Alfreton Town 1-0 Matlock Town
Holders Matlock ended a frustrating evening at the Impact Arena on Tuesday kicking themselves for not knocking favourites Alfreton out of this year’s competition.
In spite of being the better side, they wasted a host of chances and then conceded a scruffy 62nd minute winner which saw the National League North outfit through by the narrowest of margins. Substitute Andre Johnson was credited with the goal which gave the Reds some revenge from their semi final exit at Matlock last season.
Former Alfreton striker Shaun Harrad will feel the frustration more than anyone else, he could and should have put his old club to the sword , having two excellent and a further two more chances to find the net.
But Alfreton, somewhat fortunately, kept a clean sheet and Matlock lost their grip on the trophy at the first time of asking.
A Chris Sharpe header cleared the bar for the Reds in the 3rd minute in a start which saw both sides struggle to gain the upper hand.
Ten minutes later, Jamie Jackson and Harrad combined neatly with Jake Green firing a foot wide from twenty yards as Matlock put together their first positive move of the tie. Ryan Jennings dragged a shot wide from eighteen yards before Matlock were within inches of taking the lead as a fine, explosive twenty yard volley from Michael Williams was a matter of inches over the bar after Alfreton had partially cleared a corner. In the next minute Jackson attacked down the left, Harrad dummied to leave Williams with a seemingly easier chance but his shot lacked power and Chris Elliott had a comfortable save.
Williams and the Reds Thomas Platt were booked by a pedantic referee after a coming together which warranted merely a word in the ear for both players. The official would be a constant cause of frustration for Matlock who more often than not were on the receiving end of some baffling decisions.
Harrad’s first huge opportunity came on 40 minutes, a penetrating run and cross from the right by Jackson falling to him only for a sliced first shot to be blocked before he stabbed the loose ball agonisingly wide.
But it was in the opening stages of the second period when Harrad should have won the game for the visitors.
A David Shiels back header towards Elliott lacked pace and Harrad, with only the yellow shirted custodian to beat, slammed his shot against the goalkeeper.Then a half chance fell his way, Shiels being ideally placed to deflect the finish wide. Shortly afterwards a fantastic through pass from Max Hunt had Harrad in the clear, but again Elliott rescued the hosts with another firm block. From the corner, Williams drove high and wide and the feeling was that it would be Alfreton’s night.
After Jackson had penalty appeals rejected, Alfreton broke for Phil Barnes to star as he was down quickly to knock away a shot from Marcus Day before two Alfreton substitutes, Marcus Marshall and Johnson had an almost and telling impact.
Marshall won a corner on the left that both JOHNSON and Thomas Allen challenged for and Matlock’s defending was found wanting as the ball was bundled into the net.
Joe Doyle-Charles was left writhing by a late tackle from Bradley Wood which went unpunished, the Matlock midfielder would later be booked for a far less serious tackle, joining Harrad who had been cautioned for delaying a free kick in what was a return to his old stomping ground that he would not recall with fondness.
Williams again drove off target and a Dwayne Wiley header dropped wide as Matlock battled gamely but ultimately in vain for an equaliser to take the tie to a penalty shoot out.
While it was another encouraging display from the Gladiators, a mixture of awry finishing, bad luck and a moment of slackness at the back cost them dearly.
Alfreton will now visit New Mills in the quarter finals next month.
ALFRETON TOWN: 1 Chris Elliott 2 Alex Cover 3 Bradley Wood 4 Thomas Platt 5 David Shiels 6 Thomas Allen 7 Ryan Jennings 8 Cieran Keane 9 Chris Sharp(12 Andre Johnson 58) 10 Marcus Day (16 Morgan Brough 73) 11 Brendon Daniels (15 Marcus Marshall 58) Other subs: 14 Craig Westcarr 17 Kegan Everington
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Adam Yates 3 Kieran Wallace 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Max Hunt 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Jake Green 8 Michael Williams 9 Shaun Harrad 10 Jamie Jackson 11 Rhys Sharpe Subs-not used: 12 Nico Degirolamo 14 Nathan Whitehead 15 Zak Brunt 16 Harry Wood 17 Jordan Pierrepont
REFEREE: James Oldham (Derby) ATTENDANCE: 260 BEST GLADIATOR: Michael Williams BEST RED: Chris Elliott