With less than two minutes on the clock, Michael Jolley looked up at the heavens and shook his head in disbelief. The Grimsby manager had just seen defender Andrew Fox dismissed – with a little help from the video assistant referee – for a poor tackle on Andros Townsend and faced the prospect of playing almost the entire match against Premier League opposition with 10 men.
But having been to the wilderness of the National League and back since they last visited Selhurst Park in 2003, Grimsby are made of stern stuff and it took until the 86th minute for their resolve to finally be broken by substitute Jordan Ayew’s header from Jeffrey Schlupp’s free-kick.
For Jolley, the former investment banker who began his coaching career at Palace’s academy, it was a cruel way to lose but he will be extremely proud with the way his side stuck to their task after such an early setback, with James McKeown making a string of excellent saves to frustrate the hosts until they eventually found a breakthrough.
This was the first time these sides have met in the FA Cup since Grimsby beat a non-league Palace team 1-0 in 1908 and the presence of almost 6,000 visiting supporters who had made the trip from Lincolnshire certainly gave the tie extra spice.
To his credit, home manager Roy Hodgson, who embraced warmly with his opposite number before kick-off, kept his word by naming a strong side – albeit with nine changes from their win at Wolves on Wednesday – including Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha in attack.
Grimsby, who came into the match having seen their four-match winning streak end at home against Mansfield on New Year’s Day, were looking to end a 19-year wait to reach the fourth round but saw their chances seemingly evaporate inside the first 100 seconds. Townsend was going nowhere when he received the ball just inside the opposition’s half but an over-exuberant lunge by Fox caught the forward on the shin. At first, the referee Martin Atkinson allowed play to continue before booking the transgressor when the ball went out of play.
It was only then that he received the signal from the VAR and upgraded the punishment to a red card, with one Grimsby fan showing his frustration by throwing something on to the pitch as Fox departed. Suddenly, the size of their task had increased exponentially. Yet despite Alexander Sorloth spurning two golden opportunities as Palace piled on the pressure, Grimsby somehow navigated their way to the half-hour mark and even had a sniff of goal when their top scorer Wes Thomas almost found a way through from Elliot Embleton’s pass.