It was a bad day at the office as far as Matlock were concerned as they were outfought, outgunned and outplayed to lose 3-0 to a slick Nantwich outfit in the Evostik Premier League.
The visitors arrived in second bottom spot after a mixed league season, but are playing catch up on league games due to reaching the first round proper of the FA Cup.
They are clearly in a false position and had it not been for the excellent goalkeeping of Phil Barnes, Matlock would have been on the receiving end of an even more emphatic defeat — a fourth at home in the league that sent them down to 17th.
Ricky German, on loan from Chesterfield, made his Matlock debut in attack with Shaun Harrad, after Tyrell Waite was recalled by Boston United. Micky Harcourt was out through injury while Joe Doyle-Charles was suspended, but it was still a strong enough line-up not to have been outplayed in this manner.
The warning signs were there early on as Nantwich immediately attacked. Barnes made a wonderful save from Joe Mwsawle’s low shot with the rebound falling to Harry Clayton, who was off target.
But Clayton had better luck in the seventh minute, firing in a fiercely-struck angled shot from the right into the opposite corner to give the visitors the lead.
It was clear that Matlock would have a huge job on their hands to fight back and there was little sign of a recovery.
Conversely Nantwich could have stretched their lead as Clayton headed a right-wing cross wide, Barnes held a strike from Matthew Bell and a Courtney Wildin centre narrowly eluded David Forbes.
Matlock badly needed a foothold in the game but were denied due to the industry of a quick-passing Nantwich side.
Mwsawle found room on the right to cross and Bell’s shot was blocked and it was a full 26 minutes before the Gladiators threatened. It would have been a peach of a goal as Kieron Wallace’s volley from 25 yards dipped a little too late as it cleared the crossbar.
That strike seemed to wake Matlock up. Ten minutes later Ted Cribley bore down on goal but delayed his shot and the ball bobbled through to goalkeeper Will Jaaskelannan. Harrad then struck a shot with the outside of his foot that swerved wide, but in between these chances Matlock were grateful to Barnes again for another top quality save, this time from Forbes who had been played clear thanks to a slide rule pass from Casper Hughes
Callum Lloyd replaced Michael Williams at the break but his game would last just seven minutes as Matlock’s bleak day got even worse when he was sent off for a late challenge on Toby Mullarkey.
In between German might have equalised when he turned well and his shot was deflected for a corner, which Adam Yates headed wide,
But Nantwich took a two-goal lead in the 50th minute as Forbes lunged forward to head in after Matlock failed to deal with a free kick from the left.
Nico Degirolamo nodded a Wallace free kick wide before a double substitution followed as Noel Burdett and Nathan Whitehead replaced Harrad and Rhys Sharpe.
Burdett had the ball in the net in the 74th minute when played through by Cribley. He calmly fired past Jaaskelannan, but the offside flag had been raised.
Nantwich added more pain with a third, a second goal for Forbes, who reacted quicker than anyone else to tap home after Steve Jones had shot against the post eight minutes from time.
A late flurry from Matlock bore no fruit as efforts from Jake Green and Burdett were narrowly wide.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Nico Degirolamo 3 Jake Green 4 Kieron Wallace 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Rhys Sharpe (14 Nathan Whitehead 72) 8 Michael Williams (15 Callum Lloyd 46) 9 Shaun Harrad (12 Noel Burdett 46) 10 Ricky German 11 Ted Cribley. Sub not used: 16 Max Hunt
NANTWICH TOWN: 1 Will Jaaskelannan 2 Troy Bourne 3 Courtney Wildin 4 Joel Stair 5 Toby Mullarkey (14 Jamie Morgan 53) 6 Matthew Bell 7 Joe Mwsawle (15 Clayton McDonald 78) 8 Casper Hughes 9 Harry Clayton 10 David Forbes 11 Nathan Cottrell (12 Steve Jones 75). Subs not used: 16 Keaton Webster 17 Krystian Burnzyski
REFEREE: Conor Brown (Rochdale).
BEST GLADIATOR: Phil Barnes.