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Season Review: Part Nine

By: Sam Kinnaird
Date: 11/06/2009 (Last updated: 10/06/2009)

THE Mariners began the month of March by welcoming league leaders Brentford the Blundell Park. A freezing evening with heavy rain and a swirling wind could have been the leveller town needed to gain an unlikely three points. But unfortunately only one team turned up. A close-range Charlie MacDonald strike after 27 minutes proved to be the decisive goal for the away side.

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Midfielder Dean Sinclair returned to parent club Charlton through injury, and it looked like he would play no further part in Town’s quest to retain their football league status.

Ryan Bennett scooped the PFA fans player of the month award for League Two for February, and deservedly so. "It's nice that people recognise what he's doing at the moment," Mike Newell told He's going from strength to strength and he wants to improve. It won't be the first thing and it won't be the last thing he wins."

Next up for Town was the visit of Lincolnshire rivals Lincoln City. A bumper home crowd saw a tense first half, but the home side took the lead through Adam Proudlock’s wonderful deft chip on 42 minutes. On the hour mark, Lincoln striker Dany n’Guessan stepped up to equalise from the penalty spot to level things after Tom Newey’s needless foul. No one could have predicted what would happen next, in fact the fans around the stadium believed if anyone would go on to win the game it would be the Imps.

On 78 minutes, Jean Louis Akpa Akpro burst through the Lincoln defence to coolly slot home his first for the club, and just four minutes later Proudlock pounced onto a rebound to make it 3-1. Town weren't finished yet, a crumbling Lincoln defence let Proudlock in again to complete his hat-trick and take a bow in front of a packed Pontoon End. In injury time, Akpa Akpro burst through again with a solo run and nestled the ball into Rob Burch’s bottom right hand corner to make it five.

Town were on a high, and the midweek trip to Chesterfield was the perfect chance to make it six points out of six. A backing of around 1,000 away fans made the 90 mile journey to Saltergate, but saw Town fall behind through Drew Talbot shortly after half time. Derek Niven added a second 20 minutes later but captain Ryan Bennett made it 2-1 immediately after following a corner. The Mariners then laid siege to the home goal, but could not break through.

Free coaches were paid for by John Fenty in a bid to get as many Town fans as possible to the Deva Stadium for the massive weekend game at Chester. Around 1,300 away fans made the journey, and made an atmosphere to remember. Nick Hegarty put Town ahead in the first half with a cool finish under pressure, but for one reason or another the Mariners decided to sit on the lead. Chester came racing out of the traps and were unlucky not to equalise before Ryan Lowe made it 1-1. Town sat back even more and invited pressure, a number of saves from Wayne Henderson kept the scores level, and Chester striker Lowe missed a golden opportunity deep into stoppage time, heading over whilst unmarked in the six yard box. Town escaped with a point, but had been thoroughly outplayed by the struggling Cheshire outfit. "There was a lack of composure and quality from us," explained Mike Newell.

The following Tuesday saw Town travel to Luton for the re-arranged League Two game. Luton’s fans gave Mike Newell a frosty reception as he returned to the club he took up the league ladder. It was announced moments before the game that trio Phil Barnes, Gary Montgomery and Tom Newey had not travelled with the squad and had been released from the club. Ryan Bennett gave the Mariners a lead with a thumping header on 43 minutes, but again Town took their foot on the gas and Luton equalised minutes later. Both teams had chances to win the game, but one sensed it was only going to go one way as Asa Hall smashed home a last minute winner for the home side, breaking Town’s hearts. Even the most ardent and patient Mariners fans suspected that this would be the night we would be relegated, some even questioned Mike Newell and said he should be sacked. Others cried into their beer...

Gillingham were the next visitors to Blundell Park, a promotion chasing side that would surely demolish a disconsolate Town defence. On the Friday before the game, Mike Newell announced the signings of Bradford striker Barry Conlon, Leeds midfielder Peter Sweeney and Leeds goalkeeper John Lund. The former two both started the game for Town. Gillingham dominated the opening half an hour but it was the Mariners who took the lead through Akpa Akpro after Conlon had struck a post. Nick Hegarty added a crucial second as Town began to take control, and Barry Conlon swept home in injury time to complete a famous win against the odds.

Defender Tom Newey moved on loan to Rochdale, after it was announced that none of the ‘Luton three’ had been released, just made available for transfer. But Mike Newell told the media that neither would play under him again, citing dressing room upset as the reason for their omissions.

The final March game saw mid-table Aldershot visit Blundell Park in a simply must-win game for Town. A tense affair in front of over 7,000 fans looked to be heading for a 0-0 with Wayne Henderson making a number of brilliant saves to deny Aldershot. Aldershot defender Anthony Charles then handled inside the box on 82 minutes and Conlon stepped up to dink home the winner and hand Town a massive three points. The news that Chester had only drawn at home to Bradford swept around Blundell Park as Town leapt above Chester and out of the dreaded drop zone.

March had seen Town pick up an impressive ten points from seven games, form that gave the fans hope of avoiding the drop. All eyes were on Chester’s precarious financial position, they were rumoured to be at the point of financial ruin and a ten point deduction. Would April see the deduction, or would Town pull away from the drop zone anyway, only time would tell...

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