Injury-ravaged Matlock put in a battling performance and deserved a second bite of the cherry as they went out of the FA Trophy 1-0 at St Neots Town.
Nabil Shariff’s 66th minute goal proved to be decisive to send them out of the first qualifying round to the Southern League Central Premier Division hosts.
Gladiators manager Dave Frecklington would have liked to have named an unchanged team from the one that thrashed Grantham 7-0 in midweek.
But Matlock’s injury hoodoo struck again with devastating effect.
Three of the back four that started against the Gingerbreads were out — Adam Yates (hamstring), Dwayne Wiley (calf) and Lee Beevers (admitted to hospital with an infected ankle following a previous gash) missed out, and new striker Luke Hinsley could only make the substitutes bench after stepping on a plug at work and gashing his foot.
Midfielder Harry Wood was also added to the list of Shaun Harrad, Michael Williams, Taron Hare, Tom Davie and Marcus Marshall who were unavailable, severely limiting Frecklington’s options.
Cleveland Taylor went into midfield and, in defence, Ashton Hall stepped in on the day before his 18th birthday.
Jake Green and Jordan Lemon ewere at full back, and Jordan Chapell started on the right of midfield after a long injury lay-off.
Unfortunately for the Gladiators, that injury list would increase even further during the game as Craig Westcarr suffered a back injury and Jordan Lemon was knocked out having to leave the field.
The game was short on quality and in the first half St Neots appeared to be beatable.
Matlock should have been in front in the opening half an hour. Craig King, again prominent down the left, crossed for Westcarr to stab wide in the 10th minute before, following a neatly-constructed attack, Westcarr laid the ball back for the onrushing Nathan Whitehead to fire a foot wide from the edge of the box.
St Neots’ shooting was terrible as a succession of hopeful shots were skied over the bar.
Matlock went close again in the 20th minute as King rose at the back post to head too high from Chappell’s fine cross from the right.
Probably Matlock’s best chance came in the 28th minute when Harry Vince knocked his finish wide from eight yards, although a home defender did well to pressurise him as he shot.
At the other end Whitehead cut out an effort from Dom Sembie-Ferris and Gary Wharton’s hard driven centre flashed across the face of goal.
A half chance came Matlock’s way a minute into the second half. From a well- worked corner, King found Westcarr whose centre dropped to Brad Beatson, but Dan O’Laniran made a fine block.
The visitors nearly went behind two minutes later as Wharton fired against the outside of a post from a Sembie-Ferris assist.
St Neots had improved since the first half but Matlock still looked comfortable until Shariff netted the winner when keeper Ross Durrant could not find the distance and elevation he wanted in a clearance.
Tom Wood wong the ball just inside the St Neots half and put Shariff clear. His finish was perfect as he lifted the ball over Durrant.
Hinsley hit the side-netting, substitute Billy Whitehead was thwarted in a penalty-area scramble and a volley from Beatson struck the top of the bar as Matlock battled in vain to force a replay.
ST NEOTS TOWN: 1 Harry Reynolds 2 Devante Stanley 3 Johnny Herd 4 Tom Wood 5 Russell Short 6 Dan O’Laniran 7 Dion Sembie-Ferris 8 Matty Miles 9 Nabil Shariff 10 Dylan Williams 11 Gary Wharton (12 Claudio Ofosu 67) Other subs: 14 Prince Wutsumguna 15 Leon Fulianty
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Ross Durrant 2 Jordan Lemon (15 Billy Whitehead 80) 3 Jake Green 4 Nathan Whitehead 5 Brad Beatson 6 Ashton Hall 7 Jordan Chapell (12 Jamie Jackson 57) 8 Cleveland Taylor 9 Craig Westcarr (14 Luke Hinsley 57) 10 Harry Vince 11 Craig King Other subs: 16 Ethan Knowles 17 Jordan Pierrepont
REFEREE: Callum Walchester (Lowestoft).
BEST GLADIATOR: Ashton Hall.