UniBond League Challenge Cup Final – First Leg Matlock Town 2 Whitby Town 2
TUESDAY night's first leg of the UniBond League Challenge Cup final ended all square, but with Whitby possibly being the favourites with two away goals plus the bonus of both Steve Taylor and Kris Bowler being banned for the deciding tie.
Matlock finished the match with nine men, as Bowler controversially went for an early bath for a second yellow card on 78 minutes, while Taylor could have little cause for complaint for a head butt on Dave McTiernan eight minutes later.
With Ian Clarke still declared unfit and Paul Riley cup tied, the Gladiators brought Dave McNicholas into their defence after Ryan Davis had failed a late fitness test.
Steve Circuit was moved forward into midfield.
Whitby, unbeaten in 12 games, had the better of the opening exchanges, although Matlock forced two quick corners which came to nothing. Scott Nicholson's header from a 10th minute corner cleared the bar but two minutes later, Matlock conceded the first of two soft goals.
Central defender Brian Linighan was left unmarked on the left of the penalty box when Matlock failed to deal effectively with a free kick and his carefully struck shot was deadly accurate just inside the opposite post with Andy Richmond flat footed.
Matlock missed a gilt-edged chance on 25 minutes when the ball ricocheted to Steve Warne some eight yards out, who drove wide with only David Campbell to beat. Mark Obern then managed a vital header to divert Steve Taylor's cross away from the onrushing Bowler at the far post. Danny Farthing then cut out a Bowler cross with Simon Barraclough ready to pounce.
Bowler received a 33rd minute booking for a late challenge on Alex Gildea, which would prove to be expensive later on.
With the interval approaching, Matlock drew level. Steve Warne was held back by Danny Farthing, a decision which clearly upset the Whitby players and bench. Once the arguments had died down, Barraclough stepped up to dispatch a precision spot kick low to the left of Campbell.
Two minutes after the restart, a first time volley by Bowler from 25 yards was no more than a foot too high, but Whitby regained the lead in the 53rd minute. A cross from the left struck Bostock on the hand. The Gladiators were slow to react to the short free kick, which saw Alex Gildea's low shot beat Richmond with the aid of a wicked deflection to rest in the bottom corner of the net.
Matlock required a flash of inspiration and they got it in the 65th minute. Star man Rocky White surprised Campbell with a superbly struck 25 yard drive which rifled into the bottom left hand corner.
Now it was game on and Richmond had to be at his best to palm away a thumping Graeme Williams effort, before the match, which had been simmering uncomfortably for a while, blew up.
Williams held Bowler by the throat on the left flank with Bowler's reaction appearing to be restrained. But after a brief melee, the referee booked Williams and then Bowler who was shown the red card. Howls of derision came from the Causeway Lane terraces, and soon Steve Taylor and Farthing clashed on the half way line.
Webster's twisting and determined run saw him find Taylor whose 83rd minute 20- yard drive flashed inches wide.
That proved to be Taylor's last contribution, as another confrontation ended with Taylor butting McTiernan, and this time the referee was as much right to order him off as he was wrong in the earlier Bowler incident.
An unbelievable six minutes of stoppage time was signalled, part of which was used wisely by Matlock in bringing on Craig Hopkins. Whitby went for the jugular, but Matlock stood firm and strong and deservedly head for the Turnbull Ground on level terms.
After the game, Matlock joint boss Gareth Williams described Bowler's sending off as "out of order" and labelled the referee's performance "abysmal."
But he added: "We've shown some great character to twice come from behind, and especially when we only had nine men. Losing Kris and Steve puts us on the back foot a bit for the second leg, but we'll give it everything we've got and try to bring the cup back home with us."
Matlock Town: Richmond, McNicholas, R Taylor (Hopkins 90), Circuit, Bostock, Lukic, Warne (Webster 74), White, S Taylor, Barraclough (Williams 87), Bowler.
Att: 547 Star Man: Rocky White.