Matlock were worthy of a point in a close game between two well matched sides at Croft Park but yet another soft goal from a set piece plus an own goal was enough to give the hosts victory and a league double over the Gladiators.
Retaining the starting line up which came close to toppling Buxton on New Years Day, the visitors began proceedings in the ascendancy but could not make their chances count.
After only 90 seconds, Phil Roe nodded a Joe Leesley cross softly at goalkeeper Conor Grant as Matlock asked most of the early questions.
At the other end the tall Robbie Dale, usually a striker but being employed in a role wide on the right, fired into the sidenetting before forward Ryan McCorrigan saw his effort deflected behind.
But the clearer chances were being created by a bright looking Gladiators. On 18 minutes a delightful turn in the box from Lewis McMahon, looking to score for the sixth successive match, brought about a fierce shot which was superbly beaten away by Grant.
Two minutes later though came a chance not taken which Matlock would rue when McMahon’s clever flick released Roe on a one on one with Grant. Roe flicked the ball goalwards but too close to Grant who was able to push the tame strike over the bar.
Then came the sucker punch from a corner created by Shaun Vipond’s shot which struck a defender to result in a corner after good approach play from Dale and McCorrigan.
For the third successive game, Matlock lost the opening goal from a corner headed in by a centre half, this time home skipper Wayne Buchanan doing the damage as nobody picked him up and the ball was in the back of the net before Kennedy could react.
The goal lifted the hosts who now looked the more dangerous. Damon Mullen drove narrowly too high from a promising position and on the stroke of half time Kennedy pulled off a fine stop from a stinging drive by Neal Hooks with the visitors somehow clearing their lines in the ensuing scramble.
McMahon had fired at Grant who also held a Leesley strike at the second attempt, but Matlock needed to win back control in the second half in front of a partisan home support.
McCorrigan ran at Matlock to curl wide from twenty yards as the new half got under way,and within six minutes of the resumption, Matlock were back on level terms.
McDonald attacked at pace down the right and his waist high centre was sliced into his own net by the unbalanced Richie Slaughter, just the boost that the visitors needed!
But they were nearly caught out when they momentarily switched off and breathed again as Ryan Jennings’ shot was deflected wide. The visitors stormed forward again for McDonald’s effort to be charged down and then Roe sliced wide.
Just as it seemed that Matlock were regaining their rhythm,on 66 minutes disaster struck, also with controversy. Again Spartans’ key man Dale was involved, looking a couple of yards offside on the right before his teasing low cross beat Kennedy, the ball having struck James Lukic’s stretching leg for the second own goal of the afternoon.
Frustration crept in for Matlock as McMahon and McDonald were both booked, the latter being very unfortunate as an inept and unfit official, who struggled to keep up with play, failed to spot a clear foul on McDonald forced who then attempted to win the ball back.
It was a free kick at the most and certainly not a bookable offence.
Substitutes Jacob Hazel and Brad Grayson, plus Lukic all went close towards the end with Grayson looking to have been pulled back by a home defender in the box. But Grayson did his best to stay on his feet and proved that honesty does not always pay.
Matlock should have returned down the A1 with some reward but they need to resolve their problems at defending set pieces for giving teams a goal start is proving to be an achilles heel for them at present.
MATLOCK: Jon Kennedy, Micky Harcourt, Oscar Radford (Brad Grayson 68), Martin Foster (Lee Ellington 77), Adam Yates, James Lukic, Joe Leesley (Jacob Hazel 64), James Ashmore, Massiah McDonald, Lewis McMahon, Phil Roe.
Other sub: Laurence Gaughan.
Referee: S A J Campbell (Middlesbrough).
Star man: Phil Roe.