Matlock Town moved up to seventh and well placed for a push on the top five following a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Barwell in their first home game for three weeks on Tuesday, writes Ian Richardson.
It was a classic case of a game of two halves for the Gladiators, sharp and bright in the opening period which finished with them holding a solitary goal advantage, but one that could so easily have been more emphatic.
Then the second half fell flat for them as the determined Leicestershire visitors’ direct style saw Matlock have to defend for long periods before the hosts doubled their lead. But a soft late goal for Barwell led to a nervous finish for the Gladiators who held on grimly for a third successive league win.
Ted Cribley and Michael Williams replaced Jamie Yates and Alex Pursehouse in the eleven that had started the FA Trophy win at Spennymoor as Matlock started brightly, looking particularly dangerous down the right flank.
Niall McManus, looking more like his usual self in recent games, whipped in a teasing thigh high cross which Barwell goalkeeper Liam Castle punched away at full stretch. Matlock’s play received constant applause from the home crowd with Barwell again clearing another McManus cross with difficulty, before the hosts best chance thus far came on 20 minutes. This time the danger was on the left through Cribley, who after being fed by McManus saw his vicious shot palmed away by Castle.
This was the shot in the arm for Barwell to have a brief spell of pressure but the Matlock defence stood firm as Luke Barlone’s free kick placed comfortably over the bar was the hosts’ only remotely worrying moment.
Matlock swept to the opposite end to take a 28th minute lead as Jake Green’s cross was helped on by Marcus Dinanga, the ball possibly striking a defender en route to the onion bag. Seven minutes later it might have been two as some smart interplay saw Cribley send Morrison clear only for the on loan Spireite to pull his shot wide of the far post.
Further opportunities fell to Town before the half time whistle but they were unable to etend their lead.
Barwell reorganised a defence which had often been stretched by bringing on Joe Ballinger for Eddie Nisevic and immediately looked a different prospect after the resumption. Stanley’s twenty yarder was too high in the 50th minute and following a rare error from skipper Adam Yates, Romario Martin lifted his shot over the bar as Phil Barnes advanced quickly to limit Martin’s options.
An off balance Cribley’s shot drifted towards the corner flag as there were clear signs that Matlock were struggling to regain their first half fluency. The hosts simply could not get going, but Barwell failed to extend Barnes and a wild twenty yard shot from Ballinger, after he had made space from a second corner in quicjk succession, sailed high and wide.
Matlock badly needed a touch of class, some inspiration and a second goal and with ten minutes remaining, they got all three!
Morrison kept calm and composed as he broke clear on the left to look up and feed the onrushing McManus who drilled a firm shot past Castle.
Nigel Julien sliced harmlessly wide for Barwell who made Matlock sweat in the chilly night late on as with two minutes to go, Castle pumped a long free kick forward and substitute Montel Gibson looped his header over Barnes to deny Matlock a clean sheet.
MATLOCK: Barnes, Marsden, Green, Doyle-Charles, Yates, Wiley, McManus (Yates 84), Williams (Pursehouse 82), Morrison, Dinanga (de Girolamo 90), Cribley. Subs not used: Newsham, Lee. REFEREE: Wade Smith (Manchester). ATTENDANCE: 268.
BEST GLADIATOR: Liam Marsden.