A goal in each half from Laurence Gaughan and James Ashmore secured victory for a much changed Matlock line up against Sheffield County League Handsworth.
But it was the hosts who would probably finish the more satisfied of the two teams. Matlock were sloppy, particularly in the first half which led to loud stern words from manager Mark Atkins at the interval. The second half was better but Matlock were terribly wasteful in front of goal, so they made their task far more difficult than it should have been.
The Gladiators struck the woodwork three times, the first time on 6 minutes after the Sheffielders had made the more positive start. A poor clearance from the home goalkeeper fell to Joe leesley but the goalkeeper atoned for his mistake, superbly tipping Leesley’s chip on to the bar before the ball was hacked clear.
Ben Algar, in a central striking role early on, drove too high before a Phil Roe header dropped narrowly wide. Handsworth were enjoying an equal amount of the play but the Matlock defence stood firm to protect assistant boss Nick Buxton in goal.
Buxton held a twenty five yard effort from a home midfielder on 26 minutes before Gaughan was pushed into attack alongside Leesley with Algar switching to the left flank, Roe dropping to full back and Lee Featherstone adopting a central defensive role.
A Featherstone error saw the home centre forward’s shot from the left skid past a post and Gaughan bravely blocked a defender’s strike as Handsworth looked to snatch a shock lead.
But GAUGHAN escaped the attention of his marker a minute before the break to convert an Algar cross from close range to open the scoring before then blocking a clearance from the goalkeeper, the ball ricocheting just a foot over the bar.
Atkins made changes bringing on 16 years old goalkeeper Matt Leese, James Travis from the under 19’s, a trialist, Kris Witcombe and Martin Foster.
Foster’s experience and ability to retain possession with short, crisp passes, led to expected Matlock domination. Leesley’s shot was booted off the line and from the resulting corner James Lukic’s header was held by the goalkeeper.
Then Algar’s fierce strike thudded against the bar and Gaughan, who had supplied the fine pass for Algar, drove at the custodian.
Another Lukic header met the same fate as before, Leesley’s shot was held at the second attempt by the number one who then pushed out a Witcombe shot and Leesley hit the post before the ball was scrambled out for an unproductive corner.
Sometimes Matlock shot from seemingly ridiculous distances, needing something extraordinary to bring about a goal. Conversely Ashmore needed a touch too many, being robbed by the goalkeeper as he tried to round him.
There was nearly a sting in the tail when a free kick was helped on to the post by Leese before Witcombe cleared the danger.
The Gladiators at last doubled their lead with eight minutes left, ASHMORE threading a free kick around the wall and low into the corner.
It was a frustrating performance by Matlock, and it is easy to see why managers can loose their cool.
“It wasn’t the best but then had we got our usual strikers playing we might have got double figures ” said Atkins. “But it’s been useful, perhaps the lads expected to win easily given who we were playing, it’s probably done them good by knocking them down a peg or two.”
MATLOCK TOWN: Nick Buxton, Will Dennis, Lee Featherstone, Kris Bowler, Laurence Gaughan, James Lukic, Ryan Hindley, James Ashmore, Joe Leesley, Ben Algar, Phil Roe. Subs-2nd half: Matt Leese (for Nick Buxton), Kris Witcombe (for Will Dennis) Martin Foster (for Kris Bowler), James Travis (for Phil Roe), Trialist (for Ryan Hindley)
ATTENDANCE: 50 est.