Marcus Marshall’s 80th minute strike, plus a last-gasp penalty save from goalkeeper Jon Stewart, preserved Matlock Town’s 100% start to the season and saw them return to top spot as they won 1-0 at Stafford Rangers on Saturday.
Matlock were the better side overall in a game that was never a classic due to the extreme heat, which saw the referee allow drinks breaks in each half, plus a difficult surface which made control and flowing football a challenge.
It looked as if the contest would end scoreless until Rangers left back Matt Hill’s error, which saw him closed down and robbed by Scott Smith, the ball running loose to an unmarked Marshall to stroke comfortably beyond former Matlock and Mickleover goalkeeper Lewis King.
Then with Matlock holding out reasonably comfortably came the penalty incident as James Williamson was adjudged to have blocked a shot from Jake Charles with his arm. But as he said with a smile afterwards, Williamson was highly relieved and thankful that the giant frame of Stewart expertly kept out Josh Green’s spot kick, the Rangers midfielder not looking confident as he stepped up to face Stewart.
So remarkably it meant three 1-0 wins to open the season for Matlock, each deserved for the tenacity they have shown. Again the workrate was first class, if they lacked anything it was the cutting edge in the final third.
Stafford’s best and probably only clear chance, apart from the penalty arrived in the 25th minute, Stewart brilliantly blocking a venomous volley from Evan Garnett.
Andrew Wright’s speculative effort was comfortably wid at the other end before Dan Bramall’s solo run and shot was thumped away by King.
It was much the same in the second half with Jack Rae’s 25-yarder flying too high but Wright was a shade unfortunate when his curling free kick had King beaten but it shaved the outside of the post,
Matlock used all three of their substitutes, including Friday signings Jordan Sinnott from Alfreton and Josh Lacey from Scarborough Athletic as they saw the game out.
The returning Adam Yates had a fine game in the Gladiators defence and was due for star rating, but Stewart’s vital spot kick save, plus his assured handling throughout saw him sneak the award from his skipper.
South Shields’ surprise home defeat by Hyde United, plus FA Cup games allowed Matlock to regain top spot.
STAFFORD RANGERS: 1 Lewis King 2 Paul Bignot (14 Max Dixon 83) 3 Matt Hill 4 Luke Jones 5 Dan Burns 6 Alex Harvey 7 Theo Bailey-Jones 8 Josh Green 9 Jake Charles 10 Evan Garnett 11 Andy Haworth (16 Jed Davies 78) Other subs: 12 Josh Burns 15 Louis Briscoe 17 Jack Sherratt
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Stewart 2 Adam Yates 3 Ben Gordon 4 Luke Dean (15 Jordan Sinnott 60) 5 James Williamson 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Scott Smith (14 Josh Lacey 82) 8 Jack Rea 9 Marcus Marshall 10 Andrew Wright (16 Nathan Whitehead 60) 11 Dan Bramall Other subs: 12 James Tague 17 Jordon Cooke
REFEREE: Ryan Williams (Coventry) ATTENDANCE: 486 BEST GLADIATOR: Jon Stewart