Matlock travelled to Loughborough on Saturday in confident mood, having pushed Midlands League One East leaders Derby extremely close the previous week.
Loughborough had suffered a tough start to the season but had shown improvement in recent weeks.
From the kick-off, Loughborough were quick out of the blocks, taking a three-point lead with a penalty kick in the opening minute.
Playing up the slope, Matlock responded well with Chris Young’s kicking game keeping pressure on Loughborough. Matlock were looking to throw the ball about and slick handling on seven minutes put Hartley on the overlap for the first try. The conversion was missed.
Matlock continued to exert control but had to wait until the 21st minute for the next score, fine handling again sending Powell away to draw the last defender before passing inside to Hartley in support, scoring his second unconverted try.
Loughborough hit back 12 minutes later with another penalty to reduce the arrears, only for Matlock to increase their lead just before half-time with a trademark catch and drive to the line, Cooper getting the touchdown. Young added the extras and, as the half-time whistle blew, Matlock were 17-6 ahead.
As the second half began, Matlock only needed to maintain composure and control and play a territorial game. Loughborough obviously had different ideas as some of the slackest defending so far this season saw the home side swiftly score two tries.
Only one of these was converted as the other was charged down by Tom Hooton, who had replaced the injured Powell.
Matlock’s game became loose and indiscipline also crept in. Ball was sinbinned rather harshly for collapsing a maul on Matlock’s 22 and Loughborough’s increased their lead to 21-17.
Matlock began a fightback. A foul by a Loughborough player, which should have seen the referee brandish at least a yellow card, only earned a slap on the wrist. This should have galvanised Matlock’s resolve but unfortunately the sense of injustice only served to frustrate them further and more indiscipline crept in.
This in turn led to poor execution and decision making and several promising moves broke down as overlaps were ignored and passes went to ground. As a result, the three-quarters were rendered virtually impotent in the second half.
On the 60-minute mark, Matlock again worked their way close to their opponents’ line. The Loughborough lineout throw was loose and Whittaker pounced to race over to give Matlock a slender one-point lead.
Matlock then managed to gain control at the restart but the ball was kept in hand. The isolated player was penalised for not releasing and Loughborough’s young kicker again added the three points.
There was still plenty of time to rescue the result but in chasing the game Matlock hit the self destruct button with poor execution and decision making. As they became more and more frustrated with themselves, the indiscipline of some individuals only helped to play into their opponents’ hands through another soft converted try.
With 12 minutes remaining, the result could still have been turned around but, after constant pressure on the Loughborough line saw the home side persistently infringing without a yellow card being shown, frustration boiled over and James Young was shown a yellow for unacceptable language aimed at the official. Loughborough scored a converted try to seal a well-earned win.
The whole squad was inconsolable due to the manner of the defeat and poor second half display but thoughts turn now to Saturday’s game at home to Ilkeston (3pm).