Matlock Town 2-2 FC United of Manchester
A battling Matlock side fully deserved their point against high flying United which dented the visitors’ hopes of claiming the title.
Endeavour and spirit were there in abundance, never more so than when they went 2-1 down early in the second half but dug in to score again and set up a thrilling finish when both sides had the chance to claim the extra two points.
Matlock had the welcome additions of Micky Harcourt and James Lukic back in their defence after suspension and injury respectively and sprung a surprise by naming Laurence Gaughan as an emergency centre forward as Massiah McDonald started a three match ban.
United, who had arrived late causing the kick off to be delayed until 8pm, knew that an early goal would put them on the front foot and they nearly got it within twenty seconds when following a swift break down the right, Tom Greaves shot weakly at Jon Kennedy when well placed sixteen yards out.
Two crosses from the left then saw Lukic clear and Adam Yates block Matthew Wolfenden’s shot but Matlock weathered the early storm and Lukic’s diving header from a Harcourt free kick on 14 minutes bounced wide.
Five minutes later the speedy Bradley Grayson broke through on to a pass from James Ashmore only to fire wildly across the face of goal, the ball going out for a throw on the opposite flank.
Jake Cotterell came much closer at the other end almost straightaway, his searing twenty yard drive being superbly tipped over the bar by Kennedy.
But it was Matlock who drew first blood in the 37th minute when Ashmore’s quick thinking at a free kick given for a foul on Gaughan, saw him find GRAYSON who scored with a scorching volley into the opposite corner from the inside left channel.
An upset United boss Karl Marginson sent his side out for the second half and immediately set about pressurising the Gladiators who were breached following a free kick on 52 minutes which had seen Gareth Davies booked. Centre half ADAM JONES’ left foot shot from the edge of the box beat Kennedy after Town had failed to effectively clear their lines.
After Gaughan was booked for a robust challenge on the half way line, JONES struck again on 59 minutes from another free kick, this time finding room to head home, and an eighth home league defeat of the season was staring the Gladiators in the face.
Joe Leesley came on for Gaughan and made a real nuisance of himself for the United defence. Along with Grayson, he worked his socks off and the Rebels’ back four were clearly rattled, so much so that the Gladiators drew level on 66 minutes.
Martin Foster’s foraging and pass to Grayson created the chance as the number seven turned to cross from the left, only for the ball to strike Dean Stott’s hand.
Referee Joe Hull immediately pointed to the spot and GRAYSON calmly slotted home.
Now it was game on. At one end Matlock defended valiantly but down the other Grayson continued to tease and ask questions of the visiting rearguard with Stott going into the book for a mistimed tackle on him.
United made a double change including the introduction of Ryan Giggs’ brother Rhodri, but soon Grayson could and perhaps should have finished with a hat-trick, his unchallenged header from an 83rd minute Lee Featherstone cross clearing the bar.
But FC might have pinched victory at the death, but Lukic, who along with Adam Yates had been a tower of strength at the back, produced a captain’s block to stop Greaves from firing in a third United goal.
Mr Hull described the contest as a “proper non league game, both sides wanted to win it and it was played in the right spirit.”
Gladiators boss Mark Atkins rued his side “switching off” for the first fifteen minutes of the second half, but overall was pleased with his team.
“Our effort and control were generally excellent and they haven’t opened us up in open play although it was disappointing to concede both goals from set pieces. But after going 2-1 down, we came again to equalise and deserved our point and might have got all three.”
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Lee Featherstone 4 Martin Foster 5 Adam Yates 6 James Lukic (capt) 7 Bradley Grayson 8 James Ashmore 9 Laurence Gaughan (12 Joe Leesley 60), 10 Gareth Davies, 11 Lavell White. Subs not used: 14 James Travis 15 Ben Algar 16 Lewis McMahon 17 Nick Buxton
FC UTD: 1 James Spencer 2 Kyle Jacobs (capt) 3 Lee Neville (14 Jerome Wright 64) 4 Dave Birch (15 Rhodri Giggs 79) 5 Adam Jones 6 Dean Stott 7 Matthew Wolfenden 8 Jake Cotterell 9 Mike Norton (12 Greg Daniels 79) 10 Tom Greaves 11 Astley Mulholland Subs not used: 16 Matthew Walwyn 17 Samuel Fitzgerald
REFEREE: Mr J Hull-Stockport ATTENDANCE: 613 STAR GLADIATOR: Bradley Grayson