Matlock produced a major shock in Tuesday night’s Derbyshire Senior Cup quarter-final after beating Alfreton Town 3-1 at the Impact Arena.
They thoroughly deserved their victory over Conference Premier League outfit Alfreton, and having beaten Buxton in the previous round, they will possibly feel they deserve to go on and even lift the trophy.
Given their recent form and also that the Reds, who fielded a strong line up, are 45 places above them in the non-league pyramid, most onlookers arrived probably expecting a comfortable Alfreton win.
But the Gladiators had clearly not read the script.
Former Gladiators favourite Massiah McDonald might have put Matlock behind in only the second minute but Jon Kennedy did well to turn aside his close range header.
After weathering the early storm, the visitors broke up the slope to break the deadlock in the sixth minute through Liam Needham’s first ever goal for Matlock, the midfielder sweeping home a low shot into the corner after fine approach play from Phil Roe.
As expected Alfreton fought back to force three quick corners, one which brought a timely block from Ellis Humble before Kennedy saved well from Karl Hawley.
The one blot on Matlock’s night was two injuries collected in the space of six minutes as first Adam Yates departed clutching a hamstring and then Roe was amusingly carried off by McDonald, an ankle injury being the problem.
But far from disrupting Matlock, the two changes appeared to galvanise them.
Joe Leesley never gave the Reds defence a moment’s rest in a busy and strong running display, the youngster forcing goalkeeper George Willis into a flying save to keep out his 34th minute rasping drive.
But Matlock were soon celebrating once again when Micky Harcourt cracked a superb 30- yard thunderbolt over Willis to double the advantage with 39 minutes played.
Anthony Howell drove fiercely wide before Matlock were in dreamland in first-half stoppage time when Leesley’s pace left the pedestrian Reds defence standing and he scored the goal he richly deserved with a powerful strike from the edge of the penalty box.
Kennedy again did well to deny Hawley as Alfreton sought a miraculous second-half recovery, but it was Matlock who came closest when Humble’s header on 55 minutes struck the top of the bar following more uncertain Reds defending from a corner.
Then Leesley shot too high with Needham creating space with a clever decoy run.
What proved to be merely a consolation effort arrived with 20 minutes remaining. A cleverly-worked free-kick caught the visitors out and Jordan Keane slotted the ball home.
The goal lifted home spirits and Matlock needed to stay firm and steadfast, the nearest the hosts coming being with five minutes to go when Kennedy could not hold a slippery ball played low into the box, Hawley being unable to profit thanks to a fine recovery by the Matlock goalkeeper.
The Gladiators left the field to a warm reception from the travelling fans, who like their favourites had completely enjoyed their night out.
Alfreton: George Willis, Bradley Wood, Nathaniel Rowe-Turner, Luke Graham, Nathan Hicks (John Johnstone 49), Anthony Howell, Jake Sheridan (Lee Stevenson 61), Jordan Keane, Massiah McDonald, Andi Thanoj, Karl Hawley. Subs not used: Chris Smith.
Matlock: Jon Kennedy, Ellis Humble, Lawrence Gorman, Liam Needham, Muhammed Sabo, Adam Yates (Andre Johnson 23), Micky Harcourt, James Ashmore, Joe Leesley, Jason Stokes (Danny Holland 79), Phil Roe (Martin Foster 29).
Ref: Nigel Smith (Clay Cross)
Star Gladiator: Joe Leesley.