Lack-lustre Matlock slipped to a disappointing home defeat and were again the masters of their own downfall in their penultimate Proctor Cars Stadium outing of the campaign.
Having performed well in the midweek win at Marine which confirmed their place, in the top tier of the league for next season, it seemed as if the Gladiators had already gone on their summer holidays as they lost 2-1 to Witton Albion.
Yet they should have bagged a point as Craig Westcarr saw his 68th minute penalty saved by Greg Hall. Matlock were two goals down then and it would have made Nyle Blake’s 77th minute strike a point-saving goal.
It was a case though of Matlock failing to learn from previous mistakes.
Both Witton goals could have been avoided with better application in their defending, both came from set pieces. Of the last eight goals they have conceded, six have come from set plays.
Witton went ahead in the 10th minute when Matlock failed to deal with a long throw from the right and the ball found central defender Ben Harrison, who casually back heeled the ball home from eight yards. It was the third goal conceded in this manner recently, following on from both goals in the away defeat by Hednesford at the end of March.
It gave mid-table Witton an understandable lift and they looked the more likely scorers in a first half of few chances as Ross Durrant held a 20-yard strike from Josh Wardle, while Rob Hopley flicked wide at the near post. Matlock’s two attempts in that period were both from long range as Greg Tempest’s 25-yard shot bounced wide after a corner had been cleared to him and Michael Williams cut in from the left to shoot a yard wide.
Matlock had to make a change of goalkeeper at the interval with Durrant coming off with a groin injury, but Jordan Pierrepont’s first task was to pick the ball out of the back of the net when Hopley, from a yard out, was allowed a free header from a 47th minute corner on the right.
Again it was terrible defending, labelled by manager Dave Frecklington as “criminal” afterwards. Witton did not have to create opportunities of their own making, Matlock were handing them the chances on a plate!
By the 61st minute, Matlock had made all three of their permitted changes. Williams limped off to be replaced by Jordan Chapell and Blake came on for Cleveland Taylor.
At last there was some urgency from Matlock when both Adam Yates and Lee Beevers had efforts desperately scrambled clear, but herein was the difference as Witton in that moment showed a steely determination to keep Matlock out, flinging their bodies on the line to repel the attack.
But in the next minute Matlock had their golden chance to halve the deficit. Yates was clearly pushed in the back as he rose to meet a long throw from Beevers on the right and excellent referee Luke Watson pointed directly to the spot.
Westcarr, usually so clinical from 12 yards, appeared to telegraph where he was going to send his spot kick and with it also lacking in pace, Hall was down to his left to pull off his sixth penalty save of the season.
That miss would prove to be expensive as Matlock netted through Blake nine minutes later. He burst through the middle as Marcus Marshall nodded a long clearance into his path to shrug off two Albion defenders and fire convincingly beyond Hall.
Witton, with the fourth best defensive record in the division, stayed firm to record a deserved win, but helped in no small part by a largely lethargic Matlock display and two defensive howlers.