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Season Review: Part Eight
By: Sam Kinnaird
TOWN began February by announcing that Joe Widdowson and Dean Sinclair’s loan spells would be extended until the end of the season. Millwall frontman Adrian Forbes signed on a deal until the end of the season to boost Mike Newell’s striking options, and Stuart Elliott signed for a further month from Doncaster.
Town’s first game of February was due to be Luton Town away, but the game was postponed due to a frozen pitch at Kenilworth Road. This meant the next game was Exeter City at home, a team that had enjoyed a blistering start to the season and were right up there in the battle for automatic promotion once again.
An early Marcus Stewart wondergoal was cancelled out by Nathan Jarman’s strike on half time. The Mariners then took the lead when Jarman bundled home in front of the Pontoon end to give fans hope of another victory in the push towards safety. But with ten minutes to go, City substitute Ryan Harley struck from 20 yards to earn Exeter a share of the spoils.
It was announced that defender Richard Hope had been released from his contract at Blundell Park; the centre back had endured a torrid time in his few appearances at the back for Town.
On the Tuesday night The Mariners took the long journey down the M1 to Barnet to face their relegation rivals. Despite being 2-0 down after 20 minutes, Town fought back to 2-2 with Ryan Bennett heading in and Stuart Elliott also heading past hapless home keeper Ran Kadoch. Barnet took the lead in the second half once again through a John o’Flynn penalty but an outstanding overhead bicycle kick from Adrian Forbes earned Town a much deserved point with 10 minutes to go. The fighting spirit seen by the 400 or so travelling Mariners did much to improve the atmosphere around the club and many saw it as the defining point in a possible great escape.
Could Town build on it at home to promotion chasing Bury the following Saturday? Well, no. An early goal from Adam Proudlock on the half-hour mark gave the home side a 1-0 lead going into the break, but goals from Andy Bishop and Andy Morrell gave Bury the three points in a game Town could and should have won.
Town headed to the North-East to face Darlington in the next fixture of a dramatic season. Again, a cracking away support of around 500 town fans roared the side on to a battling performance, only to be undone by a late goal. Adam Proudlock and Dean Sinclair were both guilty of missing chances for the away side, and it was 17-year-old striker Curtis Main who took the plaudits with his first goal in senior football just four minutes into his debut. The young frontman headed home a Ricky Ravenhill cross to break Town hearts in the dying minutes, and it left the away fans feeling as dejected as ever.
Mike Newell announced that he was hot on the heels of Ipswich goalkeeper Shane Supple and hoped to unveil him as a loan signing in the next few days. Would this mean the end of Phil Barnes, the keeper had endured a shaky time of it between the sticks of late, but had been one of Town’s most consistent performers in the past few seasons.
Morecambe were the visitors to Blundell Park in the Tuesday night re-arranged fixture on 24th February. A goal either side of half time by Adrian Forbes looked to have wrapped up the points for the Mariners, but Chris Llewelyn’s sending off looked to have shaken the Town side. Goals from Michael Twiss and Diarmuid o’Carroll brought the game level at 2-2 with minutes to go. A Morecambe corner in stoppage time was swung out to the edge of the box where Gary Hunter was waiting to crash the ball superbly into the top left-hand corner of the net. The 23 (yes, 23!) away fans were dancing away in the corner of the Osmond Stand as their side completed one of the great comebacks ever seen at Blundell Park.
Town announced that Preston keeper Wayne Henderson had arrived at the club on loan until the end of the season, a sure fire sign that it was the end of Phil Barnes. The new stopper started in goal for the Mariners as they visited Rochdale, a side fighting for every point in their bid to finally escape League Two. Early goals from Adam Rundle and Adam le Fondre (the latter being five yards offside) did for Town as Mike Newell was sent to the stands for venting his frustration at the referee.
Next up for Town were tough games against Brentford, Lincoln and Chesterfield as they searched for points in the relegation dogfight. Recent games had seen poor performances; the only points in February came at Barnet and at home to Exeter. It was becoming tougher and tougher at the bottom, the Mariners ended February just a place and two points above Bournemouth who were in 23rd. Chester had dropped to within four points of Town, and were looking like the time to be caught if there was any hope of avoiding relegation .
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