Evo-Stik League Premier Division
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Stafford Rangers 1
Neville Thompson 31
Matlock Town 1
Liam King 61
Matlock: Jon Kennedy, Kris Witcombe, Kris Bowler, Ben Algar, Liam King, Adam Yates, James Lukic, Chris Bettney (Ben Hunter 81), Tyeisse Nightingale, Ian Holmes (Lee Morris 46), Gareth Davies (Steve Warne 77), Kris Bowler. Sub not used: Nick Buxton
Referee: D Kuzmanovic (Lichfield)
Star man: Liam King
Midfield dynamo Liam King’s 61st-minute header cancelled out Neville Thompson’s opener for Rangers on 31 minutes to earn Matlock a richly-deserved point at Marston Road on Tuesday night.
The Gladiators bounced back from their heavy loss at Chester with a determined and spirited performance. On another day, they might have won.
But the point came at a cost with Kris Witcombe, Gareth Davies, King and Ian Holmes all picking up worrying injuries ahead of this weekend’s home FA Trophy clash with Blue Square North leaders Hyde.
They went into the match without Micky Harcourt and Oscar Radford, who had hamstring trouble. Into the starting line-up in a 4-4-2 formation came Kris Bowler, Witcombe and Tyeisse Nightingale.
Matlock started brightly although it needed a superbly-timed tackle by skipper James Lukic to avert danger in the opening minutes.
Town responded and after Nightingale, who again drew applause from visiting fans for his tremendous workrate, was fouled 25 yards out, Rangers’ goalkeeper Danny Read dived to his left to fingertip a Bettney free-kick to safety.
Stafford were a physical, spoiling outfit whose main objective seemed to be to stop Matlock from playing. They put in some hefty challenges which saw bookings for skipper Karl Espley, Glyn Blackhurst and Peter Heler before the break and Dan Skelton in the second half.
This led to an untidy first-half which suited the hosts a good deal more than Matlock. King shot at Read after Algar’s dazzling run and pass from the left before Holmes kicked the ground as he challenged Read to a through-pass.
He needed treatment and laboured through the rest of the half before being replaced by Lee Morris at the interval.
Gareth Davies was a godsend for Town in the physical battle and he might have claimed an assist as he shrugged off a couple of challenges to set up fellow midfielder King who shot a couple of feet wide.
So it was somewhat against the run of play when Stafford drew first blood in their next attack as Thompson drove low and hard and watched his firmly struck effort beat the diving Kennedy and settle in the bottom corner.
Adam Yates turned on a Bettney free-kick to have his shot blocked and Read was pleased to gather from Nightingale after the Nottingham-based forward could only connect with a low Bettney centre with his studs.
Matlock were out early for the second half, keen to find an equaliser at the very least.
Sometimes they were too eager, being caught offside too frequently, but the 61st minute brought them joy when Morris knocked down Algar’s cross to Bettney who chipped sweetly over Read and King towered above the Rangers defence, hanging in the air to plant a delightful header into the top corner.
With Morris leading the line with strength and purpose, Matlock now looked favourites to go on and win.
Bettney fired just a foot too high, King’s penetrating run through the heart of the Rangers back four saw him just miss out on Davies’s through- pass and a Nightingale pull back from the right should really have been gobbled up by a Gladiator.
There was a sniff of a chance for Rangers when Witcombe felled Liam Shotton on the edge of the box but Kennedy was well placed to hold Jon Patrick’s fiercely struck free kick.
In a last push, a Matlock corner was invitingly floated at neck high along the six- yard box by Ben Hunter. The limping King and then Yates behind him could not get that vital touch that would have sent the three points back to Derbyshire.