Grantham Town 0-0 Matlock Town
Matlock returned from the division’s form team with a hard earned and deserved draw from a scrappy tense encounter in which neither side could find that extra slice of qulaity in the final third to claim a victory.
Grantham are on a remarkable run which has seen them remain unbeaten in seventeen outings, catapulting them from the edge of the relegation zone to play off hopefuls. The last team to beat them was Matlock in the FA Trophy in November, just four days after the Gladiators had come out on top by a 2-1 margin in the league.
The main talking point beforehand was the surprise return of goalkeeper Jon Kennedy,drafted in to replace the injured Phil Barnes. Kennedy turned in a faultless performance, although he was not overly extended, everything he did was done well and he deserved his clean sheet. Matlock also made one other change as Joe Doyle-Charles came in for Andy Wright who was named as a substitute.
Grantham had the advantage of a stiff wind behind them in the open South Kesteven Stadium as the game got under way but there was little for the 309 crowd to cheer in the opening exchanges.
Nobody wanted to make a mistake on a bobbly surface, the ball spending a good deal of time in the air or even off the field, the lack of ball boys to retrieve the ball from the surrounding athletics track adding to the disjointed play.
What the game lacked in quality was more than made up for in effort and application although as several people commented afterwards, the teams could have been playing until midnight and nobody would have scored.
The Gladiators had the better openings before the interval. After Kennedy had advanced well to steal the ball away from the raiding Lee Shaw, Matlock responded and top scorer Marcus Dinanga blasted fiercely over the bar in a one on one with home custodian Keiran Preston.
The Gingerbreads won a free kick on the right from which captain Stefan Galinski headed harmlessly over the bar and from another free kick in a similar position, Michael Hollingsworth prodded a tame strike at Kennedy.
Soon afterwards the Gladiators were guilty of trying to walk the ball into the net as Niall McManus delayed his shot too long before Preston made the most difficult save of the contest, quickly getting down to claw away a low drive from Paul Ennis in the 38th minute.
Grantham enjoyed most of the play territorially after the interval when the Gladiators defenders were on top of their game. Skipper Adam Yates and in particular Dwayne Wiley were outstanding.
Harry Clifton’s twenty yarder was deflected wide following a right wing corner and although Lee Shaw had the ball in the net in the 61st minute, the assistant’s flag had long been raised for offside. Shaw was then comfortably denied by Kennedy before strike partner Jeremiah Dasaolu, for once outwitted Wiley, but drove carelessly high and wide.
Matlock created little, Dinanga was living off scraps as unusually the visitors had difficulty finding their men effectively. But this may have been largely down to a Grantham side whose workrate was first class, never giving the Gladiators a moment’s peace on the ball.
Doyle-Charles spotted Preston off his line but his 50 yard lob was off target.
But with a minute of the regulatory ninety remaining, substitute Curtis Morrison was sent sprawling a couple of yards outside the penalty box in a central position. The free kick from Ennis looked bound for the corner of Preston’s net until Hollingworth managed to deflect the shot just inches past the right hand post.
That would undoubtedly have given the Gladiators those two extra points and ended Grantham’s long proud unbeaten run.
But in the end two extremely competent sides, who perhaps did not do themselves justice from an attacking viewpoint, cancelled each other out. The end result was just about right.
GRANTHAM TOWN: 1 Kieran Preston 2 Sam Purcicoe 3 Ellis Storey 4 Michael Hollingworth 5 Stefan Galinski 6 Curtis Burrows (12 Danny Meadows 76) 7 Harry Clifton 8 Rhys Lewis 9 Jeremiah Dasaolu 10 Lee Shaw 11 Luke Shaw Other subs: 14 Michael Koopowitz 15 Tom Curtis 16 Kevin Dasiluabastus 17 Liam Quinn
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Liam Marsden 3 Jake Green 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Niall McManus 8 Michael Williams (15 Andy Wright 73) 9 Paul Ennis 10 Marcus Dinanga 11 Ted Cribley (17 Curtis Morrison 87) Other subs: 12 Nico Degirolamo 14 Marc Newsham 16 Jamie Yates
REFEREE: E Pidduck (Nottingham) ATTENDANCE: 309 BEST GLADIATOR: Dwayne Wiley