A tremendous effort, full of pride and passion, was not quite enough for Matlock in their play-off match to decide promotion back to the Midlands 1 East division of the National League.
Making the long trip to Luton, Matlock looked the better side for most of the game, which remained level at 22 points all going into the last ten minutes.
But in a tense finale, they failed to add to their score and fell to a 35-22 defeat. Now they need to regroup for this Saturday’s Nottinghamshire, Limncolnshire and Derbyshire Shield final against West Bridgford, which is being played at Boston (kick-off 3 pm).
Luton might have had home advantage, but Matlock were backed by dozens of excited supporters, who saw their side score the opening try of the afternoon after only three minutes. Tom Morton fed Curtis Bolam, whose swift pass found Luke Howard who, in turn, enabled Dan Hooton to race under the posts. Morton added the extras for a 7-0 lead that stunned the home faithful.
Matlock continued to move the ball about well, enjoying the lion’s share of territory and always looking dangerous with ball in hand. Alex Powell went close to a second try before a harsh refereeing decision led to the hosts driving over for a try of their own which was converted to bring the scores level.
Against the run of play, Luton struck again to give them a rather flattering 14-7 advantage, which was increased by three points by a penalty. And Matlock’s frustration intensified when what looked like a perfectly good score from Simon Wright was ruled out by the unsighted referee, who gave a penalty for offside earlier in the move.
They also lost Hooton to a knee injury, but just before the break, Morton kicked a penalty to cut the deficit to 17-10 and after changes had been made during half-time, Matlock came out for the second period with all guns blazing.
Alex Brown made a superb break before sending Howard over for a terrific score and although Morton’s conversion attempt came back off a post, the score was now down to 17-15.
Unfortunately, Luton were allowed to respond immediately with a try, unconverted, to make it 22-15. But Matlock refused to lie down and after a fine chip and regather by James Fairclough, the hosts’ defensive line was breached again. Matlock edged closer and when the ball was released, Wright drove for the line. The ball was kicked back from his hands, only for Ben Neville to gather and crash over. Morton’s conversion duly brought the score level.
Luton looked tired but somehow, they summoned the strength to add two more penalties and then a match-clinching try and conversion.