Grantham Town enjoy last hurrah in final match in the NPL top flight
Grantham Town's final game in the Northern Premier League Premier Division – for now – saw the relegated Gingerbreads defeat second placed South Shields by a single second half goal at The Meres on Saturday.
The visitors had already thrown away their title aspirations last weekend, barring a mathematical miracle that would have needed them to hit double figures at Grantham, whilst their performance at The Meres cannot have done much for the Mariners' confidence going into the upcoming play-offs.
Yes, South Shields were clearly, at times, the better footballing side but they were unable to crack the resolute Gingerbreads who battled for every ball throughout the 90 minutes.
It was a gloriously sunny but, as usual, windy Meres that greeted the two sides, who both began quite tentatively as they felt each other out.
Grantham pressed forward in the opening exchanges before the bulk of play was contested in midfield for the best part of 10 minutes.
South Shields' first chance came in the seventh minute when Blair Rossiter whipped in a cross, but Grantham goalkeeper Jim Pollard jumped and caught to deny Sam Hodgson a header.
The Gingerbreads' first clear cut opportunity was in the 16th minute with striker Lee Shaw running in on goal and getting a good shot off, only for Mariners keeper Myles Boney to save with his feet.
Town defender Matthew McBride conceded a free kick two minutes later. Curled in by Rossiter, Grantham's defence cleared the danger with ease.
Grantham's Ashton Hall gifted the ball to Will Jenkins on 19 minutes, but the Gingerbreads number six made up for his mistake by racing after him and dispossessing him before he could fire a shot off.
Shields had another chance in the 21st minute after the Grantham defence fluffed clearing their lines, but Mariners' Hodgson was unable to give his volley any direction.
The visitors had the ball in the Town net five minutes later but the referee's assistant had already flagged for offside.
Pollard saved from Hodgson in the 34th minute after he had been allowed too easily to get into space.
Seconds later, at the other end, Shaw had another scoring opportunity but his shot was too soft and easy for Boney to capture.
The final real chance of the first half went to Shields from Jenkins' 37th minute half volley, but Pollard was able to tip the madly bouncing ball around his post for a corner kick.
The Gingerbreads had the first opportunity of the second half three minutes after the break. Ali Aydemir found himself trapped at the corner flag but managed to wriggle free and cut the ball into the box, but Shaw was unable to get a touch before Boney snaffled the ball.
Shaw felt he had been felled inside the box in the 49th minute but referee Mr Wesson was having none of it.
A minute later, fellow Gingerbread Harry Wood's solo run in on goal ended with him getting a shot off, but it lacked the power to really trouble the keeper, although he only managed to tip it wide for a corner.
Bradley Munns marked his Gingerbreads debut by whipping in the resulting flag kick to the six yard box where three team-mates were ready and waiting, with Harry Wood knocking the ball home to quieten down the Shields travelling support somewhat.
The Mariners had a chance to reply five minutes later from a Jenkins free kick, but Grantham cleared with no trouble.
Town were awarded a free kick in the 58th minute after Jonathan Wafula was pulled back by the shirt. Leslie stepped up to take it but he was unable to work his magic and Boney had it well covered.
Grantham had a promising move in the 63rd minute when Leslie sent a long ball through to Shaw. He cut it into the box for Aydemir to hit first time, only to see his effort fly just over the bar.
Shields' Rossiter had the ball in the net again on 72 minutes, but once more the linesman had already flagged for offside.
Grantham's Munns sent a lovely, low, diagonal cross-pitch ball to Aydemir on 78 minutes. Aydemir managed to win a corner kick, from which Wafula sent a header over from the far post.
Town's Shaw had another chance to get on the scoresheet in the 84th minute, turning on a dime before firing just over the Mariners bar.
Seconds later, at the other end, Shields substitute Jonathan Hooper put a dangerous cross by the face of goal, but fortunately for Grantham none of his team-mates was able to get a touch.
Shields threatened again in the 89th minute and Pollard had to tip Jenkins' 30-yard strike over the bar for a corner. The flag kick was headed well clear by Hall.
Several minutes of added time saw a chance apiece. In the first minute, Jenkins curled in a free kick from 30 yards. Shields team-mate Hooper ran on to it but could not quite make contact with his head in front of goal.
Two minutes later, at the Mariners end, Shaw cut the ball back for Grantham sub Ricky Miller who unfortunately fluffed his shot.
Not long after, Mr Wesson blew his whistle for the end of the game, the end of the season, and the end of Grantham Town's tenure within the Premier League – for now at least.
Grantham Town: Pollard, Tuntulwana, McBride, Munns (Miller 82), Townrow, Hall, Wood, Leslie (Daff 90), Shaw, Aydemir, Wafula. Subs not used: Johnson, Skinner. Att: 450.