Hednesford gained revenge for their FA Trophy replay defeat just three weeks earlier against a Matlock side who looked good in the opening and closing stages of Wednesday night’s encounter but were second best in the middle chunk of the contest.
On a cold night, all Matlock had to show for their efforts was Liam King’s tremendous twenty five yarder but that came with just four minutes remaining with Hednesford comfortably two goals in front. It was a case of too little, too late for the Gladiators, who had substitute Lee Featherstone sent off for foul and abusive language when the visitors doubled their lead from the penalty spot with a little over 20 minutes to go.
A power failure seven minutes into the second half delayed proceedings for ten minutes. Any hopes that Matlock might have had that the break would disturb Hednesford’s greater rhythm and control proved to be without foundation.
Striker Danny Davidson, signed on Saturday, partnered Lee Morris in attack and Davidson, who had a loan spell with Town at the end of the 2008-09 season, should really have made a dream start with his new club. Only four minutes had gone when Chris Bettney’s corner found him free at the back post but his downward header bounced wide.
Then Liam King ran on to an intelligent flick by Davidson but a superbly-timed interception by Pedro Monteiro averted further danger. Goalkeeper Dan Crane rose majestically to cling to a Ben Algar cross, stealing the ball off Davidson’s head.
But Matlock then became slack in both defence and midfield and this handed the initiative to the Pitmen. Adam Yates was caught ballwatching allowing Marvin Robinson to cross from the right and Jay Denny drove over the bar from the edge of the box.
Jamey Osborne’s curling effort was fielded comfortably by Kennedy before a Kyle Haynes shot was deflected wide. From a Chris Clements corner on the left, Denny had as good a chance as Davidson, but, unattended, planted his header over the bar.
Robinson miscued wide under pressure from Yates but Hednesford went in front with a soft goal a minute before the interval. A corner from the right was played to the near post where Osborne converted a scruffy effort. King volleyed straight at Crane as Matlock wanted an instant response.
Matlock were caught sleeping virtually straight from the kick-off for the second half as Haynes launched a pass downfield which Elliott Durrell chased, but thankfully for the Gladiators he clipped his shot yards over the bar.
Fortune favoured the visitors on 49 minutes when a Lukic header from a fine Yates cross struck Davidson, the debutant inadvertently doing Hednesford’s defending for them.
Then it all went dark and an unexpected rest came for the players, who were soon back on though.
Hednesford remained the sharper. Frustration in the home camp grew as passes were misplaced and the service to the front two left a lot to be desired.
And when Witcombe was harshly adjudged to have handled an Osborne shot, referee Meredith pointed to the spot. Featherstone unwisely used industrial language in his assessment of the award and after he went for first use of the shower, Clements calmly stroked Hednesford into a match-winning position.
Matlock also had Lukic cautioned for dissent, Algar for kicking the ball away and Davidson and Morris for mistimed challenges, while yellow cards went to Hednesford’s Haynes, Osborne and Chris Shaw.
Lukic headed a Bettney free-kick wide before Matlock made a game of it after looking down and out.
A brilliant effort from King struck the angle of bar and post on 85 minutes before bouncing along the goalline, but almost immediately his brilliant floated shot comprehensively beat Crane and landed high in the net.
Nearly six minutes of added time were played and Lukic met Bettney’s corner but could not find the purchase he needed as Haynes sliced the ball off the line. But as manager Atkins pointed out afterwards, the performance was not good enough.
“We played too many long balls which played into their hands, we were definitely off the pace apart from the first 15 or so minutes. Then we began to play a bit when down to ten men.We can have no complaints about the result. Lee Featherstone can have no complaints either and will be fined.”