A Danny Holland penalty, a Jon Kennedy spot kick save and an outstanding late double block from the Matlock goalkeeper were all to prove crucial in Matlock Town picking up three excellent and precious points at a foggy Wothorpe Road last Saturday.
The Gladiators had never won an NPL game at the venue, and what a time to get their first on their final visit before Stamford move into state of the art headquarters elsewhere in the Lincolnshire town next month.
It was a good solid Matlock performance, and given their first half dominance, Matlock should have been comfortably ahead by the interval. But the scoreline was still blank and that meant Stamford were still well in contention, as was proved when the hosts improved considerably in the second half which made the contest a more even affair.
Both loanees from Grimsby Town, Ellis Humble and Caine Winfarrah, were handed starting places for the suspended Oscar Radford and Joe Leesley had to be content with a seat on the substitutes bench. Another new face, striker Andre Johnson from Worksop Town, was also one of the substitutes.
Matlock began on the front foot, playing some neat, attractive, passing football, particularly down the left where Winfarrah, operating as a wing back, constantly got forward to deliver some telling crosses into the Stamford penalty box.
Holland fired over the bar in four minutes. but it needed a finely timed challenge by Lawrence Gorman at the other end to deny Nabil Shariff a shooting opportunity.
The visitors lost Corey Gregory with a recurrence of his shoulder complaint which gave Phil Roe an opportunity to impress and add to Matlock’s threat on the left. roe was soon combining sweetly with Charlie Dawes whose cross was narrowly missed by Holland in the centre.
Matlock though should really have been testing goalkeeper Andrew Stevens more given their dominance and when they did on 27 minutes, Stevens was up to the task, pushing away Dawes’ low strike. this was the prelude to some intense Gladiators pressure when they forced three quick corners, the pressure being relieved when Holland’s header dropped wide.
Kennedy thus far, had enjoyed a relatively quiet afternoon, but that would be become a busier one in the final ten minutes.
Stamford emerged for the second half a more businesslike outfit and as the fog and mist encircled the ground, memories of last season’s abandonment came flooding back.
The hosts won an early corner which came to nothing as captain Richard Jones headed harmlessly off target. A 25-yard strike from Winfarrah met a similar fate as Matlock responded.
Then for the first time Stamford exerted some pressure of their own which was soaked up admirably and efficiently by the Matlock defence, superbly organized by Micky Harcourt.
When Matlock broke they did so with pace and an opportunity presented itself when Gorman escaped down the right to feed Holland whose effort was well blocked by Jones.
But Jones would become the villain when on 79 minutes he sent Dawes tumbling to the turf for an obvious penalty which was calmly chipped into the net by HOLLAND for his tenth goal of the season.
Within two minutes though there was another penalty, again an obvious one, when Yates tripped Shariff, but Kennedy saved his first ever penalty in Town colours, blocking Robbins’ shot before the Stamford top scorer blasted the loose ball over the bar.
Roe fired wide as Matlock tried to make the most of their escape but they would still need Kennedy to pull off two breathtaking block saves in quick succession from Shariff and Robbins as the game entered stoppage time, to claim the three points.
A small criticism in that had they been more clinical when they were on top, there would have been no need for the late alarms. But on the whole it was a pleasing performance and the result was the right one for Matlock in the end.
STAMFORD: 1 Andrew Stevens 2 Ryan Clark 3 Gareth Jelleyman (14 Lewis Jackson 80) 4 Joe Curtis 5 Richard Jones 6 Dalton Bettles 7 Daniel Lawlor 8 Jon Challinor 9 William Bird 10 Nabil Shariff 11 Ryan Robbins Other subs: 12 Lewis Carr 15 Tom McGowan 16 Tom Mann 17 David Staff.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Lawrence Gorman (15 Joe Leesley 72) 3 Caine Winfarrah 4 Adam Yates 5 Micky Harcourt 6 Ellis Humble 7 Niall McManus 8 James Ashmore 9 Danny Holland 10 Charlie Dawes 11 Corey Gregory (16 Phil Roe 16) Other subs: 12 Lavell White 14 Josh Meade 17 Andre Johnson.
REFEREE: Nick Hopton (Derby).
BEST GLADIATOR: Jon Kennedy.