Matlock secured a second successive victory thanks to a strong second half display and some astute tactical changes at half time by joint interim bosses Dave Rushbury and Martin Foster.
With the match tied at 1-1 at the interval, Matlock made two substitutions, withdrawing Leon Osborne and Niall McManus and bringing on David Haggerty and Phil Roe. Joe Leesley was pushed into attack to partner Danny Holland and the move worked a treat. The Gladiators dominated the second period to score three goals and a Stourbridge side which finished the contest with eight players, had no answer.
It had been a bad week all round for the visitors. Knocked out of the FA Cup by Northern League Shildon in a home midweek replay, they lost midfielder Ben Billingham who was taken to hospital with a broken ankle midway through the opening half. Then they had two players sent off, Darren Fitzpatrick and Will Richards, after the interval and substitute Luke Benbow limped off with the Glassboys having used all three of their substitutes.
After an initial quiet start which had seen Corey Gregory drive wide from twenty five yards in the 10th minute and former Alfreton striker Kristian Ramsay-Dickson head Peter Till’s cross too high for the visitors six minutes later, Matlock took an 18th minute lead when for the second successive Saturday, JAMES ASHMORE threaded in a free kick, this time past the Stourbridge wall and just inside goalkeeper Dean Coleman’s right hand post.
Two minutes later came the sickening sight of Billingham yelping loudly in pain, his studs seemingly becoming caught in the turf as he tried to block a Matlock clearance. The game was immediately stopped and Billingham was stretchered off after work from both sides’ medical staff in a delay which lasted nine minutes.
The incident appeared to affect Matlock more than Stourbridge and some awful defending by the Gladiators allowed Stourbridge a soft equalizer just after the half hour. Josh Meade, Lawrence Gorman and Ashmore could and should have done a great deal better as Ramsay-Dickson weaved his way across the penalty box and FITZPATRICK slotted a left footed finish beyond Jon Kennedy.
It might have been worse for Matlock three minutes later as Leesley was ideally positioned to knock a shot from Reece Hales off the line. Matlock then responded with Gregory firing at Coleman to leave honours even at the break. Then Rushbury and Foster would perform their magic.
Matlock came out with renewed vigour and they needed just five minutes to regain their lead. Ashmore’s cross from the right had Stourbridge skipper Paul McCone and goalkeeper Coleman in disarray and the ball bounced up for the unmarked ROE to guide home a far post header.
This time Matlock would turn the screw with devastating effect. They pressed Stourbridge at every opportunity and the visitors could simply not cope with Leesley’s direct running and strength. Perhaps believing that playing a side which had struggled for most of the campaign would lead to an away victory, Stourbridge became increasingly frustrated and that boiled over on 67 minutes when Fitzpatrick was sent off for a wild lunge on Meade just in front of the Gladiators dug out. In the melee which followed Matlock had both Adam Yates and Oscar Radford booked.
Yates then made a tremendous challenge on Kayeldon Brown just as the Stourbridge number nine looked set to pull the trigger, but in essence it was a rare moment of concern for Matlock.
The task was made a great deal easier for Matlock eight minutes from time when Richards tugged Holland’s shirt in the box leaving referee Astley no choice but too brandish his second red card of the day and point to the spot. HOLLAND did the rest, calmly sending Coleman the wrong way and with Stourbridge now having just the eight players on the field, it was a matter of how many Matlock would get.
In the event it was just the one. Leesley might have got it on 86 minutes only for Coleman to superbly tip his header over the bar but the respite would not last long as with the contest entering stoppage time, Roe unselfishly pulled back a cross from the right and LAVELL WHITE had the simple task of pushing his shot home from six yards.
There were numerous plus points to come from the afternoon. The result obviously, and the return of David Haggerty after six weeks on the sidelines will tighten the defence. It could be that Joe Leesley might be the partner Danny Holland needs in attack. Holland led the line superbly, aided and abetted in the second half by Leesley’s athleticism.
But the main plus point was the spirit in the Matlock camp and the togetherness to work together to gain their reward, a result which saw them clamber out of the bottom four, but still with a lot of hard work to do. But if they continue showing this determination, they will most likely climb the table further.
MATLOCK: Kennedy, Meade, Leesley, Gorman, Yates, Radford, Gregory (White 84), Ashmore, Holland, Osborne (Roe 46), McManus (Haggerty 46).
Subs not sued: Stokes.
Referee: Mark Astley (Denton).