling spell in their season.
United (4-4-2): 1 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 21 Angus MacDonald, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Thomas Cruise; 10 Toby Ajala (12 Jordan Chapell 81), 8 Luke Young (capt), 16 Courtney Richards, 11 Courtney Cameron (24 Duane Ofori-Acheampong 57); 7 Louis Briscoe, 9 Ryan Bowman. Substitutes (not used): 5 Krystian Pearce, 22 Josh Wakefield, 23 Jordan Seabright (GK).
Booked: Tonge 35, Young 37
Grimsby (4-5-1): 1 James McKeown; 6 Carl Magnay, 12 Chris Doig, 22 Aristote Nsiala, 3 Aswad Thomas; 7 Jack Mackreth, 8 Craig Disley (capt), 19 Daniel Parslow, 4 Scott Brown (26 Paddy McLaughlin 79), 11 Scott Neilson (20 Nathan Arnold 74); 14 Lenell John-Lewis (23 Rhys Oates 88). Substitutes (not used): 2 Paul Bignot, 10 Ross Hannah.
Booked: Doig 68, Disley 78
Referee: Richard Martin
Attendance: 2,353 (257 away).