Dave Hoole lost his first game in interim command, going down 2-1 to Ashton United, but Matlock can hold their heads raised firmly high after a thriller at a rain soaked DCJ Group Arena on Tuesday night.
Ashton came from behind to secure the victory that virtually assured their place in the play-offs in a game which started 15 minutes late due to Ashton players being delayed by a motorway accident in the Manchester area at tea time.
The crowd were treated to three top quality goals and an end to end tussle that could have gone either way, but with the visitors having the slightest of edges. Ted Cribley gave the hosts a 17th-minute lead cancelled out by John Pritchard five minutes later. The winner came through Jack Dyche’s header on 77 minutes.
In a tight opening the game was contested mainly in midfield in the opening exchanges before Daniel Mooney tried his luck from twenty five yards which Matlock goalkeeper Richard Walton was equal to on 12 minutes.
The Gladiators swiftly responded to force a corner which was cleared but they scored in spectacular style in the 17th minute after a controlled build up involving Jake Green and youngster Harry Wood saw Cribley unleash a tremendous 25-yarder that flew gloriously past the diving Josh Ollerenshaw and into the top corner.
The goal gave Matlock added impetus as they knocked on Ashton’s door again but found it slammed shut in their face. The visitors then broke for Kieran Wallace to foul Mooney and from a similar distance to Cribley’s strike, Pritchard’s excellent free-kick beat the diving Walton and finished high in the net.
Both sides went for the jugular on a slick surface which the rain had made almost perfect for fast and flowing football but stout defending kept the scoreline still even.
Matlock could possibly have done with Ricky German, required by Chesterfield for the Derbyshire Senior Cup Final in a longstanding agreement, to unsettle a strong Ashton back line.
Adam Yates managed what looked to be a decisive header to block a fierce Daniel Mooney strike as the ball ricocheted out for a corner and Ashton found their vital winner. The flag kick was cleared to where it had come from on the right but the ball was swung back in and Dyche’s header screamed into the roof of the net as Walton scarcely moved.
It looked a big ask for Matlock to recover as Ashton streamed forward but the Gladiators gave as good as they got against a packed Robins defence, peppering the visitor’s goal but to no avail as Ashton held on in the closest of battles.
Although there were sad looks on the home players faces at the end, they left the DCJ Group Arena after their final home outing of the season with heads held high, having competed gallantly with one of the division’s leading sides.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Richard Walton 2 Jake Phillips 3 Jake Green 4 Joe Doyle-Charles (12 Zak Brunt 62) 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Harry Wood 8 Kieran Wallace 9 Harry Limb (14 Amos Kabeya 72) 10 Ted Cribley 11 Jamie Jackson (16 Chris Ondong-Mba 58) Other subs: 15 Billy Whitehead 17 Ethan Knowles
ASHTON UNITED: 1 Josh Ollerenshaw 2 Dominic Smalley 3 Lewis Baines 4 Josh Granite 5 Aaron Chalmers 6 Sam Sheridan 7 Nicky Platt 8 Liam Tomsett (12 Nic Evangelinos 72) 9 Jack Dyche 10 Daniel Mooney (14 John Roberts 80) 11 John Pritchard (17 Dean Smalley 62) Other subs: 15 Kanye Makhosini 16 Matthew Chadwick
REFEREE: Lee Hible (Sheffield)
BEST GLADIATOR: Ted Cribley