MATLOCK TOWN 0-5 DARLINGTON 1883
The scoreline says it all as Matlock were ruthlessly pulled apart by the title chasing Quakers.
It turned out to be a great afternoon for Darlington as news filtered through of leaders Blyth Spartans shock home defeat by Halesowen Town and Salford City’s surprise loss at Skelmersdale United that means the Quakers jumped into second spot, seven points behind Blyth but still with four games in hand,
Darlington looked every bit championship material, although they were somewhat aided by Matlock’s worst home performance of the season which contributed to their worst result under Mark Hume’s managerial tenure.
Darlington had this fixture down in the tricky category, given how well Matlock had battled despite a 3-0 defeat five weeks ago at Bishop Auckland. Thee would have been extra optimism in the home camp with Adam Yates and Laurie Wilson back from suspension and Craig Nelthorpe facing one of his former clubs after injury, but any hope that Matlock could cause a shock of their own quickly evaporated. Darlington, a strong and quick side, were on the offensive immediately and the contest was effectively over by the 16th minute when two Nathan Cartman goals had put the visitors firmly in the driving seat.
CARTMAN opened the scoring in only the 3rd minute, a clever Tom Portas pass cutting through the heart of the Matlock defence who were hoping for an offside flag which never came, the nippy number ten sliding a low shot beyond the advancing George Willis.
Darlington were a lick of paint from doubling their advantage in the 14th minute as Lee Gaskell headed powerfully against the underside of the bar from a deep Terry Galbraith cross, Tom Burgin gratefully hacking the ball clear.
But Matlock’s respite was shortlived as they conceded sloppily from a long throw by Gary Brown which captain Kevin Burgess nodded on for CARTMAN to joyfully apply the finishing touch at the far post.
Matlock desperately needed a foothold in the game, their usual better performances against the top sides badly deserting them on the day.
But it was close to being 3-0 in the 28th minute as the tricky Stephen Thompson’s low centre found Gaskell at the far post, Willis doing well to block the striker’s effort before shortly afterwards the young Gladiators custodian saved his side again when a Portas cross was met on the volley by Cartman.
A strike from Ted Cribley, comfortably held by Peter Jameson on the half hour proved to be Matlock’s only shot of the opening half and they were in deeper strife six minutes from the interval as poor defending from a Phillip Turnbull free kick saw BURGESS follow in to force the ball home after Willis had pushed out Cartman’s header.
Darlington took their foot off the gas in the opening exchanges of the second period and could and should have been punished.
Niall McManus had a hat-trick of opportunities, firstly when Cribley crossed from the right to McManus who was unmarked, but Jameson was down quickly to brilliantly block the shot. Then McManus turned sharply on to a pull back from substitute Jason Paling but again Jameson did well as he tipped the strike over the bar.
Yet again Jameson came out on top in his personal duel with McManus and when the ball broke loose, Turnbull’s miscued clearance needed Jameson to again tip the ball over the bar to keep his clean sheet.
But any encouragement Matlock might have had from their flurry of pressure was killed stone dad when Paling’s suicidal back pass only found former Buxton hot shot LIAM HARDY, on as a substitute, and with Willis carrying a dead leg, Hardy easily waltzed around the goalkeeper to place his shot into an empty net for 4-0 on 64 minutes.
Darlington’s nap hand came from a free kick on the left when Hardy was fouled and THOMPSON swung a low shot through a crowd of players and into the far corner with still sixteen minutes left.
It might have been even worse for a demoralised home outfit when Hardy beat two defenders on the left to tee up Thompson whose powerful strike was well blocked by Burgin.
Matlock had been outfought and outplayed in what was a miserable afternoon for them. Few players could emerge with credit and it’s a result that now must be put firmly behind them as they prepare for Saturday’s trip to Blyth.
The scant consolation from the day for Matlock was the highest attendance of the season at 745 with Darlington’s healthy travelling support being a credit to their club.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 George Willis 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Craig Nelthorpe (14 Jason Paling 46) 4 Laurie Wilson 5 Adam Yates 6 Tom Burgin 7 Ted Cribley 8 Liam Needham 9 Niall McManus 10 Danny Holland (15 Jake Orrell 60) 11 Charlie Dawes (12 Joel Purkiss 46) Other subs: 16 Liam Gaughan 17 Scott Maxfield
DARLINGTON 1883: 1 Peter Jameson 2 Chris Hunter 3 Terry Galbraith 4 Phillip Turnbull (16 Adam Nowakowski 65) 5 Kevin Burgess 6 Gary Brown 7 Tom Portas 8 Leon Scott 9 Lee Gaskell (12 Graeme Armstrong 58) 10 Nathan Cartman (14 Liam Hardy 58) 11 Stephen Thompson Other subs: 15 Adam Mitchell 17 Jim Provett
REFEREE: Matthew Donohue (Manchester) ATTENDANCE: 745 BEST GLADIATOR: Niall McManus