Hurst Cross has rarely been a happy hunting ground for the Gladiators-this was their fourth successive defeat there-but if you are to break such a run then you have to accept gilt edged chances which come your way.
This, plus a harsh penalty award which gave the Robins a 59th minute lead, proved to be Matlock’s downfall. From the time Ashton took the lead, the hosts assumed control save from a couple of late chances which Massiah McDonald fashioned for himself, but could not convert.
Matlock kept the team which finished the fine win against AFC Fylde four days earlier and had they taken the lead as they should have done inside just ninety seconds, the outcome may well have been very much different.
Joe Leesley had an unbelievably easy opening against a team who had kept four successive clean sheets, but he allowed goalkeeper Paul Phillips to push away his shot which was hit at the “right” height for him to save.
The opening half threatened an avalanche of goals but produced none.
An Alex Frost header from a corner and a shot from Chris Bagguley both dropped wide before a neat Town move ended with a tame finish from Leesley who then on 16 minutes glanced an excellent cross from Lavelle White narrowly off target.
After a quiet quarter of an hour Ashton won a free kick, generously awarded by referee Chris Isherwood who baffled the visitors with some puzzling decisions and Thomas Moore’s shot thudded against the bar .Matlock quickly responded as James Ashmore drove at Phillips from thirty yards.
But White should have been celebrating his first Gladiators goal in the 38th minute but he carelessly sliced wide from only six yards after McDonald presented the chance on a plate for him.
Then Lee Featherstone blasted firmly goalwards only to see Philips beat away his shot and Ashton broke immediately with Matty Kosylo and Dennis Sherriff combining to feed Baguley who placed his effort wide with just Nick Buxton to beat. Tall winger Chris Amadi weaved his way in from the left just before the half time whistle and Sherriff nodded wide at the near post,
The second half opened uneventfully and scrappily with the first sniff at goal coming from a 56th minute Leesley free kick which flew too high.
But then the contest switched dramatically in Ashton’s favour three minutes later when Laurence Gaughan’s strong challenge on Sherriff was harshly judged as illegal and after Buxton was booked MOORE’s poorly struck spot kick squirmed under the Gladiators assistant manager’s dive.
McDonald and White were booked in quick succession by the fussy official with home skipper Craig Robinson and then Gaughan for the most innocuous of challenges attacking a corner followed them.
Matlock had lost all of their earlier zip, with the scrappiness suiting a solid, unspectacular Ashton outfit who doubled their advantage on 69 minutes when FROST converted from close range after a corner was not properly cleared.
The points were now staying on Tameside and Buxton saved well from Kosylo before Amadi drove too high from a promising situation.
A frustrated McDonald shot yards too high after cutting through the Robins rearguard before dragging another effort wide.
That penalty award proved to be crucial.
ASHTON UNITED: 1 Paul Phillips 2 Kyle Harrop 3 Danny Lambert 4 Thomas Moore 5 Craig Robinson 6 Alex Frost 7 Matty Kosylo 8 Matty Burke 9 Dennis Sherriff (12 Kyle Riley 73) 10 Chris Baguley (14 Ben Smith 85) 11 Chris Amadi. Other subs: 15 Billy McCartney 16 Terry Smith.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Nick Buxton 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Lee Featherstone 4 Adam Yates 5 Laurence Gaughan 6 James Lukic 7 Ben Algar (12 Will Dennis 89) 8 James Ashmore 9 Massiah McDonald 10 Joe Leesley 11 Lavelle White. Other subs: 14 James Travis 15 Geoffrey Gouveia 17 Matt Leese.
REFEREE: Mr C Isherwood (Leyland).
STAR GLADIATOR: James Lukic.