by Ian Richardson
Sheffield FC 1-2 Matlock Town
Matlock Town: Jon Kennedy, Kris Witcombe (Micky Harcourt 52), Will Kendall (Kris Bowler 46) Liam King, Simon Sturdy, Adam Yates, Ben Algar, Lee Whittington, James Knowles (Ryan Mallon 52), Steve Warne (Chris Bettney 61), Lee Featherstone (Ben Turner 70)
Referee: D Benton, Sheffield
Attendance: 200 est.
Star man: Ben Algar
A DOUBLE from Lee Whittington gave the Gladiators a somewhat fortunate win at Dronfield last Thursday night.
Certainly if you were a fan of the oldest club in the world, you would be feeling hard done by.
The Evo-Stik Northern Premier First Division South hosts, managed by former Matlock midfielder Mark Shaw, gave the visitors a stern test, but found Matlock goalkeeper Jon Kennedy in top form yet again.
But this game was probably the most useful of all the warm-up matches for Town boss Mark Atkins. It was more like what his team is likely to face when the season starts.
Not that Sheffield didn’t spray the ball out impressively. They played football that was pleasing on the eye with quick interpassing and movement, but they also were not afraid to mix it physically.
Whittington struck as early as the fourth minute, advancing on to a shrewd through pass from captain for the night Liam King and firing firmly past goalkeeper Dan Whatsize, who had been between the posts for Matlock in their opening two friendlies.
Sheffield responded with great spirit and Kennedy did exceptionally well to push a downward header from David Graham up and onto the bar.
But a bizarre goal from a horrible error by Adam Yates gifted Sheffield an equaliser in the very next minute. Yates was too deliberate and not quick enough in passing the ball out on the edge of his penalty area and his clearance struck Shane Kelsey and rebounded into an empty net.
Ben Algar, who had an excellent game, fired at Whatsize from long range before Whittington did likewise with a free header from a James Knowles cross. Then it was Kennedy’s turn to be ideally positioned to hold a header from former Gladiator Matt Varley.
As half-time approached, even a superb challenge by Sturdy could not halt Graham’s progress thanks to a lucky bounce, but Will Kendall was awake to the danger to hack the ball out for an unproductive corner.
Although the second half was punctuated by changes, there was no let up in the endeavour, even though Dave Benton’s whistle was a constant interruption. By the 53rd minute, two more fine Kennedy stops had denied Gasgoigne and Weir.
A break in the pressure saw Whittington spot substitute goalkeeper Adam Billard off his line but the lob from 35 yards drifted wide.
Ryan Mallon fired weakly at the custodian before Matlock had a quick double let-off as Kennedy produced probably his best stop, flying through the air to tip a Connor Higginson blockbuster over the bar.
But Matlock got stronger as the match reached its conclusion. Excellent approach play from Mallon set up Whittington who forced Billard into a marvellous diving save.
Algar was the architect of the winner, nine minutes from the end when his lofted pass found Whittington free, the striker having time to bring the ball under control and slip a shot past Billard.
Two minutes later, the pair combined again and Whittington spurned a great chance of a hat-trick placing his shot against Billard in a one-on-one duel.
Sheffield’s threat had now evaporated as Matlock had weathered the storm to earn a very commendable win against a side who should do well in their division this season.