An afternoon to forget as Gladiators lose to Ashton

Harry Winter, Matlock Town.
Harry Winter, Matlock Town.

Evo-Stik League Premier Division

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Matlock Town 0

Ashton United 2

Mark Peers 6, 9

Matlock Town: Jon Kennedy, Micky Harcourt, Lee Featherstone, Liam King, Adam Yates, James Lukic, Ben Algar, Harry Winter, Ian Holmes, TJ Nightingale (Liam Wilkin 75), Craig Nelthorpe (Ben Hunter 60) Other subs: Kris Witcombe, Nick Buxton

Referee: M Bingham – Leamington Spa

Attendance: 283

As performances go, this has to be rated as Matlock’s worst of the season as a hungry Ashton deservedly took all three points back to Tameside.

Short on confidence, lacking in invention and passion, Matlock were always second best and the performance was nowhere near good enough.

Mark Peers put Matlock in trouble with a quickfire double early on and the hosts never recovered, even though a better second half show saw them have more of the possession, have two goals ruled out and miss a penalty.

With Lee Morris having moved to North Ferriby, TJ Nightingale was the one change to the line-up unluckily beaten at Kendal. New striker Liam Wilkin from Winterton Rangers, who had scored twice in a friendly win in midweek at Armthorpe, was on the bench.

Ben Algar cut in to force Terry Smith to save in the fourth minute after a neat build-up on the right. All it did though was provide a false dawn as Peers undid them two minutes later.

Quite why he was allowed to cut through the Town midfield unchallenged is a mystery.

The defenders backed off and the former Witton winger unleashed a cracking 20-yard drive past the diving Jon Kennedy’s right hand.

The sloppiness was evident again just three minutes later. A careless pass from James Lukic forced Adam Yates into a foul on Matty Kosylo. Peers exacted full punishment on the Gladiators, curling the free kick into the top corner.

The chance of a quick response came in the 12th minute but Nightingale glanced Ian Holmes’s left wing cross wide.

Lee Featherstone was booked for a clumsy challenge on Matty O’Neill as Matlock were being outfought. Ashton’s workrate was first class, often causing Town to surrender possession too easily.

Algar drove well over and then wide from distance with Matlock not seriously testing Smith.

It could have been worse for the Gladiators on 22 minutes when Aaron Burns shrugged off Harcourt to fire a whisker wide of the far post. Then Kosylo came close as Matlock hung on.

Yates and Lukic were booked in quick succession. In between the cautions, Kennedy produced a top-class diving save to claw away a strike from Burns with Matlock all over the place defensively.

Half-time came with the Gladiators relieved that the deficit was only 2-0. It would be a good game for Matlock to win.

The performance at least improved in the second half. Matlock had the lion’s share of the play but had no cutting edge.

Harcourt blasted into the roof of the net in 54 minutes but the offside flag was raised, there was little complaint about the decision. Ashton skipper George Melling, who along with Craig Robinson, was to prove unbeatable at the heart of the visitors defence, was booked for a foul on Algar.

The Ashton lead was still two goals, as Burns burst through but sliced wide with teammates up in support.

Then came Matlock’s golden chance of sowing the seeds of a recovery which was wasted.

With a little over 20 minutes left, Smith pushed away Nightingale’s header but Ben Hunter, who had relaced Craig Nelthorpe ten minutes earlier, played the ball back in and Algar’s shot was charged down by Robinson’s hand.

Matlock’s day was summed up when Holmes shot was also too close to Smith who saved comfortably.

Wilkin came on for Nightingale but got little chance to shine. A Harry Winter free-kick was easily grasped by Smith before for the second time, the assistant’s flag denied Matlock as Holmes steered a clever shot past Smith.

Ashton sensibly played out time, making all three of their permitted substitutions.

Manager Mark Atkins has a tough job on his hands to not only restore confidence, but bring about performances which will yield much needed points.

Seven days earlier a win looked just around the corner. But performances like Saturday’s suggest that the road to victory has a few more obstacles to negotiate. It is a case now of buckling down and scrapping, doing the ugly things right.

The responsibility rests with the players.

Matlock would do well to take a leaf out of Ashton’s book. They did everything right on Saturday and reaped their reward.