MATLOCK Town extended their unbeaten run to seven matches in the wind and rain at the Reynolds Stadium last night (Wednesday) when James Knowles popped up with a late equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw with Stafford Rangers.
The goal capped a fine personal display from Knowles who, along with fellow wideman Chris Bettney, always looked most likely to breach the visiting defence.
Manager Mark Atkins brought back Knowles and Kris Bowler into his starting line-up after they had impressed as substitutes on Saturday at Burscough. Steve Warne and Lee Whittington dropped to the bench.
The visitors were quickest out of the blocks and Matlock keeper Jon Kennedy did well to tip a fine Kinsella free-kick over the bar in the first minute. Then, on four minutes, he was quickly off his line to block a Thompson shot after an attempted header back to the keeper by Adam Yates had fallen short.
The following 20 minutes produced little in the way of chances. Both teams played at a high tempo but had trouble stringing more than two passes together on the skiddy surface as the rain lashed down.
From 35 minutes onwards, Matlock began to get on top and experienced their best period of the half, starting with a Liam King shot from 15 yards that was sliced wide after an Ian Holmes lay-back and continuing when TJ Nightingale headed a James Knowles cross narrowly wide at the back post on 38 minutes.
But then, against the run of play, Stafford took the lead five minutes before the break when Kinsella turned on the edge of the area and fizzed a shot just past Kennedy and inside the left-hand post.
Into the second half, Matlock huffed and puffed without creating too much but on the hour mark Stafford had a good chance to double their lead when veteran midfielder Kevin Street was given too much space to stride through and he shot just wide from 15 yards out.
A scramble from a Matlock corner on 70 minutes saw Yates’s shot on the turn being cleared off the line as Matlock continued to look for an equaliser.
Knowles and Bettney looked lively on the wings and Knowles saw his long-range shot zip across the wet surface before going inches wide on 77 minutes.
Whittington then came on to replace Nightingale up front as the Gladiators pushed on for that all-important goal.
On 81 minutes, Kennedy had to be at his best to deny Wood’s close-range effort and touch it behind for a corner while at the other end a Bettney free-kick produced a good low save from Dan Skelton.
It seemed that time had run out for Matlock but with virtually the last throw of the dice, Knowles nodded home his first goal of the season on 91 minutes, being the first to get on the end of a Bettney cross.
His goal extended that unbeaten run in front of a crowd of 388 and leaves the Gladiators in eighth place in the Evo-Stik League Premier Division, with 15 points from their eight games so far.
Next up is the visit of Bradford Park Avenue on Saturday (3pm start).