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The Dress Rehearsal
By: Rob Sedgwick
GRIMSBY convincingly beat Newport 3-0 at Blundell Park to set up a match with County on Wednesday night in the first of the play-off games. Town scored three times in the first half as they overwhelmed their play-off rivals in front of a bumper crowd for the final league game of the season.
Jamie Devitt put Grimsby on their way with a stunning free kick. Andi Thanoj added a second that looped in off the 'keeper and Liam Hearn slotted the ball under the County 'keeper for his first post-injury goal to give Grimsby a half time lead of 3-0 that didn't flatter Town at all. There were no more goals in the second half, but Grimsby had the better chances, but failed to extend their lead.
Town's much-changed side was changed again from that which won at Woking. The managers chose to play 4-5-1 against Newport with Liam Hearn leading the line. That allowed a midfield three of Disley, Thanoj and Artus. Tom Naylor played in the back four, and Greg Fleming continued in goal.
Newport could have scored in the first minute when a long shot by Washington was fumbled by Flemming, but Miller was on hand to clear the ball.
Hearn was almost through on 9 minutes but couldn't quite get to the ball first. It was cleared only as far as Devitt who drove his shot just wide.
A good move by Newport saw Gilbey played through on goal, but Fleming's quick reactions smothered his shot.
On 18 minutes Town took the lead with a stunning free kick from Devitt, finding the top corner with his wind-assisted free kick. Town could have made it 2-0 when Hearn set up Artus, but the young Town midfielder skewed his shot wide. Thanoj didn't take long to make amends when a few minutes later he scored with a low shot which the 'keeper saved with he legs but it looped high above him and dropped into the net in front of the Pontoon.
Hearn had a chance to make it 3-0 on 35 minutes but his volley was blocked. However, like Thanoj, Hearn made up for it a few minutes later when Devitt and Artus combined before releasing Hearn who slid it under the 'keeper's body to send the home crowd in raptures. Hearn's celebrations in front of the Pontoon crowd spoke volumes about the frustration the last few months must have been for him.
The first half ended 3-0 with Town in total command. Newport had had a few sniffs, but Town had dominated play and created by far the greater chances. The extra man in midfield meant Town kept the ball for longer periods, and passed the ball more intelligently than they have done in recent games at Blundell Park when they have tended to be more direct on occasions.
After the break Town could have gone 4-0 up when Hearn released Naylor, who dragged his shot wide.
On the hour mark Hearn was replaced by Hannah and Disley made way for Southwell, allowing Town to revert to 4-4-2.
Town ended the game strongly and had a few more chances to add to their three goal cushion, but in the end everyone was delighted with a 3-0 win. The other result meant that Newport will be the first opponent for Town in the play-offs, an outcome that both clubs will probably be privately be happy about. Newport had not played their strongest side for this game, but Town too had a few first choice players in the bench and stand, so Saturday's result will be a psychological boost for Town going into Wednesday's game at Blundell Park before the deciding game in Newport.
Man of the Match was Devitt, who made perhaps his best appearance of his current loan spell. The young winger was a danger all game, tracked back and did his share of defending, and stored a stunning free kick to turn the tables in Town's favour.
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