Grimsby 2 Wrexham 1
A GOAL from Grimsby striker Ciaran Toner three minutes into added time robbed Wrexham of what should have been a well-deserved draw at Blundell Park last night.
The defeat, which leaves manager Brian Carey still seeking a first win in eight games, also meant the Dragons once more dropped into the relegation zone after rivals Boston gained a point at Peterborough United.
Toner’s last gasp strike was a cruel blow to the visitors following what had been a tremendous performance after Carey made another four changes from the side which drew 0-0 at home to Chester on Sunday.
Ryan Valentine and Mark Jones were back after suspensions, Lee Roche returned following injury in a back four and former Charlton Athletic youngster Mike Carvill was given a full league debut alongside Lee McEvilly, with Chris Llewellyn dropping back into the left-midfield role.
Mariners’ boss Alan Buckley, however, decided to stick with the starting line-up that beat Mansfield Town 2-1 at the weekend, with on-loan Stoke City striker Martin Paterson playing his last match before returning to the Britannia Stadium.
It was evident that Wales international Jones was playing just behind the front two and he might have given the visitors the lead in the first minute.
Valentine’s long punt forward was won by McEvilly, but when Jones latched on to the knock-down, he fired a first-time volley over the bar.
And another difficult chance went begging in the ninth minute, when a hasty Gareth Evans clearance caught the home defence flat-footed.
Carvill reacted quickest, cut inside a defender and as goalkeeper Phil Barnes raced off his line the Wrexham man’s lob lacked both the pace and direction to cause further embarrassment.
But Grimsby, on the back of a three-match winning run, were nothing if not resilient and the Dragons rearguard could not afford a moment’s relaxation, especially given the pace of Paterson who made a hash of a header when Paul Bolland took advantage of Valentine’s slip to cross.
It was the visitors, though, who finally broke the deadlock in the 28th minute, although McEvilly needed three stabs to net his side’s first goal in nearly seven-and-a-half hours of football.
Toner was at fault, hopelessly misdirecting a back pass towards the stranded Nick Fenton.
McEvilly saw his first effort parried by the keeper and his second rebound off a post before he finally bundled it over the line to register his third of the season.
Wrexham were good value for their lead, but they found themselves pushed back deeper and deeper as their opponents began to dominate midfield.
Inevitably, Carey’s men paid the price in the final minute of the opening period when Danny Boshell’s corner was headed into the top corner of the net by Bolland, who was standing unmarked on the edge of the 18-yard box.
Jones encouraged the travelling fans behind Barnes’ goal within a minute of the restart, surging from halfway before blasting his shot high and wide of the target.
But the home support also found their voice when Tom Newey played a one-two to bring an excellent save from goalkeeper John Ruddy as the game developed into an end-to-end thriller.
The visitors still had their chances, however. Llewellyn, who had seen little of the ball in the first half, thumped a difficult chance wide and Steve Evans saw his header held by Barnes.
At the other end of the pitch, meanwhile, Wrexham needed their keeper to be alert when a lucky rebound fell to Paterson, Ruddy holding the shot.
And the Mariners maintained the pressure with Paterson scraping the post.
That was followed by a corner that produced an almighty goalmouth scramble before Gareth Evans eventually put his boot through the ball to clear.
The visitors were not helped by two handling errors by the on-loan Everton keeper as Grimsby turned the screw, but they just about survived and when Jones knocked the ball forward, Llewellyn was unable to keep his shot down.
When Jones was brought down on the edge of the Grimsby area six minutes from the end, he got up to see his free-kick deflected for a corner and, although the Dragons pushed hard for a winner, they were always vulnerable at the back – as Toner was to prove.