Chelsea eventually had to forget style and draw heavily on their survival instinct to avoid becoming the second London Premiership side in eight days to see their FA Cup ambitions perish on South Humberside. Grimsby gave a good account of themselves, but will not relish a fifth-round replay at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.
After last week's magnificent victory over West Ham, Grimsby approached the occasion with no fear, their confidence buoyed still more by the knowledge that Harry Redknapp's team had recovered to defeat Chelsea in the Premiership at the weekend. Blundell Park, with which Ruud Gullit can have seen little to compare, in its own way presented an atmosphere every bit as intimidating as St James' Park, where Chelsea beat another team in black and white in the third round.
As always, Grimsby's best hopes lay in snatching an early goal, but there was no hesitation to attack from Chelsea, for whom Gullit occupied a central midfield position with the air of a commanding general. He and John Spencer soon combined to send Dan Petrescu inside Grimsby's left-back, but Paul Crichton, the goalkeeper, raced out smartly to deny an effective shot.
However, the First Division side had not forgotten how well they had played against West Ham. By the half-way point in the first half, it had become an even contest. Kevin Hitchcock had to react as swiftly as his opposite number to save Craig Shakespeare at full stretch. Then again, it might have been Paul Groves. Whoever decided that red numbers would look good against black and white stripes clearly had not foreseen the need to read them from a distance under lights.
The last 10 minutes of the first half tested Chelsea's composure. Hitchcock, punching the ball away from the head of Steve Livingstone near the edge of his area, escaped lightly when Gary Childs could not control his attempt to chip it back over him. Moments later, with Livingstone again in the thick of things, David Lee's tackle quite possibly saved a goal.
After the interval, Grimsby's momentum continued to grow. Chelsea tended to squander possession and did not always support each other effectively, but Lee was holding them together at the back when it mattered, binding together a wall of blue in front of Hitchcock.
When Chelsea broke from defence, Gary Croft needed to be fleet of foot to outrun Paul Furlong and concede a corner as the striker launched a threatening charge. A potential opportunity was then wasted, however, when Furlong completely misread a run by Gullit.
All the time the home side were pushing forward in greater numbers, exposing themselves to the counter-thrust, but it took a combination of defenders using legs and bodies to stop Livingstone forcing home Nicky Southall's low cut-back.
For the whole match, the impression had been that one goal would decide it. Agonisingly, it almost came for Grimsby with seven minutes left when the full-back, John McDermott, racing on to a through ball, and shot across Hitchcock - but a foot or so wide.
Grimsby Town (4-4-2): Crichton; McDermott, Lever, Croft, Laws; Childs, Groves, Shakespeare, Southall; Livingstone, Woods. Substitutes not used: Forrester, Fickling, Dobbin.
Chelsea (5-3-2): Hitchcock; Petrescu, Duberry, Lee, Clarke, Phelan; Spencer (Spackman, 68), Gullit, Wise; Furlong, Peacock. Substitutes not used: Johnsen, Kharin (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).Reuse content