Matlock Town were booed off by a section of the crowd following a dispiriting display and a 2-0 home defeat to Barwell in front of another impressive attendance, 402, at the DCJ Group Arena on Saturday.
Both goals could have been avoided and that, coupled with Matlock looking out of sorts in midfield and going forward, made Barwell’s task easier than it should have been.
Barwell, just one place above the Gladiators in the Evostik League and with the same number of points, were well organised, but had nothing that should have scared the hosts.
It was a match Matlock needed to be winning if they had aspirations of moving up the table, but they did not do enough to influence the outcome of the game.
The midfield industry of Michael Williams, who was beginning a three-match ban, was hugely missed.
The Gladiators adopted a 3-5-2 formation that saw Max Hunt recalled to the centre of the defence with captain Adam Yates and Dwayne Wiley alongside him. Jake Green and Rhys Sharpe acted as wing backs with Kieran Wallace pushed forward into Williams’ position. New signing Matty Templeton, a full back or midfielder brought in from Worksop Town, was on the bench.
The opening exchanges were even and scrappy, a long-range strike from Barwell’s Lee Hildreth being wildly high and wide on eight minutes.
It took Matlock 23 minutes to have a sight at goal, an off-balance Jamie Jackson pulling his low shot several yards wide of the target.
Wiley’s attempt at bringing much-needed impetus to Matlock’s attacking play when he surged down the right four minutes later ended with his drive into the side-netting.
Matt Stenson fired wide from 30 yards in the 31st minute before rising above Yates to head in from a free kick two minutes later to give the Leicestershire side a vital lead.
Their goalkeeper, Liam Castle, produced a fine block from Shaun Harrad almost immediately but had Barnes not pulled off an equally good stop from Mitchel Piggon shortly afterwards, it might have been worse for the Gladiators.
Barwell ended the half on top with industrious midfielder Jacob Whitmore’s shot being blocked.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, the Matlock players appeared for the second half much earlier than their opponents, The home fans were desperate to see a positive reaction.
Within 90 seconds good play by Harrad set up Green, whose effort was deflected wide,
Wiley unconvincingly touched the ball wide from six yards from the resulting corner and Jackson nodded wide from a Sharpe cross.
Had Green gone down when he looked to be impeded as he drove into the box, a penalty may well have been the outcome.
The Gladiators forced four successive corners but the visiting defence stood firm as Harrad worked hard to conjure up something for the hosts who huffed and puffed but could not break the defensive barrier.
When a chance did come their way from great foraging by Harrad on 69 minutes, he set up Jackson but Castle produced a fine block with his foot to preserve the lead.
Jackson and Green were both withdrawn as 16-year-old Zak Brunt and Templeton were brought on. Brunt again impressed on a disappointing afternoon, his delivery from a couple of left-wing corners being exceptional and Matlock should have profited from them.
But any hopes of salvaging a point ended with three minutes left as Matlock got themselves in a muddle, presenting Piggon with a gift-wrapped chance to draw Barnes and fire into an empty net.
If Matlock were not already deflated, that goal and the manner in which it was conceded ensured they were.
Expectancy was high after an impressive season last time around, but they have failed to deliver.
Picking out a star player from the match was difficult. Joe Doyle-Charles worked hard, as did Harrad, but as a team Matlock failed to click and some new blood looks to be needed to reinvigorate the club once again.
MATLOCK TOWN: Phil Barnes, Adam Yates, Rhys Sharpe, Joe Doyle-Charles, Max Hunt, Dwayne Wiley, Jake Green (Zak Brunt 73), Kieran Wallace, Shaun Harrad, Jamie Jackson (Matty Templeton 70), Ted Cribley. Other subs: Nathan Whitehead, Nico Degirolamo, Jordan Pierrepont.
BARWELL: Liam Castle, Elliot Percival, Edward Nisevic, Craig Stanley, Declan Towers (Owen Story 46), Jacob Whitmore, Jake Heath (Tom Bates 84), Lee Hildreth, Mitchel Piggon, Brady Hickey, Matt Stenson (Jake Warmington 59). Other subs: Michael Turner, Guy Hadland.
REFEREE: Ian Johnston (Wakefield).
BEST GLADIATOR: Shaun Harrad.