Play-off hopefuls are too good for Gladiators

Witton Albion 3 Matlock Town 0

Fourth-placed Witton enhanced their play-off push but the scoreline was somewhat harsh on Matlock, with two goals coming in the dying moments of the game.

Matlock had trailed since Steve Foster’s fourth minute opener and although they fought hard they also lacked penetration in the final third to turn their fortunes around.

Seventeen-year-old reserve goalkeeper Matt Leese was drafted in for a senior debut with former Witton custodian Jon Kennedy injured and his deputy Nick Buxton called into work.

Adam Yates was sensibly rested, as was Ben Algar, but Micky Harcourt, Oscar Radford and Laurence Gaughan were all included to complete the back four alongside skipper James Lukic.

It looked as if Leese was in for a baptism of fire with Witton scoring so early.

The youngster found Shaun Tuck’s fiercely driven centre from the left too hot to handle as he could only palm the ball into the path of the waiting Foster who prodded home from close range.

Leese would have felt a great deal better soon afterwards with a fine save to knock away Tuck’s low shot for a corner before Matlock’s first shot at goal was a high one from Massiah McDonald in the tenth minute.

Two minutes later Harcourt was replaced by Will Dennis and by the 18th minute both Matlock full-backs had left the field as Radford twisted an ankle so ready made deputy Lee Featherstone came on.

A 30th minute chance fell to McDonald but home custodian Matthew Cooper comfortably kept the shot out, and Foster might have done better than blaze over the bar four minutes later.

A Ben Harrison header from a corner fell wide as half-time approached, while straight after the re-start the Albion quickly won two more flag kicks which came to nothing.

Most of the second half was a non-event with the play littered with errors.

Tuck volleyed over on 66 minutes, before Lavell White came on for Joe Leesley in Town’s final change in the 68th minute and almost instantly forced another corner from which McDonald’s shot was deflected past Cooper’s left hand upright.

Albion substitute Mike Moseley drove too high after Dennis had committed himself too early to a challenge he was never going to win before the two stoppage time goals gave what looked to be an easy Witton win, but in essence was far closer than the final scoreline suggests.

A tame clearing header by Dennis fell to Joe Shaw whose shot struck Lukic and looped high over Leese before dropping into the net.

Then with virtually the last kick of the game, after Gaughan had fouled substitute Jason Oswell, Andrews curled home a magnificent free kick, one which few goalkeepers, never mind the inexperienced Leese, would have kept out.

So a fourth scoreless defeat on the road for Matlock, who at least know their place in the Evo-Stik NPL’s top tier is assured for another season.

WITTON ALBION: 1 Matthew Cooper 2 Anthony Sheehan 3 Joshua Horne 4 Ben Harrison 5 Marc Joseph 6 Oliver James 7 Joe Shaw 8 Michael Powell 9 Shaun Tuck (14 Mike Moseley 88) 10 Steve Foster (12 Jason Oswell 73), 11 Danny Andrews Other subs: 15 Ryan Grocutt 16 Shaun Cain 17 Stuart Plant

MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Matt Leese 2 Micky Harcourt (15 Will Dennis 12) 3 Oscar Radford (12 Lee Featherstone 18) 4 Martin Foster 5 Laurence Gaughan 6 James Lukic 7 Gareth Davies 8 James Ashmore 9 Massiah McDonald 10 Lewis McMahon 11 Joe Leesley (14 Lavelle White 68) Other sub: 16 James Travis.

REFEREE: M Donoghue (Essex) ATTENDANCE: 574 STAR GLADIATOR: James Lukic

Report by Ian Richardson