“Can we play you every week” was the shout from a happy and relieved Matlock camp as they responded to three successive defeats with a hard fought victory and a league double over Frickley at the Reynolds Stadium on Tuesday night.
The Gladiators only other league win in their opening five games had come at the Tech 5 Stadium a fortnight ago, and with Frickley below them with just a point to show for their endeavours, this was a massive win for the hosts.
But it was Frickley who were the more dangerous in a tension filled first period. The Yorkshiremen failed to make their pressure count as Matlock defended with purpose and organisation, skipper James Lukic and Adam Yates proved to be an immovable barrier.
The bonus came when Lewis McMahon shot them in front two minutes from the half time whistle which gave them confidence to themselves look more threatening in the second half. Joe Leesley, who replaced experienced Lee Ellington in the starting eleven rammed in a second on 65 and although Glyn Cotton halved the deficit two minutes later, Matlock secured three priceless points with McMahon’s second goal twelve minutes from the end.
Frickley were quickly out of the blocks as Glyn Cotton saw his fierce drive deflect off Lukic forcing Jon Kennedy into a fine diving save in the opening minute. Then Cotton cut in from the left to fire narrowly wide before a header from the giant Gavin Allott struck Lukic to produce what proved to be an unproductive corner.
Town looked nervous and struggled to find a foothold in the opening exchanges. Home debutant Kevin “Danny” Deakin was barged over in the penalty box by Jason Yates but refereeing namesake Oliver Yates ruled the challenge as clean.
Then after a scrappy period referee Yates astonishingly booked Ryan Laight for what appeared to be a ball winning tackle on Jimmy Ghiachem, the first of a number of decisions which enraged a home crowd who were praised by manager Mark Atkins for their backing after the match.
Midfielder Inderjeet Aujla drove fiercely too high and it was a full 29 minutes before the hosts tested goalkeeper Tom Woodhead when Deakin failed to find sufficiient power in a difficult twenty yard volley as the ball trickled through to a thus far underworked custodian.
Kane Richards had been tripped by Aujla to earn the Frickley player a booking, then seconds later the Derby County loanee had Woodhead stretching to hold a twenty five yard strike.
The hosts survived an onslaught as Allott’s height caused them problems, Ghiachem’s shot was charged down and Lukic’s superbly timed challenge on Cotton kept Frickley at bay.
Then out of the blue came a wonder goal from McMAHON, who curled in a peach of a shot from 25 yards out on the left after Richards’ run was blocked and the ball ran loose.
So against the run of the play Matlock held the lead and they were out early for the second half as Atkins accompanied them on to the pitch to offer final words of encouragement and advice as they waited for Frickley to join the second half party.
Leesley cut in from the right to pull a shot wide in the opening minute before Cotton was lucky not to be booked for clattering into Adam Yates’ head with a reckless challenge.
Nathan Joynes saw yellow after a push viewed as cautionable under the totting up procedure and Richards joined him for tripping David Buck, the youngster showing his frustration after losing possession on the half way line.
Another poor challenge on Yates by Cotton finally saw the culprit booked and when he repeated his misdemeanour in the 69th minute, again with Yates the victim, he should surely have been heading for an early bath. But the referee called over captain Matty Bloor and issued a lecture, much to the homesters’ derision.
In between these two incidents though came two more great goals. LEESLEY, possibly in two minds had fired straight at Woodhead on the hour but five minutes later he brought the crowd to their fet with a smart turn and a stunning low left foot strike which sped past a well beaten Woodhead.
COTTON smacked in a corker from twenty two yards past Kennedy’s left hand and into the top corner to give Frickley hope and set home nerves jangling but McMAHON snuffed out the chance of a Frickley comeback. Woodhead failed to hold a Leesley shot and the Town number ten gratefully snapped up the gift he was offered by finishing from close range.
Kennedy held a well struck Bloor strike as Matlock looked in no mood to relinquish their lead. Substitute Lee Featherstone was booked late on for a challenge that was far less serious than any of Cotton’s which emhasised the official’s inconsistent display.
There is still plenty of hard work ahead for Matlock. Frickley will probably feel aggrieved at the margin of the defeat and possibly that they did not deserve to lose. But the Gladiators showed a determination that had been lacking in earlier games and a togetherness to fight for the cause in difficult stages of the game. That must continue.
MATLOCK TOWN: Jon Kennedy, Ryan Laight, Phil Roe, Martin Foster, Adam Yates, James Lukic, Kane Richards, Joe Leesley (Lee Featherstone 79), Nathan Joynes (Lee Ellington 63), Lewis McMahon, Kevin Deakin. Other subs: Ryan Hindley, Nick Buxton
REFEREE: O Yates (Stoke on Trent) ATTENDANCE: 255 STAR MAN: James Lukic