The FA Cup, losing its lustre? Not on the Lincolnshire coast it isn’t.No opposing teams were further apart than Grimsby Town of the Conference and Huddersfield Town of the Championship, but on a mistily dank winter’s afternoon made for upsets, the Mariners ensured the famous old trophy shone, well, like the scales of a freshly caught haddock.
Everything, but everything, was as it should be. Blundell Park, increasingly decrepit in its 114th year, was packed. The pitch was playable but satisfyingly soft, studs quickly exposing the dark mud beneath.
Grimsby, out-classed for 20 minutes, went ahead on a break through Ross Hannah, a player who never made it in the league. Huddersfield’s equaliser, stroked home from 25 yards by the former Manchester United trainee Oliver Norwood, oozed quality.
Shortly after the hour, and prompting the sort of euphoria which makes years of misery fo supporters worthwhile, captain Craig Disley headed the non-leaguers back in front and apparently into round four. Huddersfield’s manager, Mark Robins rang the changes, but all looked lost for the Terriers whenin the 87th minute , Grimsby’s goalkeeper James McKeown pushed Duane Holmes’ shot to Martin Paterson, and the striker who once spent 15 games on loan with Grimsby, turned the ball in.
A replay was the least Grimsby deserved, and that should have been that, but incredibly there was more to come. Deep into added time the Grimsby full-back Aswad Thomas, who had very nearly put his side 3-1 up with a header, turned Paul Dixon’s cross past his own goalkeeper, leaving the home manager, Paul Hurst, as disbelieving as the crowd as it streamed into the terraced streets that surround the ground.
“It’s hard to take, and it’s a measure of the performance that the players are genuinely disappointed,” Hurst said. “For the first 15 minutes or so it looked like being a long, hard afternoon, they have real quality in their team, but we gradually got into the game. When they equalised you’re thinking of just holding on, but then we got in front again and kept causing them problems, we made it into a real game and I was very proud.
“We have to look at this performance as a marker. If I have a pop at them for not reaching the levels I know they’re capable of, they’ll know why.”
Robins, who had shown his respect both for the competition and for opponents who had disposed of league opposition in Scunthorpe United in round one and Northampton Town in round two by picking his strongest side, did not hide his relief.
“I thought Grimsby were excellent, they put us under a lot of pressure,” he said. “We controlled large parts of the first half, but their first attack brought a goal and we became a little bit anxious.
But even after they went ahead we kept at it, we didn’t start going long and in the end managed to get the goals. I’m just pleased we’re in the hat for the next round.”
The first 20 minutes had seen Huddersfield enjoy 80 per cent possession. The manner in which their five man midfield knocked the ball around with their opponents chasing suggested it was only a matter of time before class told, but they were caught on the break, and with three at the back could not prevent Joe Colbeck scampering down the right before Hannah turned a low cross past the Terriers’ goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
The change in momentum was remarkable. Suddenly it looked a game of equals, but nine minutes into the second half Disley tripped Adam Hammill, and Norwood struck the free-kick unerringly over the wall and beyond McKeown.
That Grimsby regained the initiative says much about their character, and when Andy Cook’s shot was deflected high into the air, Disley was on hand to nod the ball beyond Smithies. The celebrations were theatrical, but sadly for the Mariners, the drama was only just beginning.
Grimsby Town (4-4-2): McKeown: Bignot, Pearson, Doig (Southwell, 90), Thomas; Disley, Thanoj (McLaughlin, 67), Colbeck, Neilson (Rodman, 83); Cook, Hannah.
Huddersfield Town (3-5-2): Smithies: Wallace, Gerrard, Smith; Dixon, Hogg (Holmes, 59), Clayton, Norwood, Hammill (Lopez, 78); Paterson, Ward (Scannell, 59).
Referee: Keith Stroud.
Man of the match: Joe Colbeck (Grimsby)
Match rating: 9/10