A 78th minute Shaun Harrad goal, his second of the night, settled a tense and thrilling first home game of the season for Matlock on Tuesday night.
The Gladiators had been pegged back twice by the plucky Pitmen before Harrad showed just why he could be their talisman performer this season.
Harrad opened the scoring in the fifth minute only for the unlucky Joe Doyle-Charles to be given the dubious credit of an own goal for Hednesford’s leveller only five minutes later.
Then both sides converted spot kicks, Rhys Sharpe for the hosts on 23 minutes and James Lawrie for the visitors three minutes before the break.
Both sides had chances in an even second period, but Harrad proved to be the difference between the sides on the night to leave Matlock with four points from two difficult games.
Matlock freshened up their side with Nico Degirolamo and Ted Cribley replacing Callum Lloyd and Marc Newsham . Ryan Wilson was moved to central midfield with Cribley operating just behind Harrad in attack.
Cribley missed a gilt edged chance in only the 3rd minute as a false Hednesford pass left him clear but goalkeeper James Wren won the one on one duel, turning aside Cribley’s low shot.
But Matlock went in front when Dwayne Wiley burst forward in a terrific run to feed Sharpe whose left wing cross was superbly headed in by Harrad.
But Hednesford were back on level terms when Doyle-Charles fouled Tom Thorley and Kris Taylor’s free kick deflected off the Gladiators midfielder’s head to beat Phil Barnes to his left.
Darnelle Bailey-King’s pace would be a constant threat in the first half as he consistently skipped past Joe Ballinger to deliver some inviting centres. From one, Wilson volleyed off target as the visiting defence struggled to clear .
For Hednesford Jordan Nadat broke down the left and the onrushing Matthew Dodd shot fiercely wide.
On 23 minutes though Matlock regained the lead as Wiley’s long raking pass found Sharpe on the left who was brought down by Jordan Wheatley, The Gladiators former Northern Ireland under 21 international confidently blasting the penalty low to Wren’s left.
A near post Harrad header flashed wide as Matlock looked likely to add to their tally but there was a reminder that the visitors could be dangerous as Barnes saved well from Lee Smith before Ballinger’s flicked back header struck the top of the bar.
Wren tipped an awkward Wilson free kick over the bar before the visitors broke for Barnes to pull off an excellent save from Dodd but Wilson was adjudged to have fouled LAawrie in the follow up, the former Altrincham winger easily beating Barnes from the spot.
It had been a great opening half, played at breathtaking pace and intensity and the second half promised to be the same as Barnes dived spectacularly to his right to tip away Lawrie’s 50th minute header.
Hednesford’s performance improved after Matlock had been on top for long periods before the break but the skilful Cribley found Sharpe whose curling centre was narrowly off radar for Bailey-King who soon afterwards cracked a fierce shot narrowly too high following fine approach play from substitute Tyler Blake and Harrad.
Samuel Oji was fortunate not to divert a low Cribley cross into his own net, the ball being hacked clear just as it looked to be crossing the line.
A deflected Glover strike was expertly dealt with by Barnes before Harrad blasted in a cracking twelve yard finish for the winner after a free kick had been headed on.
Doyle-Charles smashed a fierce thirty yarder inches too high before Glover’s overhead effort fell wide in what was Hednesford’s final chance to save a point.
If every game is as exciting as this one, attendees at the DCJ Group Arena are going to be regally entertained this season.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Nico Degirolamo 3 Jake Green 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Darnelle Bailey-King ( 14 Callum Lloyd 76) 8 Ryan Wilson (17 Tyler Blake 56) 9 Shaun Harrad (12 Marc Newsham 86) 10 Ted Cribley 11 Rhys Sharpe Other subs: 15 Luis Rose 16 Zeyn Hakeem
HEDNESFORD TOWN: 1 James Wren 2 Jordan Wheatley (14 Lewis Wright 46) 3 Joe Ballinger 4 Ben Bailey 5 Samuel Oji 6 Kris Taylor 7 Matthew Dodd 8 Tom Thorley 9 Jordan Nadat (15 Danny Glover 60) 10 Lee Smith 11 James Lawrie (12 Jamie Mutton 82) Other subs: 16 Alex Melbourne 17 Jose Veiga
REFEREE: Eddie Pidduck (Beeston).
BEST GLADIATOR: Shaun Harrad.