Former Gladiators favourite Liam King put leaders North Ferriby on the way to victory at the Reynolds Stadium on Tuesday night before the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division NPL Fans Facebook Player of the Season Ryan Kendall added a second.
Both goals came as Ferriby grew increasingly stronger as the match wore on against a patched up Matlock side who fielded four players who really should not have turned out - but did so because of injury and unavailability problems.
The big surprise and in fact the bonus to come out of the defeat was the reappearance of Oscar Radford in a Gladiators shirt, precisely two months after being stretchered off at Nantwich with a horrendous leg injury.
Radford slotted back into the heart of the Matlock defence and gained star rating with an almost faultless performance.
Ferriby, managed by former Matlock skipper Billy Heath are a tough, uncompromising but effective unit, , as borne out when striker Anthony Wilson, who had a month on loan with Matlock in February 2011, caught Adam Yates in the face in the 53rd minute.
But Marc Perry, refereeing at the Reynolds Stadium for the third time this season, thought it just sufficient to have a brief word with Wilson, who at the very best should have been booked, and realistically should have been off for an early bath.
The Gladiators certainly seemed to get the rough end of most of the decisions, which made an already difficult job all the more demanding.
In a scoreless opening half, the table toppers looked the more dangerous but the Gladiators defended superbly, winning their tackles and working their hearts out to close down Ferriby.
But the nearest the visitors came in the opening exchanges was on 12 minutes through winger Danny Clarke, whose shot struck Radford and on its way and gently shaved the outside of a post. Wilson drove yards too high before at the other end a promising run from Lavelle White ended with a shot screwed comfortably off target.
Good work from Massiah McDonald created a 25th minute opening for Lewis McMahon who miscued his shot which was easily blocked, but Gareth Davies soon crossed back into the middle from the right for White to fire well wide.
Kendall warned Town of his ability by forcing Nick Buxton into a smart block at the near post before turning sharply and seeing his thirty yarder dip narrowly over the bar.
But Matlock deserved to reach half time level through their stubbornness which ought to have brought them a reward early in the second period when McMahon burst through the centre after an error by Gregg Anderson, but an awkwardly bouncing ball did nothing to help McMahon who saw goalkeeper Adam Nicklin block his shot in a one on one duel.
Wilson went into the book for an altercation on the touchline and then Ferriby struck as the ball as guided from left to right across the Town penalty box, leaving King to fire in an angled drive and score on his first return to his old club on 58 minutes.
After another King effort was narrowly wide, Ferriby netted again on 71 minutes when Wilson appeared to manhandle Micky Harcourt who could only scuff his clearance, with Kendall eventually picking up the pieces with his mis-hit shot bouncing untidily off the far post and into the net.
A frustrated McMahon was booked for dissent with Matlock’s Harcourt and Lee Featherstone plus visiting midfielder Russell Fry joining him after a handbags melee when Fry reacted to Featherstone’s foul. One could not help thinking the referee had brought these problems on himself.
White cleared a Paul Foot header off the line to prevent a three goal defeat, which would have been hard on Matlock who never gave up but were undone by a team with a little more knowhow on the night. Probably the injury situation eventually took it’s toll on Mark Atkins’ men as well.
Generally Matlock could not find the key to unlock a sturdy Ferriby defence, and while Town were efficient defensively, the superior strength of the visitors, who brought a meagre eight fans with them which is incredibly poor for a table topping side, proved to be decisive.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Nick Buxton 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Lee Featherstone 4 Adam Yates 5 Oscar Radford (15 Will Dennis 85) 6 James Lukic 7 Joe Leesley 8 Gareth Davies 9 Massiah McDonald 10 Lewis McMahon 11 Lavelle White. Other subs: 12 Ben Algar 14 James Travis 16 Matty Wilkinson 17 Matt Leese
NORTH FERRIBY UNITED: 1 Adam Nicklin 2 Paul Robson 3 Nathan Peat 4 Liam King 5 Gregg Anderson 6 Paul Foot 7 Danny Clarke 8 Russell Fry 9 Anthony Wilson (15 Mark Gray 88) 10 Ryan Kendall 11 Ryan Williams (14 Steve Ridley 85) Other subs: 12 Chris Bolder 16 Gary Bradshaw 17 Antoni Pecora
REFEREE: M Perry (Sutton Coldfield) ATTENDANCE: 261 STAR GLADIATOR: Oscar Radford