Matlock Town 3-0 Stafford Rangers
Matlock wrapped up their first victory in five games in a devastating opening spell which saw them score all three of their goals inside the opening twenty minutes.
It was just what the doctor ordered as far as the Gladiators were concerned from a potentially tough looking fixture against a usually physical Stafford side who took no prisoners when the Gladiators were beaten 2-0 at Marston Road in December.
This time though it was totally different as the hosts grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck from the start, led through a Michael Williams goal in only 32 seconds, and doubled it with a strike to remember from debutant Rhys Sharpe on 7 minutes. A quality goal from Dwayne Wiley rounded off the scoring as Matlock looked set to knock up a cricket score.
Sharpe replaced the suspended Niall McManus and operated down the left flank in tandem with the recalled Jake Green. Ted Cribley switched to the right with Liam Marsden back in his full back berth after sitting out the draw with Coalville in midweek. Michael Williams was deployed just behind striker Marcus Dinanga.
With the race for the play-offs being ultra-tight, Matlock could not have wished for a better start as a Wiley pass sent Marcus Dinanga scampering down the left to pull back a low cross for WILLIAMS to sweep home from close range.
Joe Doyle-Charles who along with the experienced Cleveland Taylor, was bossing the midfield , was close to his first goal of the season in the 5th minute, goalkeeper Adam Whitehouse tipping his header over the bar after Rangers struggled to clear their lines.
But the respite was only brief as SHARPE netted with a spectacular volley from the edge of the box after Whitehouse punched clear a free kick. The technique was exquisite, the execution was deadly, and it had the crowd buzzing.
Stafford gave debuts to four players and made five changes, all in midfield and attack, to try and halt a run which saw them have a similar recent record to Matlock, but their problems came at the back. The Gladiators were just too sharp for them and a third goal arrived when Stafford failed to clear Sharpe’s low corner from the left, WILEY gaining possession some fifteen yards out to twist and turn superbly before firing a daisy cutter beyond the unsighted Whitehouse.
The visitors wasted a fine chance to reduce the deficit just after the half hour mark when Green charged down a Jake Heath strike, the referee harshly ruling that it was hand ball and even more surprisingly booking Green for his trouble. Earlier in the move former Town striker Zeph Thomas deflected a Jack Sherratt cross on to the bar. Heath took the spot kick but his low shot was tipped around the post by Phil Barnes in his first serious action of the afternoon.
Matlock were soon back on the attack for Dinanga to scuff his shot towards Whitehouse after being set up by Sharpe before on 37 minutes Rangers were lucky to keep the deficit to three when Cribley had a shot wonderfully kept out by Whitehouse who was alert again to knock away the ricochet off full back Sam Griffiths.
Taylor looked to be impeded as he drove forward into the box but stifled penalty appeals were waved away as a most satisfactory half, Matlock’s best for a number of weeks, came to an end.
The second half was a more even affair with Rangers playing for pride and also the Gladiators being cautious not to allow Stafford a way back into the game.
Taylor drove narrowly over the bar after winning possession thirty yards out but the game was now being played predominantly in midfield with scoring chances few and far between.
Stafford had used all three of their substitutes by the 58th minute and their performance improved. One of the substitutes, the burly Kyle Perry, put himself about and a collision with Matlock skipper Adam Yates saw Yates replaced by Nico de Girolamo midway through the half. Perry also fired powerfully but hopelessly wide from distance. A consolation goal could have come in the 70th minute when Thomas faced Barnes in a one on one duel, but Barnes was more than equal to the task as he convincingly blocked Thomas’ shot.
Sharpe left the pitch to tremendous applause having tired a little as the game wore on before Taylor again came close to a fourth Town goal when substitute Curtis Morrison set him up to fire in a fierce twenty five yarder that again was just too high.
But the vital three points were safe for Matlock, thanks to their brilliant start and sensible game management afterwards. Choosing a star man is difficult, there were impressive performances throughout the side but Sharpe shades it, thanks to that wonderful volley for Town’s second goal.
Now fans will hope for more of the same.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Liam Marsden 3 Jake Green 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates (12 Nico de Girolamo 66) 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Rhys Sharpe (17 Curtis Morrison 79) 8 Cleveland Taylor 9 Michael Willaims (14 Andy Wright 49) 10 Marcus Dinanga 11 Ted Cribley Other subs: 15 Marc Newsham 16 Paul Ennis
STAFFORD RANGERS: 1 Adam Whitehouse 2 Sam Griffiths 3 Darren Thornton 4 Kieron Morris 5 Matt Bailey 6 Mitchell Tolley (14 Richard Batchelor 46) 7 Tyler Lyttle (15 Izak Reid 58) 8 Jake Heath 9 Adam Opoku (12 Kyle Perry 58) 10 Zeph Thomas 11 Jack Sherratt Other subs: 16 Levi Reid 17 Kris Taylor
REFEREE: Kristian Silcock (Bolsover) ATTENDANCE: 485 BEST GLADIATOR: Rhys Sharpe