Gladiators fans are unsure what to expect from their side at the moment, given their inconsistency.
They surely craved for a reaction and a much better all round performance from that served up in the FA Trophy replay humiliation at the hands of Halesowen four days earlier.
They got it, and while all three points would have been preferable, it was a gutsy display against the league leaders and Matlock totally deserved their point.
On a sodden pitch that passed a late inspection at 1.45 pm, Matlock led thanks to a stunning strike from Niall McManus at the interval and had experienced few alarms from the visitors. The pattern changed after the break when having made a couple of half time changes, Skelmersdale had Matlock on the back foot and one of the substitutes, Danny Mitchley equalized with twenty minutes remaining.
Two new faces featured in the Matlock squad. Nineteen-year-old striker Charlie Dawes, on loan from Chesterfield, started alongside captain Danny Holland, while another striker, David Awomolo, promoted from the reserves, was on the bench.
David Haggerty did not feature, so in effect it was Dawes replacing Haggerty with Micky Harcourt moving to central defence and Joe Leesley reverting to a deeper role from the left.
Matlock started brightly and Holland tried his luck from fully forty yards in only the 2nd minute, his well intended strike narrowly clearing the bar. Then Holland did his best to set up Dawes with an intelligent knock down which was just out of the loanee’s radar.
But Matlock were in front on seven minutes when Skem goalkeeper Martin Fearon scuffed his clearance only as far as McManus who instantly returned the ball with very rewarding interest, Fearon being stranded as the ball sailed over him and into the vacant net. This 40-yard effort found the target!
Little was seen of the league leaders early on, they certainly did not have the look of a side with an eight points lead at the summit. Matlock, with McManus and James Ashmore prominent, were bossing the midfield, their industry and desire standing out. In attack, Dawes looked prepared to chase anything and everything, he certainly made an impressive start, the only thing lacking from him was the goal he deserved for his tremendous work rate.
Skelmersdale did not manage a shot in anger until the 18th minute when Jon Kennedy comfortably gathered Scott Bakkor’s low drive.
Matlock needed to remain calm and they did in a midfield battle which saw nothing of note in terms of opportunities until the 34th minute when follwing neat approach play from both Holland and Dawes, McManus lifter his shot too high.
When Skelmersdale attacked, Matlock quickly closed them down, denying them space, and if a shot did arrive, as it did from Bakkor on 39 minutes, the likelihood was that it would be harmless, as Bakkor’s was, the ball sailing high over the bar on to the cricket pitch.
Skem won a couple of free kicks in the run up to the interval, both well defended as Wylie’s effort was high and hopelessly off target and the second one from Alex Meaney was charged down.
So Matlock could be well satisfied with their work so far and deservedly held the lead.
Skem looked a different proposition in the second half and almost immediately made their intentions clear when Kennedy scrambled to his left to keep out a low shot from Meaney. Danny Wisdom then saw his header cleared before the pressure was relieved in fine style by a clever combination between McManus and Dawes.
The pair worked the ball intelligently around the visiting defenders on the right and it took a diving save at the near post from Fearon to keep out Dawes’ daisycutter.
Then Adam Yates lunged to meet a free kick at the near post and saw his header fly wide. Yates would then make a fine interception at the other end to stop Bakkor in his tracks but the pressure was increasing.
Matlock were finally breached when Meaney’s clever pass released Mitchley who held off his marker to fire across Kennedy, low into the far corner.
Now Skelmersdale looked favourites to go on and claim all three points but both sides held firm.
A chance fell Matlock’s way when substitute Lavell White ran clear only for referee Wilkes to bring play back and award Matlock a free kick and caution offender Phil Mooney. The free kick came to nothing and the chance evaporated as quickly as it was created on the deck of a surface which had played surprisingly well given the amount of rain which had been thrown down.
In the end a draw was just about fair and Matlock had regained a lot of credibility after their midweek horror show.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Lawrence Gorman 3 Joe Leesley 4 Adam Yates 5 Micky Harcourt 6 Oscar Radford (14 Josh Meade 71) 7 Niall McManus 8 James Ashmore 9 Danny Holland 10 Charlie Dawes 11 Corey Gregory (12 Lavell White 75) Other sub: 15 David Awomolo
SKELMERSDALE UNITED: 1 Martin Fearon 2 Valtar Fernandes 3 Danny Wisdom 4 Peter Wylie 5 Rob Bodie 6 Aiden Kirkbride (14 Curtis Thompson 71) 7 Phil Mooney 8 Alan Burton (12 Kenny Strickland) 9 Scott Bakkor 10 Conor McCarthy (15 Danny Mitchley 46) 11 Alex Meaney Other subs: 16 Michael Simpson 17 Josh Sumner
REFEREE: Matt Wilkes (Stourbridge)
BEST GLADIATOR: Niall McManus