Matlock’s best crowd at home this season were treated to most probably their team’s best performance as they overcame play-off rivals Hednesford with two excellent goals from Marcus Dinanga and Niall McManus.
It was another fine all round team performance from the Gladiators who defended with authority when they needed to, they were industrious in midfield and sharp in attack and to beat a team of Hednesford’s calibre, who were fourth before kick off, will do wonders for Matlock’s belief and confidence.
Matlock fielded the same line up that had made FA Trophy progress at Grantham seven days earlier against a side who have proved to be difficult opponents in the past. The Pitmen were playing their first league game under new manager Paul Casey, having lost their FA Trophy replay at Stafford in midweek.
The game swung Matlock’s way early on. On six minutes goalkeeper Phil Barnes made the save of the season, brilliantly fingertipping George Carline’s blistering volley on to the bar and then had luck with him as he was able to grab the ball from the rebound. It left Carline and Hednesford cursing their misfortune but they would instantly have a greater cause for regret as Matlock swept downfield for Curtis Morrison to find Dinanga who shot low and just inside goalkeeper Dan Crane’s post from the edge of the penalty box to give Matlock the lead.
There was quickly another opportunity for Dinanga but the offside flag went up as the Burton loanee’s header dropped wide.
Hednesford debutant Luke Shearer found himself well placed but crossed behind to bring a disappointing end to a promising situation for Hednesford before a tremendous challenge by home skipper Adam Yates stopped the dangerous Carline in his tracks.
But Matlock were soon causing problems at the other end with Morrison and Dinanga linking to find McManus on the right who skipped past Calum Flanagan and his diagonal shot whistled narrowly beyond the far post.
Then out of nothing Morrison broke forward showing electric pace to fire wide with Dinanga then having an effort blocked as Matlock looked to double their advantage.
Gurjit Singh’s free kick was convincingly held by Barnes and Shearer drove wide when pressurised by Yates as a determined Matlock defence coped comfortably with the questions being asked by the visitors. Matlock were worth their lead at the interval.
Matlock had to replace Michael Williams, who looked to have picked up a chest injury, with Alex Pursehouse. For 20 minutes or so the game developed into a midfield battle with Hednesford possibly shading the possession, but being unable to create any scoring opportunities as Matlock worked tirelessly to restrict space.
At the end of those twenty minutes came a fantastic second goal for the Gladiators as McManus collected Dinanga’s pass to turn and twist sharply and place a low shot in off Crane’s left hand post. McManus thoroughly deserved his goal and celebrated joyously with his colleagues and the fans who had witnessed a goal of outstanding quality.
Matlock now had some breathing space but there was a reminder later the they could not relax as Hednesford’s chief threat, Carline, found space on the right to cross low and the onrushing substitute Jamie Matthews slid in but could not make contact. Then fellow substitute Ashley Sammans pulled a shot comfortably wide after Carline had nodded the ball into his path.
But Hednesford would not trouble Matlock any further and again the Gladiators’ sensible game management in retaining possession to use up time with the likes of McManus and Dinanag playing leading roles, meant that Matlock would finish as comfortable winners.
It was Matlock’s first Saturday home league game since the win against Stourbridge on September 10. The performance and the result was well worth waiting for.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Liam Marsden 3 Jake Green 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Niall McManus 8 Michael Williams (15 Alex Pursehouse 46) 9 Curtis Morrison (12 Marc Newsham 71) 10 Marcus Dinanga 11 Ted Cribley (14 Jamie Yates 84) Other subs: 16 Kevin Grocott 17 Nico de Girolamo
HEDNESFORD TOWN: 1 Dan Crane 2 Lewis Wright 3 Calum Flanagan 4 Simeon Maye 5 James Mutton 6 Dan Brennan 7 Gurjit Singh (16 Ashley Sammans 39) 8 Tom Thorley 9 George Carline 10 Luke Shearer (14 Tristian Dunkley 62) 11 Cohen Bramall (15 Jamie Matthews 74) Other subs: 12 Michael Williams 17 Tony Clarke
REFEREE: A Kirkley (Manchester).
BEST GLADIATOR: Niall McManus.