Penalties help Town to match champions elect

Lee Morris, Matlock Town.
Lee Morris, Matlock Town.

by Ian Richardson

Evo-Stik League Premier Division

Saturday, April 2, 2011

FC Halifax Town 2

Lee Gregory 3, 36

Matlock Town 2

Ross Hannah 14

Lee Morris 87

Matlock Town: Adam Sollitt, Adam Yates, Lee Featherstone, Liam King, Paul Sykes, James Lukic, James Knowles, Steve Warne, John McAliskey (Lee Morris 46), Ross Hannah (Nathan Joynes 46), Ryan Mallon (Dene Cropper 68) Other subs: Kris Witcombe, Nick Buxton.

Referee: J Mainwaring- Bury.

Attendance: 2132

Star Man: Steve Warne

MATLOCK twice came from behind with penalties to delay the Shaymen’s title party and just about keep themselves in play-off contention.

They showed a determination to stay in the game with some better defending than of late, although again both of Halifax’s goals could have been avoided. At times, they rode their luck but deserved to because of their tremendous workrate.

The Gladiators gave a debut to Paul Sykes, alongside James Lukic in defence, with Ross Hannah recalled after injury.

Halifax were in front with less than three minutes gone.

A long ball from Aaron Hardy aimed for dangerman Jamie Vardy took an awkward bounce to deceive Sykes.

Vardy crossed to the back post where former Matlock favourite Danny Holland headed down and Lee Gregory had the easiest of tap-ins.

Hannah, off balance, ballooned a shot well over the bar before Matlock were level. Sykes’s header was scrambled off the line by Hardy but the clearance was far from convincing. The ball was soon back in the home penalty box and this time Hardy brought down Hannah, who sent goalkeeper Jonathan Hedge the wrong way from 12 yards.

Holland ought to have done better when set up by Simon Garner, but Adam Sollitt comfortably held Holland’s half-hit drive. As Halifax upped the tempo in front of the 2,132 crowd, James Lukic’s header went only as far as Garner, whose cross zipped across the Matlock penalty box.

The champions elect were back in front after 36 minutes, aided by Matlock’s inability to clear their lines.

They had ample opportunity to clear but Vardy saw his opportunity immediately to weave his way down the right and the pull back towards Gregory was meat and drink for the former Mansfield centre forward to again net.

Hannah was limping towards the end of the half and at half-time the Gladiators made a double change, replacing their top scorer and big John McAliskey with Joynes and Lee Morris.

Knowles looked to make early inroads into the Halifax back line with a tantalising cross which drifted behind the far post.

The Shaymen’s response was almost instant as Baker dragged his shot wide.

The hosts increased the tempo, looking for the killer third goal. Lee Featherstone did well to head away a centre from Baker before Vardy, in a rich vein of goalscoring form, sliced wide.

Sollitt managed to block a blistering drive from Garner and then the Matlock goalkeeper did even better to deny Gregory his hat-trick as he knocked away the point-blank range follow-up.

Matlock were hanging on grimly before the pressure was eased in a swift breakaway inspired by Steve Warne, whose workrate was first class. Warne played in Joynes who was impeded by Mark Bower and from the free kick, Morris’s shot struck the foot of the post with Hedge a bystander.

With three minutes remaining, referee Mainwaring pointed to the spot. Baker was adjudged to have tangled with Morris as Liam King looked to pick up the pieces deep into the Halifax box.

Morris kept his cool to score with an excellent shot to leave the huge crowd stunned and berating the official.

Matlock stood firm as Halifax battled in vain for a late, late winner but they held on to record a fine point.

MATLOCK twice came from behind with penalties to delay the Shaymen’s title party and just about keep themselves in play-off contention.

They showed a determination to stay in the game with some better defending than of late, although again it must be said both of Halifax’s goals could have been avoided. At times, they rode their luck against the most potent attack in the league, but deserved to because of their tremendous workrate.

