Paul Hurst thought Grimsby fans travelling to Southampton expecting an upset were “mad” before his spirited team pulled off a history-making FA Cup success at St Mary’s.
The League Two side reached the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since the Second World War with a stunning 2-1 win over the Premier League’s bottom club.
Hurst’s men were backed by more than 4,200 boisterous supporters waving inflatable fish for the midweek fifth-round tie on the south coast and progressed to a quarter-final with Brighton thanks to a pair of Gavan Holohan penalties.
Victory in Hampshire sparked jubilant full-time scenes and meant the giant-killing Mariners 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.
“We’ve got some supporter groups away from Grimsby but we’re not located in the best area in terms of clubs being around us. But it’s rare that we don’t probably take a thousand fans, that’s quite normal.
“We don’t take it for granted but it does get to a point where it just doesn’t surprise you.
“Some, I think, had expectations that we could win and I thought they were mad.
“But it was nice that they were proved right those ones and, as the night went on, maybe a little bit more belief spread throughout them.
“(It was) really nice to enjoy the scenes with all the fans and the players at the end because it feels like there is a connection there between us all.”
Grimsby had squandered their previous two spot-kicks this season, with Holohan only handed the responsibility after Anthony Glennon missed in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Leyton Orient.
The Irish midfielder twice kept his cool to beat Alex McCarthy from 12 yards following inexplicable moments of madness from Saints defenders Lyanco and Duje Caleta-Car either side of half-time.
The Mariners upset League One clubs Plymouth, Cambridge and Burton and Championship side Luton en route to embarrassing Southampton.
Hurst thought his team had little chance of a cup run this term after drawing the Pilgrims, who were then top of the third tier, in round one.
But a thumping 5-1 triumph over Argyle launched an unforgettable ride which has the club just one game from a return to Wembley, where they won the National League play-off final in June.
“I’ll be honest, we drew Plymouth, they were the top-ranked team in the competition at the time and I thought, ‘well, that’s been a short-lived journey in the FA Cup this season’,” said Hurst, whose side survived a nervy finish on Wednesday evening after Caleta-Car halved Southampton’s deficit 25 minutes from time.
“To get that result set us off and I think we’ve probably deserved to win the games that we have.
“We knew we were going to have to get that bit of luck (at Southampton).
“But the work ethic, the discipline, the organisation and a cool head from Gav…we’ve had two pens this season (before Wednesday) and missed them both.”
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.
The Mariners, who sit 16th in the fourth tier, will travel to the Amex Stadium to face Roberto De Zerbi’s Seagulls on the weekend of March 18-19, postponing a trip to Sutton.
“That’s certainly a nice change of fixture,” said Hurst. “Another long, long journey.
“Brighton in terms of the football they play and how they can toy with teams in the Premier League, at this moment in time I don’t want to give that too much thought.
“I think probably panic, worry, fear when that game comes around.
“Before then, boring, but we have got league games that we’ve got to try and do well in – we’ve still got some work to do to make sure we’re not sucked into having fear (relegation) in a different way.”