MATLOCK TOWN 3-2 STAFFORD RANGERS
Matlock came from behind twice to snatch victory and get their festive programme off to a winning start.
Craig Westcarr grabbed two equalisers on his return to the starting line up before captain Adam Yates scored the decider, a decent Rangers having netted through Joe Cuff and Jake Charles.
Westcarr replaced Luke Hinsley in the starting line up, manager Dave Frecklington also making another change as Brad Beatson got the nod over Lee Beevers at left back.
In a lively opening from both sides, it was Stafford who went ahead in the 13th minute after the Gladiators had enjoyed the bulk of the attacking play. It was poor defending from Matlock who allowed CUFF too much time and space on the left and their troubles were compounded when goalkeeper Ross Durrant found himself in no mans land as Cuff cleverly lifted his finish over him and into the empty net.
That first deficit though lasted only three minutes as Michael Hollingsworth played in Craig King and the winger’s hoisted centre was mishandled by goalkeeper George Kenworthy-Sykes under pressure from WESTCARR who forced the ball home with visiting skipper Luke Jones battling in vain to clear. Stafford were unhappy with the referee claiming Kenworthy-Sykes had been fouled but the goal stood.
Durrant atoned for his part in the Rangers goal in the 19th minute when Cuff again took advantage of some slack defending, Durrant coming off his line quickly to block Cuff’s low shot.
Matlock responded with Jordan Chapell releasing Westcarr down the right, Kenworthy-Sykes cutting out the cross as Westcarr looked for supporting Gladiators in the box.
Appeals for a Stafford penalty when Theo Bailey-Jones went to ground were firmly refused but Stafford regained the lead in the 34th minute when Cuff again had space on the left, his square pass setting up the unmarked CHARLES who glided his shot past Durrant.
Westcarr tried his luck from twenty five yards but his shot was comfortably gathered by Kenworthy-Sykes, Matlock going in for their half time cuppa behind and with issues to resolve defensively.
They made a promising start to the second half, Beatson’s back header from Taron Hare’s long throw landing on top of the net on 49 minutes before Cleveland Taylor drove comfortably wide from twenty five yards two minutes later. Marcus Marshall showed his pace to good effect soon afterwards, crossing from the left and seeing a Rangers defender hack the ball out for a corner.
Matlock were starting to dominate now although a surprise shot from distance by Luke Jones swerved narrowly wide in the 62nd minute to remind the hosts that Stafford were still a threat.
Matlock boldly went for the jugular with Hinsley replacing Chapell and the move would work a treat.
Durrant held a strike from Andy Haworth but Matlock replied almost instantly to grab a 69th minute equaliser. Hare broke down the right to cross for Hinsley to expertly knock the ball into WESTCARR who shot fiercely into the corner with a superbly executed half volley.
The division’s best crowd of the day had found their voices and roared Matlock forward again. Dwayne Wiley headed too high from a free kick on the right but he claimed a glorious assist in the 74th minute winner.
Wiley flicked on King’s corner from the left and YATES on the run dashed in to score from close range. Now it was important that Matlock learned from their mistakes of the opening half and remained resolute in defence.
They had one scare when the ever dangerous Cuff shot from distance with four minutes left, Durrant being more than equal to the test by clawing away the low shot. A Tom Thorley free kick drifted wide as Matlock relatively comfortably saw out the remaining minutes to record a seventh successive home win in league and cup and rise to seventh spot in the table.
This Matlock side never knows when it is beaten and they again came off to a stirring standing ovation. Stafford made life difficult for them but Matlock again showed tremendous spirit and character to earn their win.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Ross Durrant 2 Taron Hare 3 Brad Beatson 4 Michael Hollingsworth 5 Dwayne Wiley 6 Adam Yates 7 Jordan Chapell (14 Luke Hinsley 65) 8 Cleveland Taylor 9 Craig Westcarr ( 16 Tom Davie 77) 10 Marcus Marshall (12 Lee Beevers 88) 11 Craig King Other subs: 15 Ashton Hall 17 Jordan Pierrepont
STAFFORD RANGERS: 1 George Kenworthy-Sykes 2 Sam Coulson 3 Josh Green 4 Luke Jones 5 Jack Sherratt 6 Dan Burns 7 Theo Bailey-Jones (16 Lucas Burnett 88) 8 Tom Thorley 9 Jake Charles 10 Andy Haworth (14 Lewis Banks 75) 11 Joe Cuff Other subs: 12 Declan Arber 15 James Askey 17 Max Dixon
REFEREE: Jamie O’Connor (Chesterfield) ATTENDANCE: 493 BEST GLADIATOR: Craig Westcarr