Mariners have been far stronger away from home this season
30 April ~ Like any other form of loss, the end of Grimsby Town's Football League status in 2010 has been dealt with by supporters in several stages. This is particularly true when we encounter previously unknown opposition. The first stage is denial ("Who are Hayes & Yeading United anyway?"). The second, evasion ("Is Ebbsfleet actually a place?"). The third is acceptance, of a sort ("Southport only beat us because of that nippy streak of piss on the right wing. Get him signed up, and Omar Bogle from Solihull Moors, and we'll be out of this shit league before you can remember the name of its sponsor”).
This season, despite achieving a league double over them, we have regarded tonight’s opponents Eastleigh warily, rather in the manner of a dog encountering its first hedgehog. They should be too small to cause us problems, but a reckless approach could mean a painful surprise. We're aware that Eastleigh are essentially a small club with a benefactor. We know that in achieving an excellent fourth place in their first ever season at this level, they have adopted a playing style that is euphemistically described as pragmatic. But we don't know whether to pronounce their name with the stress on the first or second syllable.
So will we emerge from Thursday night's play-off semi-final first leg with one eye on the Wembley final? Or will we leave an important part of our brain somewhere in a field in Hampshire? So adept at balancing attack and defence on their travels this season, the Mariners have looked uncertain how to set up at Blundell Park. Even manager Paul Hurst has suggested that the third-placed side ought to have the choice of home or away leg first, rather than the assumption being made that home first gives the disadvantage.
So in Grimsby's case, there's no place like away. Even in finishing third, we've stuttered and struggled unnecessarily. Losing to Eastleigh would mean a third consecutive season of failure at play-off semi-final stage. And we've suffered far too much since exiting the Championship in 2003 to raise our hopes too much.
Still, even our late tilt at the title looked unfeasible for much of the season – until February, when a Town fan was headlocked and wrestled to the ground by Forest Green stewards for refusing to deflate a beach ball. Cue a brilliant fan-led fancy dress and inflatables theme for the rest of the season, with exuberance and positivity of a kind only usually witnessed when we knock Scunny out of a cup. Visibly galvanised – and joining in the fun – the players embarked on an inspired spell of form, pushing Barnet and Bristol Rovers all the way. Whatever else Town take from this season, we'll always have the mental image of Craig Disley at Woking in a ravishing blonde wig. Pete Green