In a superbly entertaining match that reflected the NPL Academy League in the best possible light, Matlock Academy claimed a 2-1 win over Belper Town Academy in this top of the table clash.
The Nailers started the game three points ahead of their A6 neighbours and on the decent Autoworld Arena playing surface, they took the lead after eight minutes when a poorly judged back pass from Ewan Snow was intercepted by Josh Bullock, who steered the ball past Matlock ‘keeper Corey Bulheller from 10 yards.
That stirred Matlock into action and they contrived to miss a gilt-edged chance to equalise four minutes later when Rowan Hill inexplicably mis-kicked the ball in front of a gaping goal and Belper were able to breathe again.
But the remission was short lived as the Gladiators finally got back on level terms midway through the half when a perfectly weighted ball was played over the top the Nailers defence for Ben Edgson to run on and fire into the bottom corner.
Matlock were now in the ascendency and Hill dragged a shot wide of the target when well placed.
But the Gladiators deservedly went ahead after 41 minutes with a superbly crafted move tore through the visitors’ defence and Lewis Brown was on hand to finish the move off from close range.
If Matlock had finished the first half on top, then the Nailers came out after the interval looking in determined move to claw back the deficit.
However, the half didn’t start convincingly for the visitors and they were fortunate not to fall further behind when Ben Edgson raced clear of the chasing Belper defence only to shoot straight at Jack Repton
Edgson missed out again when shortly afterwards when he didn’t get enough height on his chipped shot and the Belper ‘keeper stretched to his full height to grasp the ball.
But after that, Belper gradually gained the initiative and began to press the home side further and further back into their half.
Joel Cain stabled the ball wide of the target when well placed and then a superb flowing move instigated by Josh Craddock gave the Scott Taylor the opportunity to home in on goal only for Bulheller to save well with his legs as he came out to narrow the angle.
Desperate defending from the Gladiators saw them concede a couple of free kicks on the edge of their penalty area and from one of these, Dan Watson crashed the ball against the underside of the crossbar and despite pleas that the ball had crossed the line, the officials were unmoved.
Belper continued to press strongly but a combination of poor choices with the final ball and some heroic home defending saw the Gladiators emerge triumphant at the end of this absorbing encounter.
But, the Nailers youngsters could be proud their performance and their Matlock counterparts equally so for entertaining a good sized crowd on this chilly January afternoon.
Matlock Town: Bulheller, Snow, Marshall, Middleton, Blades, MacNeil. Hitchcock, Gratton, Edgson, Hill, Brown. Subs: Keen, Madin, Hallsworth, Mwmchi, Banks.
Belper Town: Repton, Gandola, Rathband, Craddock, Weston, Hall, Camm, Watson, Cain, Taylor, Bullock. Subs: Patrick, Rodgers, Bradbury, Dronfield, Walker, Mighty.
Referee: Mark Hutton.