Steve Kittrick was as disappointed as most of the 463 fans who turned out in torrential rain to watch Matlock slide to a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Stalybridge Celtic — and then slide further down the table to 12th.
Matlock were outfought and outplayed for long periods as Stalybridge showed a greater togetherness and will to win, a point Kittrick said he made plain to his players, who were a long time to emerge from the changing rooms afterwards.
“I’ve told them that was nowhere near good enough. It doesn’t matter where you’ve played before, it’s the here and now that matters. They cannot go on past reputations,” said Kittrick. “We looked a poor side in patches.”
Just five minutes in Matlock breathed a huge slice of relief in what was a comedy of errors, begun by Matlock carelessly surrendering possession from their own free kick and then Stewart racing out to mop up but being beaten by Craig Hobson, who set up Bejat Jonathan Ustabasi. He lobbed goalwards, the ball bouncing off the bar to Darius Osei who inexplicably knocked wide from a yard out.
Gladiators skipper Adam Yates cleared off the line from a Chris Smalley header on 26 minutes.
But the decisive moment came nine minutes into the second half. Anthony Whitehead was left in space as he took a short pass before firing in a 25-yard shot that was worthy of winning any game at any level.
Spencer Harris came closest to an equaliser, turning neatly in the box to fire narrowly wide of the far post.
Kittrick used all three of his substitutes but even Chib Chilaka, who had netted five in the midweek Derbyshire Senior Cup win at Borrowash, could not turn the tide .
In the end the hosts could not complain about the result. Quite simply the better team won.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Stewart 2 Adam Yates 3 Ben Gordon 4 Jack Rea 5 Bailey Gooda 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Marcus Marshall 8 Luke Dean (14 Chib Chilaka 63) 9 Luke Hinsley (16 James Tague 71) 10 Spencer Harris 11 Dan Bramall (12 Piteu Crouz 63) Other subs: 15 Jordan Sinnott 17 Ben Morris
STALYBRIDGE CELTIC: 1 Alex Fojtkek 2 Declan Walker 3 Kallum Mantack 4 Ross Dent (12 Nathan Valentine 57) 5 Stephen O’Hallorhan 6 Chris Smalley 7 Scott Bakkor 8 Anthony Whitehead 9 Craig Hobson 10 Darius Osei 11 Bejat Jonathan Ustabasi Other subs: 14 Neil Kengni 15 Liam MacDevitt 16 Jack O’Leary 17 Mark Lees
REFEREE: Ruebyn Ricardo (Leicester) ATTENDANCE: 463 BEST GLADIATOR: Adam Yates.