The positives outweighed the negatives as Matlock battled their way to a deserved point in a 3-3 thriller at Witton Albion’s Wincham Park.
The obvious negative was three goals conceded for the fourth successive game, but this time Matlock scored three themselves and looked much more the side that supporters had the pleasure of watching last season.
In a changed look to the EvoStik team, Rhys Sharpe slotted in at left back with Jake Green operating down the right flank. Joe Doyle-Charles replaced the ill Kieron Wallace, while Noel Burdett started in attack with Ricky German on the bench.
Also among the substitutes was Zac Brunt, an attacking midfielder, signed on his 16th birthday on Friday.
Matlock made the brighter start with Shaun Harrad’s shot deflected for a corner, but the hosts went in front after 12 minutes.
Phil Barnes, normally Mr Reliable, slipped and spilled a routine ball and Rob Hopley stroked his shot into an empty net.
Witton had another chance three minutes later. Will Jones knocked down a cross to Hopley, who was crowded out.
Matlock showed a steely resolve and were back on level terms in the 20th minute with a beautifully-worked goal.
The speedy Burnett escaped down the right and kept his composure to look up and find Harrad, who slid a precise low shot into the bottom corner.
Michael Williams drove directly at goalkeeper Calvin Hare as Matlock attacked again before Barnes atoned for his error with a smart block save from Owen Dale’s low drive.
Then, in an end-to-end game, Hare saved another Williams shot at the second attempt.
Long throws into the box were causing Matlock plenty of problems as the tall Holey looked to profit, but it was from a free kick that Witton regained the lead on 42 minutes.
Paul Williams found the net with a low shot that Barnes admitted afterwards he could have dealt with better.
The keeper, though, proved his importance to the Gladiators line-up later in the contest.
A business-like Matlock then turned the game in their favour within seven minutes of the restart.
On 48 minutes Witton failed to clear a left-wing corner and the ball broke to substitute German, who made the ideal impact by rifling fiercely into the net.
Then from another corner on the left Adam Yates rose to plant a fine header past Hare.
Matlock needed to consolidate but that good work went to waste as within three more minutes Witton were level.
Tom Owens was given far too much room to break free and glide a low drive past Barnes, who this time stood little chance of saving it.
German could and probably should have put Matlock back in front just before the hour when he screwed a low shot wide with only Hare to beat before, at the other end, Barnes pulled off a superb double save from Hopley to keep Matlock level.
Yates cleared a shot off the line as Witton went for a winner but Matlock came equally close in stoppage time as Harrad’s sizzling drive cannoned back off the inside of Hare’s left-hand post.
By that time Brunt became Matlock’s youngest ever first-teamer as he replaced the lively Burdett with three minutes remaining .
The improvement from the sorry display against Nantwich was immense, but there is still a lot of hard work ahead. for Matlock, despite showing character to twice come from behind.
WITTON ALBION: 1 Calvin Hare 2 Anthony Gardner 3 Danny McKenna 4 Nick Ryan 5 Paul Williams 6 James Foley (15 Steven Tames 56) 7 Owen Dale (14 Anthony Brown 61) 8 Tom Owens 9 Rob Holey 10 Will Jones (16 Micah Evans 56) 11 Prince Haywood. Other subs: 12 Cesaire Lingouba 17 Ryan Nield.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Nico Degirolamo 3 Rhys Sharpe (14 Nathan Whitehead 68) 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley (12 Ricky German 46) 7 Jake Green 8 Michael Williams 9 Shaun Harrad 10 Noel Burdett (16 Zac Brunt 87) 11 Ted Cribley. Other subs: 15 Harry Wood 17 Jordan Pierrpont.
REFEREE: Richard Holmes (Preston).
BEST GLADIATOR: Noel Burdett.