How Grimsby Town achieved 'unthinkable' with FA Cup giant-killing of Southampton

It was a result even the players called "unthinkable".

Grimsby Town, lying 16th in the fourth tier of English football and with a squad valued somewhere in the region of £2million, travelled to Premier League Southampton, 64 places above them and with a star-studded squad worth around £350million.

The prize: a place in the FA Cup quarter-final.

For Southampton it would have meant a third consecutive appearance in the last eight. For Grimsby, victory would end an 84-year wait to make the quarter-finals.

Despite their current travails in the Premier League – they are bottom of the table and face an uphill battle to stay in the top flight – Southampton were overwhelming favourites.

So much so that Grimsby boss Paul Hurst said fans travelling to St Mary's expecting an upset were "mad".

Nevertheless, his side had the backing of more than 4,000 vociferous followers who made the 230-mile journey to the south coast. Many of them were armed with inflatable "Harry" haddocks, a nod to their town's fishing heritage and an essential prop for many supporters of a club nicknamed The Mariners.

More than 4,000 Grimsby fans made the journey to Southampton. Credit: PA

Grimsby had already upset League One clubs Plymouth, Cambridge and Burton and Championship side Luton en route to Southampton.

But the performance at St Mary's eclipsed anything that had gone before and gave the club one of the biggest results in their history.

Speaking after the game, Gavan Holohan told ITV News he had been practising penalties hours earlier. It proved a crucial drill – he would end up as the match-winner with two successful spot kicks. Southampton pulled a goal back and had a Theo Walcott goal ruled out for offside, but the Mariners prevailed 2-1.

Gavan Holohan was the match-winner with two penalties. Credit: PA

The win meant Grimsby became the first team to defeat five higher-division clubs in a single FA Cup campaign.

"Grimsby Town in the quarter-final of the FA Cup is something I never thought I would hear," said manager Hurst. "I'm not quite sure I've got used to it yet but it is nice.

"Anyone that does see us and follow us, they will understand the following that we have, it's incredible."

Left back Anthony Glennon admitted he had tears in his eyes as the away stand erupted at the final whistle.

"Just look at that," he said, gesturing to the fans. "What a following. You can't ask for more, you know. You back us week in week out - they deserve it just as much as we do."

Captain Luke Waterfall said his side had pulled off "the unthinkable", while local lad Harry Clifton said: "It's just unbelievable, it means everything. It doesn't feel real at the minute. I'm speechless. Grimsby Town in the quarter-final of the FA Cup - the story just keeps on rolling."

For the fans, it was a night they will never forget.

One said: "I was the first female mascot for Grimsby way back in the 1980s and my dad was a huge supporter. He's not with us any more but he would be so proud and I'm so glad I could be here to see it happen."

Grimsby have gone on to reach the semi-finals on the previous two occasions they have made the last eight, losing 1-0 to Arsenal in 1936 and 5-0 to Wolves in 1939.

In their way on this occasion are Roberto De Zerbi's Brighton. Another trip to the seaside awaits as the Mariners continue to make waves.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.