Tuesday night’s Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division relegation battle at the Autoworld Arena was certainly a dramatic affair.
The Gladiators secured a third successive league victory against an ill-disciplined Belper outfit who finished the tie with nine men and assistant boss Wayne Hallcro ordered away from the touchline.
The Nailers will almost certainly face an FA punishment from six other yellow cards. And, if Matlock had been more ruthless they would surely have bagged a hatful against the division’s basement club.
Belper lost the plot from only the eighth minute when Jonathan Williams was sent off by referee Steven Meredith who ruled that the midfielder had denied Niall McManus a clear scoring chance when he brought down the Sheffield University student on the left hand edge of the box.
The red card might have been harsh, but Belper’s conduct for the rest of the match was indefensible and they could have no further complaints with punishments handed to them by the man in the middle.
It swiftly got far worse for the Nailers as Otis Khan, replacing fellow Sheffield United loanee Jamie McDonagh, cleverly threaded his low free kick into the far corner of the net, comprehensively beating goalkeeper Danny Haystead.
If that wasn’t severe enough on Belper, a second Matlock goal followed in the next minute as captain Danny Holland slammed home a fabulous twenty two yard strike after being found by McManus. It was vintage Holland who was in the mood to torment Belper all evening.
Matlock could not have dreamt of a better start, and their intentions were crystal clear as early as the third minute when Holland set up Khan whose low shot was pushed desperately around a post by Haystead.
After the two goal burst, Matlock threatened again with Phil Watt doing supremely well to cut out a teasing McManus cross bound for the supporting Ted Cribley. Then on 17 minutes came Belper’s first attempt with Paul Grimes firing harmlessly over the top after slack defending by the hosts which had their boss Mark Hume bellowing a rebuke from the dug out.
But Belper were a shambles at the back and Matlock could and probably should have extended their lead as Cribley’s shot was deflected wide and McManus had a rush of blood in lobbing too high from distance when composure was required.
After Richard Adams drove a couple of yards wide, he was to pick up a yellow card for handball after Khan had cleverly slipped the ball around him and Cribley’s free kick saw Holland flick over the bar.
Belper had a better spell as Julian Banton superbly covered a Grimes through ball aimed for talisman striker Jon Froggatt and Khan knocked a Paul Lister attempt off the line, but it was soon Matlock back on the attack.
Holland chipped behind from a tight angle and Khan lost control after bursting clear down the middle before on the stroke of half time Watt picked up a crucial first yellow card for a poor challenge on Cribley, Holland’s shot deflecting wide from Muhammed Sabo’s downward header from the free kick.
Just a minute after the restart Holland’s pass from Micky Harcourt’s throw on the right released Khan whose low strike struck Haystead’s legs, the move continuing as Josh Meade drove wide from long range.
Then in the 50th minute Watt was sent for an early bath, a second bookable offence the reason for crudely flying into Cribley.
Michael Towey for fouling Cribley and Haystead for dissent added to Belper’s naughty count, quite simply they were doing themselves no favours!
After McManus shot into the side netting, Matlock lost concentration badly as a misunderstanding in defence saw former Gladiator Jason Stokes break through and calmly side foot past Jon Kennedy to halve the deficit in the 61st minute.
But within 30 seconds it was game over after play continued following a tussle on the half way line which saw Holland and Adams clash leaving Adams in a heap, Matlock broke with devastating effect for Oscar Radford to fire home low off a post from 25 yards.
Cue more Belper rage with Ian Ross going into the notebook, Hallcro to the dressing rooms and before the end Ben Turner and substitute and ex Matlock midfielder Steve Warne being rightly booked for needless fouls.
Holland planted a free header straight at Haystead, Cribley hit a defender with another strike, before late on substitute Bradley Kerr had two golden chances to make it a rout, only to hit Haystead and then slice too high.
Matlock were also caught offside too often in the dying stages, including once when Kerr found the net, so they would have been disappointed not to win more emphatically.
But they would have settled for the margin of victory at the start, they kept their discipline with not a single caution to their name, here was one of the main differences between the sides.
Matlock, also though, were so much better!
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Oscar Radford, 4 Josh Meade 5 Muhammed Sabo 6 Julian Banton 7 Ted Cribley (16 Bradley Kerr 84) 8 Liam Needham 9 Otis Khan 10 Danny Holland (14 Adam Yates 85) 11 Niall McManus. Other subs: 12 Scott Maxfield 15 Grant Black 17 Mark Hume.
BELPER TOWN: 1 Danny Haystead 2 Ben Turner 3 Richard Adams 4 Paul Lister (15 Matt Varley 79) 5 Phil Watt 6 Ian Ross (12 Steve Warne 71) 7 Jonathan Williams 8 Michael Towey 9 Paul Grimes 10 Jon Froggatt 11 Jason Stokes (14 Rob Stevenson 79). No other subs.
REFEREE: Steven Meredith (Mansfield).
BEST GLADIATOR: Danny Holland.