Matlock can now concentrate on the league, as the old saying goes, after going down 1-0 at home to Frickley on Wednesday in the Doodson Sports League Cup.
Town had emerged as 3-0 winners just four days previously on the same ground, but a changed Matlock line-up which had no width, with all of their natural wingers sidelined, struggled to break down a sturdy defence.
Even so, three gilt-edged second half chances were missed, one of them seeing Matlock strike the crossbar for the second time, as the hosts could have overturned the deficit from Danny Walsh’s 28th minute goal and win from a performance that manager Mark Atkins labelled as “poor for the whole 90 minutes.”
“We were poor in every department of the pitch,” he snarled. “I’ve learned just one thing tonight: that some of the lads we have here aren’t good enough. We missed our flair players. All too often tonight we launched the ball aimlessly forward. I like my sides to play football, there wasn’t one decent passing move. I’ve told the players so and when we get a fully fit squad back, I’ll be wanting us to play more football.”
Lee Morris, Lee Whittington and Steve Warne were all cup-tied while injury continued to keep out Chris Bettney and Ben Algar. Ben Hunter and Craig Nelthorpe wee both banned, so there was a first full start for Scott Bibby with TJ Nightingale being recalled to partner Ian Holmes up front. An inexperienced substitutes bench included under 19s players James Whitfield, James Travis and Matthew Wilkinson. Frickley looked marginally the better outfit in the opening exchanges and might have gone in front on ten minutes when Ollie Ryan found room down the centre and Jon Kennedy pushed away his low shot at the expense of a corner.
Ian Holmes headed a Micky Harcourt free-kick gently at Steve Dickenson three minutes later before Nightingale got on the end of a long raking Harcourt pass but Stuart Ludlam conceded a corner to avert the danger. A 20-yarder from the industrious Liam King was deflected behind before Frickley struck what proved to be the decider.
Nightingale thought he had been baulked in the Frickley half but referee Matt Walsh waved for play to continue.
The initial faulty lay-off from Bibby, though, had created the problem and as Frickley broke at pace, Matlock were caught out and in trouble with Walsh supporting the attack shooting low, but a huge deflection off James Lukic saw Kennedy wrongfooted and beaten from the edge of the box.
The rest of the half was a turgid affair and Matlock were sent out early for the second period, obviously with a flea in their ear. They began more purposefully but could have been in deeper strife when Kennedy did well to block from Ryan after a rare Lukic slip on 48 minutes.
Two minutes later, a coat of paint came to Frickley’s rescue when Gareth Davies rattled the bar from 20 yards with Dickenson well-beaten. Eight minutes afterwards, Bibby’s shot was deflected towards Nightingale, who only had to prod home. But it was perhaps typical of the Gladiators’ performance on the night when Nightingale scuffed carelessly wide.
Then, on 74 minutes, Dickenson could only parry King’s free kick and Holmes, from scarcely three yards out, could only head the loose ball against the bar. In the scramble that followed, the ball dropped kindly into Dickenson’s grasp, a big indication that it would not be Matlock’s night.
A last-ditch, but beautifully timed, Ludlam tackle on Holmes again kept Frickley in front. Ludlam’s central defensive partner Lincoln Adams cleared just about everything that came his way.
Whitfield had replaced Bibby in the 64th minute and he should have enjoyed a dream debut. Harcourt’s free kick was flicked on but with just five minutes remaining, the youngster scooped his effort over from close range.
Five minutes earlier, Kelvin Bleau had forced Kennedy to dive to his left to claw away a fine effort. It was hardly surprising that holes would appear in the Gladiators’ defence as Lukic had been sent up front as an emergency attacker.
But it was all to no avail as Matlock’s last hope of silverware for the season disappeared into the dark night sky. It was a different Frickley to the one which submitted with barely a whimper on Saturday. There again, it was also a different Matlock!
Matlock Town: Jon Kennedy, Micky Harcourt, Lee Featherstone, Liam King, Adam Yates, James Lukic, Scott Bibby (James Whitfield 64), Kris Bowler, Ian Holmes, T J Nightingale, Gareth Davies (Kris Witcombe 81) Other subs: James Travis, Matthew Wilkinson, Nick Buxton
Referee: M Walsh – Sheffield
Star man: Liam King (pictured)