Gladiators missing creative spark as they fail to score throughout January

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Matlock were left still hunting their first goal of 2019 after another frustrating afternoon saw them lose 1-0 at home to Nantwich Town.

The fourth-placed visitors struck 18 minutes from time through Joe Malkin to keep alive their Evo-Stik League title hopes.

Matlock worked hard but lacked the quality and invention to open up the visitors defence, while Ross Durrant was far the busier of the two keepers.

Nantwich began brightly attacking with pace down the flanks and a cross by Callum Saunders, son of former Derby, Liverpool and Wales forward Dean Saunders, flashed across the Gladiators box.

After a Craig King cross was deflected behind, Matlock won two successive corners that came to nothing.

Saunders had a shot charged down after Nantwich took a free kick quickly before James Lawrie miskicked as he attempted to convert a cross from the right.

The first serious opportunity though came on 24 minutes when Durrant produced a brilliant diving save low to his left, having to change direction at the last minute to keep out a long-range strike from Malkin.

Five minutes later Durrant was busy again keeping out an effort from a similar distance from central defender Toby Mullarkey.

Greg Tempest skied a volley high over the bar for the Gladiators, who then saw Dwayne Wiley glance a corner from the left wide, a few minutes after he had been booked for bringing down Malkin.

Westcarr turned smartly but his shot was blocked, the ball though finding Williams on the right flank who delivered a low cross that was an inch or two beyond the fast-approaching Jamie Jackson, when the slightest of connections could well have seen Matlock in the lead.

A marvellous covering header by Adam Yates denied Nantwich from breaking and causing danger again, before the half ended with Jamie Morgan falling theatrically in the box. Penalty appeals were correctly refused and Matthew Bell was booked for a mistimed challenge on King.

Rain greeted the teams in the second half with Matlock showing first as Westcarr’s cross was deflected away from Jackson with Nantwich comfortably clearing the follow-up cross from Brad Beatson, who minutes later shot harmlessly wide of the near post.

Nantwich won a corner with Durrant being ideally positioned to hold a volley from Bell before keeping out a shot from Malkin. Mullarkey tried his luck from distance again, but his shot dipped as it sped over the bar.

The breakthrough came when substitute Joe Mwasile broke purposefully from deep and, with Matlock switching off at the back, the ball broke for Malkin to stroke past Durrant. The referee had played a decent advantage with Mwasile looking to have been fouled in the box in the build-up.

Matlock forced two corners quickly in a bid to restore parity. Luke Hinsley entered the fray and his first touch might have been a golden one, only for the ball to run away from him as he teed up his chance on the left.

Yates headed over from another flag kick before the final chance came and went when Jackson drove wide from a tight angle.

Nantwich deserved their win as they made Durrant work hard, while Jaaskelainen was not seriously extended at the other end. The workrate from Matlock could not be faulted but that extra little spark and belief, which was there before Christmas in a spell when Matlock beat Nantwich 4-1 on their own ground, was missing.