Fulham will play Second Division football for another year after Kevin Donovan’s winner nine minutes from time sent Grimsby Town to Wembley on a dramatic night at Blundell Park.
The Mariners fully merited their progress to the play-off final having eeked out a draw at Craven Cottage ten days ago and had the better of this tie even before Paul Peschisolido was sent off for a horror tackle on Grimsby’s Peter Handyside. Keegan claimed that referee Clive Wilkes had ‘overreacted’ afterwards but lapses in discipline from Fulham’s forwards proved particularly costly. The big-spending Cottagers, who hardly carried a threat without the injured Peter Beardsley, hadn’t received a red card all season until the play-offs before Paul Moody was dismissed for a late lunge on Mark Lever in the first leg and Peschisolido’s poor challenge put their hopes of a big day at Wembley in real peril here.
Town manager Alan Buckley admitted the experience of holding a numerical advantage at Craven Cottage in the first tie helped his side here. They should have hit the front even before Peschisolido’s moment of madness with Lee Nogan failing to convert a one-on-one against Maik Taylor. The Northern Ireland goalkeeper kept Fulham in the contest until Nogan turned provider sending Donovan beyond a horribly square visiting defence to clinch Grimsby’s second visit to Wembley in the space of a month.
Few would beat against Buckley’s side repeating their Auto Windscreens Shield success in a fortnight’s time, either. “Two Wembley visits in a month is Manchester United stuff,” as the Town boss put it. Keegan and Mohamed Al-Fayed, who dispensed with the services of Ray Wilkins ahead of this play-off semi-final, will have to console themselves with the prospect of United’s bitterest rivals coming to the Cottage following their relegation from Division One.
GRIMSBY TOWN (4-4-2): Davison; McDermott, Gallimore (Livingstone 74), Handyside, Lever; Donovan, Burnett, Groves, Smith; Nogan (Black 82), Lester. Subs (not used): Jobling.
BOOKED: Handyside, Gallimore, Lester, Nogan.
GOAL: Donovan (81).
FULHAM (4-4-2): Taylor; Lawrence, Brevett, Morgan, Coleman; Bracewell, Hayward, W. Collins (Brooker 77), Trollope; Peschisoldio, Thorpe. Subs (not used): Blake, Smith.
SENT OFF: Peschisolido.
REFEREE: Clive Wilkes (Gloucestershire).