A hotly disputed penalty in the dying moments robbed Matlock Baileans of victory against Newark, who squeezed home by a single point.
Matlock were deservedly leading the home outfit 17-15 in the clash between two of the top-five sides in the National League, Midlands 2 East (North) division.
However, just when they looked to be defending well, James Fairclough fell foul of the new high-tackle laws and was harshly punished by the referee, even though his challenge looked neither high, nor dangerous.
The decision handed Newark an easy penalty-shot to steal the game via an 18-17 win, leaving Matlock with no time to repair the damage.
At least the visitors had the consolation of knowing that they were clearly the better side, having looked lively from the off. Their attitude and effort could not be faulted and they deserved credit for maintaining their discipline under trying circumstances.
Such circumstances had marked the start of the game, as well as the finish, because just minutes in, another soft penalty was awarded against them, simply for making an innocent enquiry to the ref about Newark being offside.
The kick gave the hosts a 3-0 lead but also set the tone for the rest of the match as the officials’ decisions became the main talking-point among coaches and supporters of both teams.
After the early setback, Matlock hit back and, in the 11th minute, they scored a fine team-try through Chris Atkinson. But they were rocked by another controversial refereeing decision that led to Newark driving over in the corner to lead 8-5.
That’s how it stayed until half-time, with neither side able to make much headway and both becomingly increasingly frustrated. But after some sobering words of advice in the dressing-room, Matlock came out fired up for the second period and immediately went on the attack. Simon Wright picked up and fed James Young, who drew the wing before sending Luke Howard scampering down the touchline for a superb try on his 100th first-team appearance.
Unfortunately, such good work was soon undone when an error by Alex Powell gifted a chance to the Newark hooker, which was gratefully accepted to restore his side’s lead at 15-10.
Back came Matlock, whose scrum was far superior to the hosts’, and in the 68th minute, they were rewarded with a penalty try that looked to have the game won.
The loss left Matlock in fifth place. The next league game is on Saturday, January 21 when they entertain struggling Nottingham Casuals.