ALFRETON TOWN 1-3 MATLOCK TOWN
Matlock produced a major shock in Tuesday night’s Derbyshire Senior Cup quarter final at the Impact Arena.
They thoroughly deserved their victory over the Conference Premier League outfit, and having beaten Buxton in the previous round, they will possibly feel they deserve to go on and even lift the trophy.
Given their recent form and also that the Reds, who fielded a strong line up, are forty five places above them in the non league pyramid, most onlookers arrived probably expecting a comfortable Alfreton win.
But the Gladiators had clearly not read tyne script. For everything they did massively wrong at Halesowen last Saturday, they got it all virtually exactly right at Alfreton.
For joint boss Dave Rushbury, once Director Of Football with the Reds, it was a happy return to his old stamping ground.
Former Gladiators favourite Massiah McDonald, partnering the vastly experienced Carl Hawley in attack for the hosts, might have put Matlock behind in only the 2nd minute but Jon Kennedy did well to turn aside his close range header. McDonald would scarcely trouble his former team mates again.
After weathering the early storm, the visitors broke up the slope to break the deadlock in the 6th minute through Liam Needham’s first ever goal for Matlock, the midfielder sweeping home a low shot into the corner after fine approach play from Phil Roe. Soon afterwards Roe flicked on an assist from Adam Yates, another paying a first return visit to a former club, and was unlucky as Alfreton gratefully cleared their lines.
As expected Alfreton fought back to force three quick corners, one which brought a timely block from Ellis Humble before Kennedy saved well from Hawley following the final flag kick.
The one blot on Matlock’s night was two injuries collected in the space of six minutes as first Yates departed clutching a hamstring and then Roe was amusingly carried off by McDonald, an ankle injury being the problem.
But far from disrupting Matlock, the two changes appeared to galvanize them.
Joe Leesley never gave the Reds defence a moment’s rest in a busy and strong running display, the youngster forcing goalkeeper George Willis into a flying save to keep out his 34th minute rasping drive.
But Matlock were soon celebrating once again when Micky Harcourt, also back at the Impact Arena along with Lawrence Gorman, cracked a superb thirty yard thunderbolt over Willis to double the advantage with 39 minutes played.
Anthony Howells drove fiercely wide before Matlock were in dreamland in first half stoppage time when Leesley’s pace left the pedestrian Reds defence standing and he scored the goal he richly deserved with a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty box.
Matlock fans were visibly pinching themselves. Had they really watched a brilliant first half performance capped by three magnificent goals?
They had, but now had to ensure that they remained calm and in control.
Kennedy again did well to deny Hawley as Alfreton sought a miraculous recovery, but it was Matlock who came closest when Humble’s header on 55 minutes struck the top of the bar following more uncertain Reds defending from a corner.
Then Leesley shot too high with Needham creating space with a clever decoy run.
What proved to be merely a consolation effort arrived with twenty minutes remaining. A cleverly worked free kick caught the visitors out and Jordan Keane slotted the ball home.
The goal lifted home spirits and Matlock needed to satay firm and stedfast, the nearest the hosts coming being with five minutes to go when Kennedy could not hold a slippery ball played low into the box on a bitterly cold night, Hawley then being unable to profit thanks rot a fine recovery by the Matlock goalkeeper.
The Gladiators left the field to a warm reception from the travelling fans, who like their favourites had completely enjoyed their night out.
The players were rightly criticized for their second half show at Halesowen but this time it is only right to acclaim a tremendous performance in which they attacked impressively and defended with grit and determination.
Now this has to be replicated in vital league games ahead.
ALFRETON TOWN: 1 George Willis 2 Bradley Wood 3 Nathaniel Rowe-Turner 15 Jordan Keane 5 Luke Graham 23 Carl Hawley 17 Masiah McDonald (8 Lee Stevenson 52) 21 Anoi Thanoj 11 Anthony Howell 7 Nathan Hicks (27 John Johnston 49), 14 Jake Sheridan (8 Lee Stevenson 61) Other sub: 6 Christopher Smith
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Ellis Humble 3 Lawrence Gorman 4 Liam Needham 5 Muhammed Sabo 6 Adam Yates (14 Andre Johnson 23) 7 Micky Harcourt 8 James Ashmore 9 Joe Leesley 10 Jason Stokes (12 Danny Holland 79), 11 Phil Roe (15 Martin Foster 29)
REFEREE: Nigel Smith (Clay Cross) ATTENDANCE: 195 BEST GLADIATOR: Joe Leesley