The Gladiators gave a debut to latest signing Paul Sykes, alongside James Lukic in defence, with Ross Hannah recalled after injury. Adam Yates moved to right back and James Knowles came in for the injured Gareth Davies in midfield.

Sykes and substitute Nathan Joynes were both returning to The Shay and it looked like being an unhappy day as Halifax were in front with less than three minutes gone.

A long ball from full back Aaron Hardy aimed for danger man Jamie Vardy took an awkward bounce to deceive Sykes. Vardy crossed to the back post where former Matlock favourite Danny Holland headed down and Lee Gregory had the easiest of tap-ins.

Hannah, off balance, ballooned a shot well over the bar before Matlock were level by the 14th minute. Sykes header was scrambled off the line by Hardy but the clearance was far from convincing. The ball was soon back in the home penalty box and this time Hardy brought down Hannah, who sent goalkeeper Jonathan Hedge the wrong way from 12 yards.

Ten minutes later, Holland ought to have done better when set up by Simon Garner, but Adam Sollitt comfortably held Holland’s half-hit drive which lacked any real venom. As Halifax upped the tempo in front of the 2,132 crowd, James Lukic’s header went only as far as Garner, whose cross zipped across the Matlock penalty box.

Matlock were conceding too many free kicks for comfort and Tom Baker lifted a shot disappointingly high from a good position. But the champions elect were back in front after 36 minutes, aided by Matlock’s inability to clear their lines. They had ample opportunity to hoof clear but when they didn’t, Vardy saw his opportunity immediately to weave his way down the right and the pull back towards Gregory was meat and drink for the former Mansfield centre forward, and once a target for Matlock, to again net from close range.

Hannah was limping towards the end of the half and at half-time the Gladiators made a double change, replacing their top scorer and big John McAliskey with Joynes and Lee Morris.

Knowles looked to make early inroads into the Halifax back line with a tantalising cross in the opening seconds of the new half which, unfortunately from the Matlock viewpoint, drifted behind the far post.

The Shaymen’s response was almost instant as Baker dragged his shot wide when well placed. The hosts increased the tempo, looking for the killer third goal. Lee Featherstone did well to head away a centre from Baker before Vardy, in a rich vein of goalscoring form, sliced wide after Hardy’s pass had split open the visiting defence.

Sollitt managed to block a blistering drive from Garner and then the Matlock goalkeeper did even better to deny Gregory his hat-trick as he knocked away the point-blank range follow-up. Matlock were hanging on grimly, no more so than when Sykes’s header in trying to clear a teasing centre from Vardy flashed inches wide of a post.

A Baker free-kick was well held by Sollitt before the pressure was eased in a swift breakaway inspired by Steve Warne, whose workrate in the engine room was first class. Warne played in Joynes who was impeded by Mark Bower and from the free kick, Morris’s shot struck the foot of the post with Hedge a bystander.

This was a timely reminder for the hosts that Matlock were still very much in contention. Morris looked to be in the clear until an excellent challenge from Danny Lowe stopped him in his tracks.

But Halifax might have sewn up the points when, on 82 minutes, Matlock carelessly surrendered possession in midfield when they weee showing clear signs of mounting a late fightback. Vardy was again in the clear but Sollitt used his feet to maximum effect at the expense of a fruitless corner to keep the Gladiators hopes alive.

It proved to be a pivotal moment for, with three minutes of the regulatory ninety remaining, referee Mainwaring pointed to the spot for the second time. This was a less clear-cut decision, but the official was just yards away when Baker was adjudged to have tangled with Morris as Liam King looked to pick up the pieces from a knockdown deep into the Halifax box.

Morris kept his cool to score with an excellent shot to leave the huge crowd stunned and berating the official.

Now it was important that Matlock did not give away another cheap goal and they stood firm as Halifax battled in vain through four minutes of additional time which ended up as five, looking for a late, late winner.

This result left Matlock ruing the squandering of a two-goal lead at home to Whitby in their previous fixture, but maybe reflecting also that their fortunes may just be changing.