Matlock Town 1-2 Skelmersdale United
After the encouraging signs at Blyth a week earlier, this poor display was three steps backwards for Matlock who slipped dejectedly to a fifth successive defeat against a side one place above them before kick off, having the same points total but Matlock having two matches in hand.
Losing was bad enough but the manner in which they lost was the most alarming aspect with two shots on target in ninety minutes, one being the penalty they scored from to take a 14th minute lead.
Add to that some inexcusable defending which gifted an only slightly better Skelmersdale side the victory, then you have all the ingredients for a disasterous afternoon from the Matlock point of view.
The visitors deserved the points as on the day they showed more desire than the Gladiators who appeared to be going through the motions. Hardly anyone in a blue shirt did enough to convince manager Mark Hume that they deserve to be retained for next season. In fact it is probably fortunate that the Gladiators already have 44 points on the board and that teams below them are also not winning enough points in their battle against the drop, else Matlock might be in more than a spot of trouble.
New signing Jerome Slew was named on the bench, but Hume was unable to retain the side which had done well at Blyth as Adam Yates was unfit with back spasms, so Jason Paling was in the starting line up at left back.
On a cold afternoon fans would have been hopeful of some exciting entertainment to brighten their Easter weekend, they were to be greatly disappointed.
Skelmersdale showed the greater intent from the start, Tom Burgin making a fine and vital interception to halt Max Hazeldine in only the 2nd minute with the resulting corner being headed over the bar by Ian Rowlands.
Then on 13 minutes came a bizarre period of play with the visitors claiming a penalty when Laurie Wilson and Burgin both failed to get in a telling challenge on Hazeldine, the ball running past George Willis who quickly recovered to grab the ball inches from the line.
Matlock immediately swept upfield and Rowlands was adjudged to have fouled McManus and WILSON confidently tucked away the spot kick.
Almost immediately Matlock and McManus burst forward again, this time a tackle from Phil Mooney being more effective but instead of building on their advantage Matlock became sucked into a midfield battle of attrition which was far from pleasing on the eye.
Good defending from Burgin saw a 25th minute Chris Almond strike diverted from the danger area but later Wilson and Burgin got themselves in a tangle and it needed excellent covering from Ted Cribley to rectify the error.
But Skelmersdale would have been surprised at the ease in which their 41st minute leveller was scored, a right wing corner being met by the unchallenged ROB McINTOSH who powered his header into the roof of the net. Hume, a tough uncompromising centre half in his playing days would be tearing his hair out.
Slew came on early in the second half for his debut but was given little opportunity to shine. One electric run down the right ended with a low cross asking to be gobbled up, but wasn’t as both Jordan Ball and Craig Nelthorpe could not finish the move off.
In a half of few chances it would take something special or a howler to decide the contest. There was precious little chance of the former although that nearly came in Matlock’s one convincing attack of the game on 72 minutes. Paling linked neatly with substitute Joel Purkiss on the left who in turn set up McManus who looked odds on to score but goalkeeper Martin Fearon produced a fine save to beat away the shot.
Six minutes later came the most untidiest of winners as a right wing cross hit BURGIN on the back and on his hand to drop beyond a deceived Willis.
Matlock had neither the energy nor the guile to save themselves and were booed off after a performance which when assessed more succinctly, was more alarming than the mauling by Darlington a fortnight earlier.
A great opportunity to get back on track had been tossed away.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 George Willis 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Craig Nelthorpe 4 Laurie Wilson 5 Jason Paling 6 Tom Burgin (14 Charlie Dawes 81) 7 Ted Cribley 8 Liam Needham 9 Jordan Ball (12 Joel Purkiss 61) 10 Danny Holland (15 Jerome Slew 51) 11 Niall McManus Other subs: 16 Liam Gaughan 17 Ryan Pugh
SKELMERSDALE UNITED: 1 Martin Fearon 2 Phil Mooney 3 Shaun Holden 4 Rob McIntosh 5 Ian Rowlands 6 Vincent Bailey 7 Scott Bakkor 8 Paul Woolcott 9 Max Hazeldine 10 Kenny Strickland 11 Chris Almond. Subs: 12 Tony Rendell 14 Louis Corrigan 15 Dylan Vassallo 16 Shaun Tuck 17 Tony Donaldson
REFEREE: Dean Watson (Rochdale) ATTENDANCE: 259 BEST GLADIATOR: Jason Paling