Eastleigh’s Vanarama Conference promotion dreams were crushed with a 3-0 defeat by Grimsby Town in their semi-final second-leg at Blundell Park.

After scoring decisive goals in both the home and away league wins over the Spitfires this term, ex-Havant & Waterlooville striker Ollie Palmer was once more Eastleigh’s tormentor as he netted a brace to consign them to a 5-1 aggregate defeat over the two-legged semi-final.

The Spitfires were by far the better team in the first-half, but in the end were undone by Palmer’s opener on 34 minutes before 17-goal top-scorer Lenell John-Lewis capitalised on a Will Evans mistake to double the lead just before the interval.

That all but ended Eastleigh’s chances before Palmer’s second put the game well beyond doubt with 20 minutes left.

Despite the obvious disappointment Eastleigh’s travelling band of 197 supporters sung heartily as they celebrated their club’s remarkable fourth-place finish in their first season in the highest echelon of non-league football.

The fans were applauded by manager Richard Hill as the final action of an astonishing season played out before Grimsby fans invaded the pitch in celebration on full-time.

Town meanwhile will now play Bristol Rovers, who were 3-0 winners against Forest Green Rovers over the two-legged semi-final.

In three Eastleigh changes, left-back Michael Green returned after six games out with a hamstring injury.

He came in for the dropped Dan Spence while ex-Reading midfielder Brian Howard was given his first start in four games in place of the benched Jack Midson.

Interestingly, Craig Stanley was not even in the travelling squad after a touchline spat with Hill in Thursday’s first-leg 2-1 defeat.

Former Grimsby loanee Harry Pell came in for Stanley to make his first appearance since the Lincoln victory last month as one of a midfield three, as the Spitfires reverted to a liquid 4-3-1-2 formation.

Meanwhile the Mariners were unchanged from the 2-1 first-leg victory at the Silverlake Stadium.

The change of formation looked to have worked well for the Spitfires in the early phases.

Howard flanked by Pell and captain Ben Strevens in the midfield, with Jai Reason sitting in a free role behind the strikers, were able to break up Grimsby’s play well.

It meant that in the opening 20 minutes Eastleigh were able to put the pressure on the home side, with James Constable showing his normal appetite for hard-work by closing down any loose balls.

Town looked nervous and the Spitfires took advantage of that as Howard pulled a shaky save from James McKeown with three minutes gone.

Jamie Turley also had a chance at the back-post, but blazed wide while a Howard free-kick caused havoc in the box before it went narrowly wide.

That pressure continued with Howard particularly impressing with a good range of passing while Craig McAllister saw a rushed effort sail harmlessly wide.

Another neat move ended with Green dragging a low drive off target.

Despite Grimsby being second best, it was they who broke the deadlock with 11 minutes to play in the first half.

Ross Flitney, who had nothing to do for the opening half hour, was simply a bystander as Palmer swivelled before drilling into the top right of the net after John-Lewis had tussled with Turley to win the ball and pass to his strike partner 12 yards out.

Eastleigh immediately responded as they continued to pile the pressure on.

As the half closed out Reason played in Green down the left before the full-back burst to the by-line and crossed.

The ball came out to Constable who stabbed at the ball before Reason also attempted to shoot only for it to be blocked.

Subsequently, Grimsby cleared the ball forward where Evans picked up the ball.

The centre-back dallied on the ball and was dispossessed by John-Lewis, who immediately pushed the ball in front of him to run onto before entering the box and slotting neatly under Flitney on 44 minutes.

With Eastleigh’s play-off final dream all but over manager Hill made all three of his available substitutions at the break, with Yemi Odubade, Dan Walker and Deon Burton coming on for Pell, Constable and Howard.

But, ultimately, the two goals had killed it and the Mariners’ fans knew it, creating a party atmosphere throughout the second period.

There was little to speak of until the Mariners made it three with 20 minutes left as Palmer hit his brace, slotting under Flitney after John-Lewis had held-off interest from Turley and Evans to play-in his strike partner to hit home.

McAllister and Reason both had half-efforts on goal as the game closed out, but neither could find the killer touch.

Eastleigh: Flitney, Green, Constable (Burton 45), Reason, McAllister, Strevens, Evans, Howard (Odubade 45), Turley, Partington, Pell (Walker 45). Subs (not used): Beckwith, Midson.