No-one likes being in a relegation struggle, that was quite obvious at the Autoworld Arena last Saturday when two relegation haunted sides battled for the three crucial points.
Both Matlock and Marine lay in the bottom four prior to kick off with Matlock having a three points advantage.
The Gladiators will be relieved the gap was stretched to six points after a nervous affair which was scrappy for the most part but interesting all the same.
Matlock always looked the more accomplished outfit, having the lion’s share of possession, but Marine were always a threat, in fact they led the corner count by eight until the Gladiators first flag kick just before the hour.
Attacking the Town End in the opening half, Matlock immediately tried to force the initiative as manager Mark Hume had asked in midweek.
An intelligent chip from the left was well clawed out of the air by goalkeeper Matthew Cooper in the third minute but unfortunately the hosts could not sustain the threat despite a number of inviting low crosses being played into the Marine danger area.
Latest recruit Ted Cribley, on loan from Barrow, was handed a debut in midfield and began to have an increasing influence. A well struck free kick from Cribley was held by Cooper, the midfielder then releasing Oscar Radford on the left and another delicious lowe cross was just out of Corey Gregory’s radar.
Andy Nicholas planted a header at Jon Kennedy from a 34th minute free kick before at the other end Cooper needed two attempts to hold Gregory’s shot while Gregory then narrowly failed to latch on to Danny Holland’s through pass.
A scrappy opening half looked to be ending scoreless until on 42 minutes, Marine attacked down the left with James Short appearing to handle in the build up. Referee Stuart Richardson didn’t spot anything wrong and Matlock were at sixes and sevens when Short crossed low and Lloyd Ellams had an age to control the ball and measure his shot past Kennedy from 12 yards.
Little wonder then Hume, a no nonsense defender in his time, was angry.
“We were pretty poor in the first half and I gave them a rocket at half time. Ceredit to the lads, they were much better in the second half but we know we need to do a lot better,” he said.
Matlock were only behind for another 90 seconds as following a swift break down the right, Gregory’s cross was cleverly steered home by Holland. Now it was game on.
Kennedy did well to save from Lewis Codling while Matlock responded with Liam Needham warming Cooper’s fingers from long range. Cribley’s free kick was held by Cooper before Marine’s Liam Willis headed a free kick over the bar.
The introduction of Northern Ireland youth international Jamie McDonagh proved to be a smart move by Hume as his two assists won Matlock the match.
They might have scored the all important third goal of the contest on 75 minutes when McManus played Holland clear but agonizingly for the home fans, Their skipper’s jabbed finish rolled inches beyond the far post.
But two minutes later frustration turned to joy as Short pulled down McDonagh in the box as he broke on the right and Holland, with supreme impudence, cheekily chipped his penalty home.
Matlock went for the third and almost got it twice before they sealed the points in the 87th minute.
Firstly McDonagh drove narrowly wide and then McManus broke down the left, but with a clear shooting chance looking on, he unselfishly tried to find the supporting McDonagh. Marine cleared their lines and the chance was gone.
But everything turned out fine when in a similar move McDonagh fed the supporting Cribley who capped a good debut by drilling home the match clinching goal.
Matlock needed that third goal because with a minute of the regulation ninety remaining a fine 20-yard shot from Thomas Peers looked like setting up a nervous finish.
But Matlock held on reasonably comfortably with Muhammed Sabo and Julian Banton marshalling the defensive troops with calm authority.
With Witton losing at Grantham, the gap to fifth bottom safety is now a point, Matlock need to start collecting some points on the road. Three at league leaders Skelmersdale would be a good start this weekend.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt (16 Grant Black 55) 3 Oscar Radford 4 Josh Meade 5 Muhammed Sabo 6 Julian Banton 7 Ted Cribley 8 Liam Needham 9 Corey Gregory (15 Jamie McDonagh 70) 10 Danny Holland 11 Niall McManus. Subs not used: 12 Scott Maxfield 14 Adam Yates 17 Mark Hume.
MARINE: 1 Matthew Cooper 2 Andy Nicholas 3 James Short 4 Liam Willis 5 Joel Bambo-Leta 6 Liam Blake (15 Jonathan Goulding 62)7 Karl Clair 8 Carl Peers 9 Thomas Peers 10 Lloyd Ellams (16 Christian Langos 80) 11 Lewis Codling (12 Daniel Fearneough 70). Subs not used: 14 Stephen Wainwright 17 James Mitchison.
REFEREE: Stuart Richardson (Mansfield Woodhouse). ATTENDANCE: 275. BEST GLADIATOR: Muhammed Sabo.