WITTON ALBION 3-3 MATLOCK TOWN
The positives outweighed the negatives as Matlock battled their way to a deserved point in a thriller at Wincham Park.
The obvious negative is three goals conceded for the fourth successive game, but this time Matlock scored three themselves and looked much more the side that supporters had the pleasure of watching last season.
In a changed look to the team, Rhys Sharpe slotted in at left back with Jake Green operating down the right flank. Joe Doyle-Charles replaced Kieron Wallace who was ill, while Noel Burdett started in attack with Ricky German on the bench. Also among the substitutes was Zac Brunt, an attacking midfielder, signed on his sixteenth birthday on Friday.
Matlock made the brighter start with Shaun Harrad’s shot being deflected for a corner which Witton cleared with five minutes gone but it was the hosts who went in front after 12 minutes. Phil Barnes, normally Mr Reliable, slipped and spilled a routine ball and ROB HOPLEY could not believe his good fortune as he stroked his shot into an empty net.
Witton had another chance three minutes later, Will Jones knocking down a cross to Hopley who was crowded out but Matlock showed a steely resolve and were back on level terms in the 20th minute with a beautifully worked goal.
The speedy Burnett escaped down the right and kept his composure to look up and find HARRAD whop slid a precision low shot into the bottom corner, Harrad immediately recognising the part Burdett had played in the goal celebration.
Michael Williams drove directly at goalkeeper Calvin Hare as Matlock attacked again before Barnes atoned for his error with a smart block save from Owen Dale’s low drive. Then in an end to end game Hare saved another Williams shot at the second attempt.
Long throws into the box were causing Matlock plenty of problems as the tall Holey looked to profit but it was from a free kick that Witton regained the lead on 42 minutes, PAUL WILLIAMS finding the net with a low shot which Barnes admitted afterwards he could have dealt with better. Barnes, though, would prove his importance to the Gladiators line up later in the contest.
A business like Matlock then turned the game in their favour within seven minutes of the restart.
On 48 minutes Witton failed to clear a left wing corner and the ball broke to substitute GERMAN who made the ideal impact by rifling fiercely into the net. Then from another corner on the left ADAM YATES rose to plant a fine header past Hare.
Matlock needed to consolidate now but that good work went to waste as within three more minutes, Witton were level, TOM OWENS Having far too much room to break free and glide a low drive past Barnes, who this time stood little chance of saving it.
German could and probably should have put Matlock back in front just before the hour when he screwed a low shot wide with only Hare to beat before at the other end, Barnes pulled off a superb double save from Hopley to keep Matlock level.
Then Yates cleared a shot off the line as Witton went for a winner but Matlock came equally close in stoppage time, Harrad’s sizzling drive cannoned back off the inside of Hare’s left hand post.
By that time Brunt became Matlock’s youngest ever first teamer as he replaced the lively Burdett with three minutes remaining .
The improvement from the sorry display against Nantwich had been immense, but there is still a lot of hard work ahead. From a fans point of view, the Matlock team gave everything and had the character to respond when going behind twice. Now this pleasing attribute has to be replicated in the games to come.
WITTON ALBION: 1 Calvin Hare 2 Anthony Gardner 3 Danny McKenna 4 Nick Ryan 5 Paul Williams 6 James Foley (15 Steven Tames 56) 7 Owen Dale (14 Anthony Brown 61) 8 Tom Owens 9 Rob Holey 10 Will Jones (16 Micah Evans 56) 11 Prince Haywood Other subs: 12 Cesaire Lingouba 17 Ryan Nield
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Nico Degirolamo 3 Rhys Sharpe (14 Nathan Whitehead 68) 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley (12 Ricky German 46) 7 Jake Green 8 Michael Williams 9 Shaun Harrad 10 Noel Burdett (16 Zac Brunt 87) 11 Ted Cribley Other subs: 15 Harry Wood 17 Jordan Pierrpont
REFEREE: Richard Holmes (Preston) ATTENDANCE: 320 BEST GLADIATOR: Noel Burdett