Matlock Town could have few complaints about being on the wrong end of a comprehensive 4-1 defeat at Stalybridge Celtic, who were the best side they have faced so far in the Evostik Premier this season.
Strong and athletic all over the pitch, Stalybridge showed their intentions from the beginning and it soon became clear the Gladiators would face a tough afternoon on Non League Day.
Matlock made some significant changes from the team beaten at Hednesford in midweek.
New signing Keiron Wallace, released by Sheffield United in August, made a debut at left back, replacing Jake Green, while Rhys Sharpe wore the number seven shirt previously belonging to Luis Rose.
Nathan Whitehead was handed a first start with Adam Etches on the bench and top scorer Shaun Harrad’s return meant no place in the starting 11 for Tyler Blake.
In a game played in steady rain, Matldsoon having to defend as former Derby and Bradford City striker Liam Dickenson glanced a header wide in the opening two minutes.
A strike from Oliver Roberts hit a defender to earn Celtic a corner with Dickenson playing a prominent part with a clever knock down.
All too often Harrad was asked to carry the Matlock attack almost on his own, being isolated as a sole striker, but nevertheless he managed to fashion a chance before shooting directly at home keeper Jack Walton.
Phil Barnes did well to scoop away a low cross from the speedy and dangerous Theo Bailey-Jones, who repeated the act soon afterwards and would hurt Matlock further after half-time.
Harrad latched on to a ball from Ted Cribley and his persistence saw him strike goalwards but an offside flag would have ruled the effort out.
A goal though was coming and it arrived on 24 minutes when Dickenson smartly clipped home a low shot just inside Barnes’ right hand post after Alex Honeyball refused to allow the ball to drift behind the by-line to cross.
Shortly before half-time Harrad found the sidenetting from a tight angle, but Celtic deserved their advantage.
Harrad sliced a bouncing pass from Dwayne Wiley wide in the 49th minute before Barnes kept Town in contention with a tremendous block from former Burnley winger John Cofie in the 57th minute.
The stadium announcer was heralding Sharpe’s departure when he forced Walton into an important and fine 59th-minute stop, The Matlock man then trudged off to be replaced by Adam Etches.
Three minutes later Honeyball again was the provider as he attacked down the left to pull back an inviting centre for Bailey-Jones to make it 2-0.
Joe Doyle-Charles had a stinging shot pushed away by Walton.
As frustration set in both Williams and Doyle-Charles were booked in quick succession, the latter picking up his fifth yellow card of the season to put him out of next weekend’s clash at Marine.
Matlock were caught out as they pushed men forward and eight minutes from time Greg Wilkinson cut out a pass in midfield to feed Bailey-Jones with a delicious diagonal ball, the winger doing the rest with a comfortable finish beyond Barnes.
Etches netted a 90th minute consolation, cleverly backheeling a pass from Tyrell Waite over the line.
There was still time, however, for the hosts to score again as substitute Jake Charles fired home after another substitute, Aidan Chippendale, provided the ammunition.
On the evidence of this game at Bower Fold, Stalybridge are in a false position and look well set now to make great strides up the table and perhaps even be in line for promotion next April.
As for Matlock they look to have lost most of the confidence from last season. They are making too many mistakes and too many poor decisions. They need plenty of time on the training ground and will be glad of a free midweek. Quite simply, they are not living up to expectation at present.
STALYBRIDGE CELTIC: 1 Jack Walton 2 Oliver Crowley 3 Alex Honeyball 4 Tom Brown (17 Edmilson Neves de Ceita 86) 5 Luke Ashworth 6 Ross Killock 7 Theo Bailey-Jones 8 Oliver Roberts 9 Liam Dickenson (14 Jake Charles 67) 10 Greg Wilkinson 11 John Cofie (Aidan Chippendale 83). Other subs: 15 Lee Neville 16 Danny Morton.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Nico Degirolamo 3 Keiron Wallace 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Rhys Sharpe (15 Adam Etches 60) 8 Michael Williams 9 Shaun Harrad 10 Nathan Whitehead (16 Tyrell Waite 55) 11 Ted Cribley. Subs not used: 12 Jake Green 14 Tyler Blake.
REFEREE: Elliott Swallow (Lancashire).
BEST GLADIATOR: Shaun Harrad.