Matlock’s recently found fighting spirit again came to the fore as they overturned a half time deficit against the Blue Square North full timers to score twice and progress to the first round proper of the FA Carlsberg Trophy.
Corey Gregory had fired Celtic into a 34th minute lead but captain James Lukic, who equalled the legendary Nick Tilly’s 591 club appearances during the game equalised on 58 before Massiah McDonald had the Matlock fans in ecstacy with an 87th minute winner.
Stalybridge possibly edged the opening half but Matlock certainly came good in the second period.
An even beginning saw Stalybridge force two quick corners on the 9 minute mark which came to nothing before Jon Kennedy was ideally placed to hold a 25 yard strike from Mitchell Austin. Matlock though responded with Martin Foster shooting wide from a similar distance after good approach play from McDonald. Another long range effort, this time from Greg Wilkinson was also off target as was a McDonald shot before a great block from Adam Yates at the expense of a corner denied Austin.
Another corner for the visitors resulted in skipper Mark Lees heading wide and as the Stalybridge corner count increased Matlock defended stoutly. But another flag kick led to the Stalybridge goal as the ball was headed out to GREGORY who returned it straight into the onion bag through a ruck of players and beyond an unsighted Kennedy.
Matlock were close to a leveller two minutes later as from a free kick on the right, Lukic swept his shot a foot past goalkeeper Alex Cairns’ right hand post. Then a completely wild miscue from Bradley Grayson after a surging run from Glyn Cotton saw a good chance go begging, with Grayson in space on the edge of the Celtic penalty box.
Kennedy did well to push away Wilkinson’s shot as the second half got under way, and then on 53 minutes came perhaps the turning point as Austin’s mishit shot struck a post and trickled along the line before Kennedy grabbed it with a grateful smile.
Five minutes further on and Matlock were level from a superbly executed set piece as Micky Harcourt’s excellently flighted free kick was flicked home by LUKIC and now it was game on.
Stalybridge came again for Kennedy to save well from substitute Jordan Barrow but the momentum was most definitely with the Gladiators. They were quick into the challenge and conversely looked fitter than their full time visitors who became increasingly rattled as the match wore on. Cairns kept them on equal terms with a brillinat diving save to keep out a shot from Grayson which looked like squeezing in by his left hand upright. Celtic had to resort to late challenges, one of which saw Austin booked for a terribly late challenge on Yates. Earlier Adam Pepper also saw yellow for fouling Glyn Cotton with Harcourt also in the wee black book for what looked an innocuous challenge on Wilkinson.
Manager Mark Atkins opted for the fresh legs and direct running of Joe Leesley in the closing stages, and the youngster made an impact immediately charging at the Celtic back line and forcing Cairns to hold his well struck effort.
But the ground erupted with three minutes left. Kennedy’s long punt was superbly controlled by McDONALD who then had the strength of a lion to hold off both Kristian Platt and Lees before firing in the winner in front of the Town End fans.
The Gladiators held firm in the remaining minutes including four added on at the end to earn another £4000 from the prize fund and a great victory.
MATLOCK TOWN: Jon Kennedy, Micky Harcourt, Phil Roe, Martin Foster, Adam Yates, James Lukic, Bradley Grayson (Joe Leesley 83), James Ashmore, Massiah McDonald, Glyn Cotton (Laurence Gaughan 88), Gareth Davies. Subs not used: Liam Wilkin, Will Dennis, Nick Buxton.
REFEREE: R Wigglesworth–Doncaster ATTENDANCE: 402 STAR MAN: Micky Harcourt