Veteran striker Lee Hughes netted a winner for Halesowen with twenty minutes left to exacerbate Matlock’s miserable run and dump them out of the FA Cup at the first stage without any prize money from the sponsors’ kitty.
Matlock could and most probably should have been dead and buried within the first twenty minutes. Their defence was all over the place and fortunately they were just the one goal behind, scored by the best attacker on the field, James Roberts, on six minutes.
Shaun Harrad equalised from the penalty spot just before the hour and with the Gladiators in the ascendancy, another healthy crowd of 403 was probably expecting the hosts to kick on and claim victory.
But Matlock could not maintain the momentum, Halesowen stood firm and recovered to add £6,000 to their coffers.Injuries again ruled out skipper Adam Yates, and striker Jamie Jackson with Ted Cribley being added to the list with hamstring trouble. Jake Phillips did not feature so there was a surprise call up at full back for Jan Yeomans, recalled from loan at Radford, while Adam Smith and Alex Hurst were named in the midfield zone.
Matlock were all at sea defensively in the opening exchanges. Almost immediately goalkeeper Richard Walton sliced a back pass from Dan Vann out for a corner only to make amends with a smart stop from Hughes. Then Roberts from the resulting corner forced a block save from Walton but ROBERTS would fare better when Matlock failed to deal with a routine punt down the centre from goalkeeper Daniel Platt, allowing the Halesowen danger man to slip through and clip his shot past Walton. From the Matlock viewpoint it was the softest of goals.
Roberts went close again eight minutes later, a simple flick on from Hughes giving him a shooting chance which Walton blocked with his foot.
Matlock at last threatened on 20 minutes when Harry Vince narrowly missed out on a fine low centre from Michael Williams but Halesowen broke at pace, with Roberts linking up effectively with Jordan Goddard whose chip found Hughes with only Walton to beat inside the six yard box. Hughes pushed his shot wide and fans were left wondering whether this would be a huge turning point.
The Gladiators replied with spirit, Harrad volleying wide from the edge of the box before Vince squandered a great chance of an equaliser, screwing his shot wide with only Platt to beat after more excellent approach play from Williams on the right. Then successive shots from distance by Hurst and Smith were narrowly off target.
Billy Whitehead replaced Luke Rawson at the interval, the new half getting under way with another fine run by Williams ending when his cross was cut out leading to a swift Halesowen break, Walton scrambling away a low effort from Aaron Gilpin.
Yeomans drove too high before Whitehead would have been disappointed to shoot into the sidenetting when a glorious opportunity to make a name for himself came his way.
Substitute Kieren Watson was on for Smith as Matlock had three out and out strikers on view, Watson looked to be pushed in the back by Kieran Morris, referee Sam Kane waving away Matlock’s appeals. But when Hurst, a bundle of energy and Matlock’s best performer on the day, was brought down by Gilpin shortly afterwards, Harrad slammed home the spot kick.
Shortly afterwards Whitehead was unfortunate as he neatly turned Asa Charlton from Dwayne Wiley’s through pass, his goalbound shot being superbly turned aside by Platt.
But Matlock failed to build on their recovery as Halesowen consolidated and the men in blue fell behind once again when Goddard found space in midfield to advance and find Hughes who was given far too much time and room in the box to turn and shoot low past Walton.
A free kick played low across the penalty box was gathered by Platt, it was Matlock’s most dangerous attack afterwards as despite having plenty of the possession, they could not fashion another decent chance.
Defensively Matlock have huge problems and had Halesowen made hay early on, the tie would have been over.
Although it was an improved performance after the debacle against Whitby, the Gladiators have a long way still to go to look competitive at Step Three in the non league pyramid. The pressure on them just keeps on intensifying.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Richard Walton 2 Jake Green (12 Charlie Dawes 86) 3 Jan Yeomans 4 Adam Smith (17 Kieren Watson 57) 5 Dan Vann 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Michael Williams 8 Harry Vince 9 Shaun Harrad 10 Alex Hurst 11 Luke Rawson (16 Billy Whitehead 46) Other subs: 14 Ashton Hall 15 Harry Wood 18 Jordan Pierrepont 19 Marcus Marshall
HALESOWEN TOWN: 1 Daniel Platt 2 Kieran Morris 3 Jack Kelly 4 Jack Rea 5 Louis Ezewele 6 Asa Charlton 7 Aaron Gilpin (17 Samuel Tonks 65) Jordan Goddard 9 Lee Hughes ( 12 Sylvan Ebanks-Blake 75) 10 Ahmed Ali 11 James Roberts (14 Daniele Bragoli 89) Other subs: 15 Ivor Lawton 16 Matthew Baker
REFEREE: Sam Kane (Nottingham).
BEST GLADIATOR: Alex Hurst.