Hednesford Town 2-2 Matlock Town
Matlock’s ten men deservedly brought home a point from a tough trip to Keys Park as substitute and top scorer Lewis McMahon scored twice.
The major talking point came on 64 minutes when Gladiators skipper James Lukic tangled with Aaron Rey in the box and Atherstone official Ben Cooke pointed to the spot and brandished a red card in a shocked Lukic’s face.
Lukic protested his innocence as he left the pitch and afterwards. “It wasn’t even a foul, the ref said to me he would look at the video and apologise if he got it wrong but that doesn’t help for we went down to ten men and I also face a ban.”
ELLIOTT DURRELL showed no mercy from the spot and it looked as if the second placed hosts and highly fancied future title winners would go on to dominate and record a comfortable win.
But Mark Atkins’ men had not read the script. On came McMahon for Bradley Grayson and within ninety seconds of his arrival, McMAHON had restored parity with a gem of a finish. Joe Leesley had battled hard to win possession and had put McMahon clear of the Hednesford defence. McMahon lifted an exquisite lob over goalkeeper Dan Crane,the ball dropping sweetly into the corner for a fine goal.
Lukic’s dismissal had seen Laurence Gaughan move back from his emergency centre forward spot back to his more accustomed central defensive position as McMahon was the lone striker.
The determination and effort that had been evident from kick off from Matlock intensified as Hednesford poured forward but were struggling to make their extra man count. Barbadian international Neil Harvey planted a header at Jon Kennedy on 82 minutes, but a minute later, their numerical advantage paid dividends as a neat one two on the edge of the Gladiators penalty box saw full back ALEX MELBOURNE drive down the right and fire a low shot into the far corner.
But again Matlock would not lie down. Adam Yates cleared the bar with a header from a free kick before at the other end Kennedy did well to turn away a strike from midfielder Jamey Osborne.
Matlock though came again and when the match was entering the first minute of stoppage time McMahon was pushed by Francino Francis and from the second penalty of the contest McMAHON was calmness personified as he easily converted his 21st goal of the campaign.
At the start Matlock did well to repel early pressure from the Pitmen, desperate for maximum points in their pursuit of league leaders North Ferriby United.
A fine challenge by Yates denied Harvey while Osborne’s tricky cross shot deflected off Micky Harcourt for a corner with Harvey requiring treatment for an injury sustained in stretching to meet Osborne’s delivery. From the corner, the ball dropped to Rey who ballooned high over the bar.
Rey then saw Kennedy hold a header before he curled a shot wide as Matlock soaked up the pressure. It was important that Matlock stood firm for they would undoubtedly get chances of their own as the match progressed, and so it proved.
Crane easily gathered a deflected effort from Gareth Davies on 24 minutes before four minutes later Leesley had a good chance after Ben Bailey’s miskick but fired too high. Then in a promising spell for the visitors, Gaughan set up James Ashmore whose shot hit the outside of the frame of the goal.
Hednesford were becoming increasingly frustrated as shown by Osborne’s reckless tackle on Davies which earned him a 39th minute booking. Durrell, so often a threat from midfield, was being marked out of the game by Martin Foster, a ploy masterminded by Atkins who said afterwards “We knew he can be a major threat but in a way he cheats because he gets his team mates to do his donkey work, allowing him to do damage but we told Fozzie to stick closely to him and he did that superbly.”
In an open start to the second half Brad Grayson fired straight at Crane and from a Leesley free kick, Lukic’s header drifted wide.
Hednesford responded with skipper Darren Campion’s strike being deflected for a corner with Davies being cautioned for an offence in the build up with Kennedy being well placed to grab Francis’ resulting header.
Matlock though had a great chance to go in front on 53 minutes when Grayson found himself clear only to shoot against Crane’s feet in a one on one duel.
That escape appeared to wake the hosts up who themselves could have scored on the hour from their best move of the game. Slick passing saw the ball fall to Osborne who rolled his shot wide before Kennedy blocked another effort from the same player.
Then the drama really unfolded with the harsh dismissal of Lukic and Matlock’s fighting qualities coming to the fore.
McMahon will grab the headlines for his goals but it was a solid all round team display from the Gladiators who also had Leesley and Lee Featherstone yellow carded in the second half.
Hednesford looked a pale shadow of the best visiting side to visit the Reynolds Stadium when they won 3-2 back in November, but that was largely down to Matlock’s industrious performance.
HEDNESFORD TOWN: 1 Dan Crane 2 Alex Melbourne 3 Darren Campion 4 Ben Bailey 5 Francino Francis 6 Dave MacPherson (16 Kris Taylor 55) 7 Jamey Osborne 8 Elliott Durrell 9 Neil Harvey 10 Aaron Rey (12 Michael Lennon 75) 11 Kyle Patterson (14 Michael Wolfe 55) Other subs: 15 John Disney 17 Sam Barnes
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Lee Featherstone 4 Martin Foster 5 Adam Yates 6 James Lukic 7 Brad Grayson (14 Lewis McMahon 66) 8 James Ashmore 9 Laurence Gaughan 10 Gareth Davies 11 Joe Leesley (12 Lavell White 90+2)
Other subs: 15 Ben Algar 16 James Travis 17 Will Dennis
REFEREE: B Cooke-Atherstone ATTENDANCE: 391 STAR GLADIATOR: Martin Foster