Matlock Town 2-1 Nantwich Town
Matlock completed a fantastic February with another deserved and hard earned victory in yet another relegation six pointer thanks to a marvellous first half display and then a battling performance after the break as Nantwich hit back.
The Gladiators were two goals in front at the interval thanks to international class goals from Pakistani Otis Khan and Northern Ireland under 21 striker Jamie McDonagh before Steve Jones halved Nantwich’s deficit with eighteen minutes remaining. The visitors finished with ten men having striker Max Harrop sent off for abusing referee Anthony Moore late on and then afterwards Matt Bailey was also shown the red card for his part in a melee as the players left the field.
Something had to give with both sides on 38 points from 34 matches, Matlock having the better goal difference, and both teams in good form, the Gladiators searching for a fifth league win on the bounce, Nantwich having won both of their games since the appointment of new manager Phil Parkinson.
After a tight start it was Matlock who quickly gained momentum to go on and dominate the opening half.
McDonagh and Khan ran the visiting defence ragged, aided ably by another fantastic performance from Niall McManus as Matlock constantly ripped the visitors wide open as they attacked down the left.
Nantwich were happy to breathe again in the 13th minute as McDonagh’s centre was just out of Khan’s radar, but the pressure would be virtually unrelenting.
McManus teased Shaun Dowling on the left before easing comfortably past him to set up captain Liam Needham whose shot whistled narrowly over the bar.
Matlock were buzzing around the Nantwich box and finally broke through in spectacular style on 25 minutes when Khan was brought down four yards outside the box.
The home fans knew what would probably follow but goalkeeper Terry Smith clearly didn’t as for the third league match in a row, KHAN found the net from the free kick, this being a peach of a finish, curling a stunner into the corner.
Buoyed by the goal, Matlock kept flying forward and McDonagh was unlucky only to find Smith’s arms with a neat flick from McManus’ centre on 29 minutes.
Five minutes later McDonagh thought he had doubled the lead as he headed home a Micky Harcourt free kick from the right, but assistant Richard Eley’s offside flag came to the visitors’ rescue.
Harrop was booked for elbowing Harcourt and a second booking quickly followed as Matty Kosylu fouled Josh Meade, Nantwich clearly being frustrated at being outplayed.
A superb break involving Khan and then McManus saw the ball find Needham whose goal bound strike was deflected wide for a 42nd minute corner from which Muhammed Sabo headed over.
The second goal Matlock had threatened came on the stroke of half time and again it involved the lively Khan and McManus, the latter’s cross being clipped home at the near post by McDONAGH.
That goal stung Nantwich into action and at last Jon Kennedy was called into action to brilliantly claw away a volley from Sean Cooke to preserve the two goal lead into the interval.
Nantwich looked more businesslike after the break and it was now time for Matlock to show their worth defensively.
Important interceptions from Sabo and Oscar Radford stopped Harry Clayton in his tracks as the visitors at last had a spell of pressure.
But Matlock had pace on the break and two potentially goal saving tackles from Andy White prevented McDonagh and then new signing Danny Frost from adding to the lead. Then a Radford header back across the penalty box dropped invitingly to be finished only for the chance to go begging with nobody to apply the finishing touch.
Khan then drove too high before controversy came when Kosylou should have been booked again and then dismissed for a poor challenge on Harcourt. Referee Moore showed extreme leniency in calling the Nantwich skipper over for a warning before Kosylou was probably wisely substituted.
Two minutes later Nantwich were back in with a shout as substitute STEVE JONES rolled home a low shot from fifteen yards to set up a tense finish.
Clayton drove into the side netting when well placed but that was just about the only moment of danger for Matlock who defended superbly as a unit.
Harrop’s red card made life easier for Matlock as they survived without too much pain to continue their excellent run of form.
The win took them up to 15th but they cannot and must not now take their foot off the pedal. There’s still plenty of hard work to be done, but there is also now a confidence and a belief that safety can be achieved.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Oscar Radford 4 Josh Meade 5 Muhammed Sabo 6 Julian Banton 7 Ted Cribley (17 Danny Frost 56) 8 Liam Needham 9 Jamie McDonagh 10 Otis Khan 11Niall McManus (15 Adam Yates 90) Other subs: 12 Scott Maxfield 14 Grant Black 16 Danny Holland
NANTWICH TOWN: 1 Terry Smith 2 Shaun Dowling 3 Andy White 4 Matt Bailey 5 Ben Harrison 6 Mark Jones (14 Steve Jones 46) 7 Sean Cooke 8 Elliott Osbourn 9 Harry Clayton 10 Max Harrop 11 Matthew Kosylou (12 Mark Winslade 70) Other subs: 15 George Mannion 16 Cliff Moyo 17 Grant Hartley
REFEREE: A Moore (Stockport) ATTENDANCE: 305 BEST GLADIATOR: Niall McManus