Matlock Town rallied strongly at FC United of Manchester on Wednesday night but ended up losing 2-1 in a Evo-Stik Premier Division game played at Stalybridge.
After being outplayed in the first half, and deservedly two goals down at the interval, they were a shade unlucky not to bring home a point as United clung on to the victory.
It was certainly a game of two halves. The Gladiators were given a footballing lesson by United in the first half, but a strong half-time team talk, plus a significant change which saw Adam Yates slotted into midfield, brought about a fine second half Matlock display. It was possibly their best 45 minutes for months.
Chris Bettney replaced Ben Algar in the only change from the team which had beaten Rushall four days earlier. Yates was named as a substitute after recovering from illness.
Matlock made a very bright start with Gareth Davies cutting in from the left to fire in a shot which narrowly beat the far post, plus the head of Ian Holmes, with just 75 seconds on the clock. Liam King also fired over the bar while at the other end Jon Kennedy held a header from Adam Jones.
But the pendulum swung prominently in United’s favour after they took a 12th minute lead. Carlos Roca, always a thorn in Matlock’s side, crossed low from the left and Laurence Gaughan sliced into his own net. This had come after a couple of dangerous crosses had flashed around the Matlock penalty box.
Going full pelt for a second goal, Untied pulled Town all over the place with some slick, crisp passing, making great use of the flanks. Roca was a threat on one wing, Stephen Johnson as big a nuisance on the other.
Jake Cottrell had far too much time and space but, luckily for the visitors, he pulled his 18-yard effort wide. Dean Stott nodded a Roca centre at Kennedy before Roca’s stinging 28th minute drive was pushed around the post by Kennedy, who was having to earn his corn.
The goalkeeper was then alert to tip away a teasing Roca cross before the unrelenting pressure told with a second United goal on 31 minutes. Again Roca was involved with Kennedy parrying his low cross drive but Matty Wolfenden was on hand to smack home the rebound to put FC firmly in control.
Matlock reached half-time without any further harm on them being inflicted. Since Gaughan’s own goal, it had been a backs-to-the-wall job for the Gladiators and now they needed some inspiration. It came from an unlikely source.
Manager Mark Atkins’s half time words, plus the introduction of Yates to the midfield in place of Kris Bowler, proved a maste stroke.
Suddenly Matlock had energy, life and spark in the midfield, and instead of retreating and being overrun in the middle, they themselves dominated.
Roca was still a threat, but not such a potent one as he shot into the sidenetting. But the Gladiators halved their deficit just after the hour thanks to excellent play from Yates in a surge down the right.
He found Holmes with a short, simple but highly effective pass and Town’s top scorer turned to crash in a shot which seemed to go through goalkeeper James Spencer. The ball dropped just over the line with Bettney following in to make sure.
Yates burst goalwards again after robbing Johnson but with substitute TJ Nightingale on his outside, a rush of blood saw him drag his effort wide from 20 yards.
Now it was United on the receiving end with Matlock showing that they are capable of competing with the top sides. An exquisite turn by Holmes on the left touchline saw him shrug off United skipper Kyle Jacobs to cross brilliantly into the six-yard box, and King rose to glance just a foot wide.
Algar immediately replaced Bettney to run at the United defence and after one charge, United were happy to concede a corner as Holmes couldn’t control just when it mattered.
Matlock would not give up, they needed a kind run of the ball near the United goal, particularly in the 87th minute when James Lukic did well to dig out Algar’s low centre but could only scoop wide from 12 yards.
The inevitable United breakaway came as Town went for broke and Mike Norton’s header flew wide from a deep cross from the right.
Matlock’s pride was restored with their bright and energetic second half performance with the United faithful glad to have hung on.
Unfortunately from the visitors’ viewpoint, they had left themselves too much to do by allowing FC to boss the opening half.
The defeat saw Matlock slip to 14th and FC jump to sixth. Having no game at the weekend is probably frustrating for them, given the rhythm they found in an outstanding second half performance.
Matlock Town: Jon Kennedy, Micky Harcourt, Lee Featherstone, Liam King, Laurence Gaughan, James Lukic, Gareth Davies (T J Nightingale 61), Kris Bowler (Adam Yates 46), Ian Holmes, Lewis McMahon, Chris Bettney (Ben Algar 75)
Other sub: Nick Buxton.
Referee: J P Dowd-The Wirral
Star man: Jon Kennedy