Sometimes in sport a beaten club has to hold up its hands and admit the better side won.
And that was the case at Heritage Park on Tuesday evening, as Darlington 1883 ran out 3-0 winners over Matlock.
The Quakers took another important step towards promotion, and probably the title if fixture congestion does not hurt them, with a committed and on the whole a fine team performance to see off Mark Hume’s men.
The final margin of defeat was probably a touch harsh on the Gladiators. They did not play badly by any means, but it was a case of Darlington being better on the night and having a touch of extra quality.
The visitors have played worse and won.
Travelling fans had said beforehand that they would probably need a top class showing from their side to gain anything from the contest, and so it proved.
To their credit they pressed and had Darlington on the defensive for significant periods but the hosts also closed Matlock down quickly, limiting the amount of clear cut chances, working relentlessly all over the park.
From Matlock’s viewpoint the quality of the goals conceded could all be judged differently.
The opener on 16 minutes was from a set piece and Matlock ought to have been aware that Buxton had conceded three goals from such moves in their defeat on the same ground just seven days earlier.
The second and points clincher in the 62nd minute was a screamer and well worth the admission money alone, while The Quakers added their third with virtually the last kick of the game, to rub salt into the visitors’ wounds.
Matlock started with in the main the line up which finished the victory over Grantham seven days earlier, apart from Ben Algar for Jake Orrell, Hume resisting the temptation to recall Ted Cribley to the starting line up after suspension. Craig Nelthorpe was facing one of his former clubs. Darlington were soon on the attack with winger Stephen Thompson being felled twenty yards from goal in the third minute, the danger passing when Adam Mitchell’s free kick sailed over the bar. Terry Galbraith headed another free kick wide soon afterwards before firing a thirty yarder which was comfortably gathered by George Willis.
Galbraith, despite wearing the number three shirt, often attacked down the left and was also dangerous in the box and so it proved when Darlington went in front. He forced a corner from which he saw a header blocked but the ball broke to another defender, Gary Brown who gleefully knocked in the rebound.
Within 90 seconds there was a sniff of an opening for Matlock when goalkeeper Peter Jameson’s punch fell to Ben Algar whose volley from the edge of the box lacked venom and was held to his right by Jameson. Then on the half hour Algar shot early and again Jameson was able to save with relative ease.
Brown came close to doubling his and Darlington’s tally ten minutes from the interval when he rose to head a Galbraith free kick narrowly too high before Willis did well to fling himself to the right to keep out a Mitchell strike, the Quakers ending the half well as Thompson drove a couple of feet too high.
Laurie Wilson and Galbraith went into the referee’s notebook during the early stages of the second period, Nelthorpe later joining them.
Nathan Cartman nodded a Mitchell cross wide before a game defining moment came on 58 minutes. When decent chances come against a very good side they need to be taken and Niall McManus, who ran his heart out all night, turned Brown and was in one on one with Jameson. The goalkeeper stood his ground and saved McManus’ low shot with his legs, and Matlock’s best chance of the night came and went in a flash.
Four minutes later came the punishment as Lee Gaskell, turned 180 degrees to outwit the Town defence before measuring a magnificent twenty yarder which flew beyond Willis into the far corner.
Charlie Dawes shot wide before the Quakers final goal, created by Thompson with a teasing low cross along the six yard box, was finished by Galbraith.
Now Matlock must put their first defeat of 2016 behind them.
MATLOCK: Willis, Harcourt, Nelthorpe, Wilson (Cribley 56), Yates, Burgin, Travis, Needham, Purkiss (Dawes 69), McManus, Algar (Gascoigne 78). Subs: Holland, Gaughan.