Skelmersdale United 0-1 Matlock Town
If proof was needed that Matlock are up for the relegation fight, then there was plenty of evidence to back up that view on Valentine’s Day at Stormy Corner.
The Gladiators went to the league leaders and returned home with a deserved and precious victory which lifts them out of the bottom four relegation slots.
It was a sound all round team display, everyone battled hard for one another and while Matlock needed goalkeeper Jon Kennedy to be on top form in the expected second half onslaught from Skem, the Gladiators had done enough, particularly for the majority of the opening half, to be worthy of victory.
Mark Hume seems to have a magic wand at present, as he brought in Jamie McDonagh for Danny Holland in the one change from the team which had beaten Marine seven days earlier. Sure enough it was McDONAGH who grabbed the all important decider just before the half hour when he was on the end of a corner from the left to apply the vital touch.
Home goalkeeper Steven James was culpable as he should probably have mopped up the danger, but Matlock had fired a number of warnings from set pieces from the start of the game, the goal coming with Matlock comfortably in the ascendancy.
In a bright start from Hume’s men, McDonagh was caught narrowly offside from a Micky Harcourt through pass in the 4th minute, before Julian Banton and fellow defenders Muhammed Sabo and Oscar Radford all proceeded to cause havoc in the home ranks from set pieces.
A Ted Cribley free kick skimmed off the head of home defender Robert Bodie with Banton waiting to pounce, and from the resulting corner Sabo’s header goal wards deflected off Shaun Holden in a run of three Matlock corners on the spin.
The final one on 10 minutes nearly brought joy for the visitors as Radford’s bullet header crashed against the underside of the bar and somehow stayed out, a grateful Skelmersdale hacking the ball clear.
Another Gladiators attack saw McDonagh played through the middle by Niall McManus, the move ending as the Northern Ireland youth international shot powerfully against James, but then McDonagh’s industry was rewarded with a goal, albeit a scruffy one, but Matlock would not care a jot about that.
Going behind eventually awoke an abject Skem side from their slumber. They won a 32nd minute corner which was flicked harmlessly wide by Scott Bakkor, before the Matlock defenders, who had proved to be a threat in the home penalty area, proved their worth at the other end.
Sabo did well to intercept a right wing centre from Valter Fernandes at the expense of a corner and then fine covering, first by Radford and then by Banton stopped any danger being created by the hosts.
An excellent first half for Matlock ended with Kenny Strickland’s free kick being fired high over the bar.
Matlock might have increased their lead soon after the resumption as McManus fired off target when well placed, a second goal then might have led to a convincing Gladiators victory.
But Skelmersdale simply had to improve and they did. Kennedy kept Matlock in front with a superb save low to his left to keep out a 55th minute strike from Strickland.
Kennedy had to be brave too, taking and recovering from a nasty knock when Bakkor went in with a raised boot, but nothing would stop Matlock from gaining the three points it seemed.
They defended a number of Skelmersdale corners as the hosts saw their title chances and even hopes of a play off spot fade by the minute.
Alan Burton dragged an effort wide from the edge of the box, but Matlock were still dangerous themselves. Cribley fired at James from a good position and McDonagh cut through the heart of the home defence only to shoot straight at James.
Kennedy again excelled, with great saves from both Danny Mitchley and Bakkor before in a last gasp effort to save a point the hosts threw men forward but were met by a sturdy yellow wall of defenders intent on keeping a clean sheet.
A Mitchley free kick hit that wall and immediately the final whistle shrilled to leave Town players punching the air with delight, armed with the knowledge that this was their best result of the season.
It is important now for Matlock not to undo their hard work in the games immediately ahead of them against struggling sides.
SKELMERSDALE UNITED: 1 Steven James 2 Valter Fernandes 3 Shaun Holden 4 Rob McIntosh, 5 Robert Bodie 6 Aidan Kirkbride (14 Dale Wright 67) 7 Kenny Strickland (15 Phil Mooney 67) 8 Alan Burton 9 Danny Mitchley 10 Scott Bakkor 11 Benjamin Tollitt Other subs: 12 Peter Wylie 16 Alex Meaney 17 Andy Paxton
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Oscar Radford 4 Josh Meade 5 Muhammed Sabo 6 Julian Banton 7 Ted Cribley 8 Liam Needham (16 Otis Khan 88) 9 Jamie McDonagh (12 Scott Maxfield 83) 10 Corey Gregory (14 Danny Holland 70) 11 Niall McManus Other subs: 15 Adam Yates 17 Grant Black
REFEREE: P Hodskinson (Preston) ATTENDANCE: 231 BEST GLADIATOR: Jon Kennedy