A late lapse in concentration turned victory into the narrowest of defeats for frustrated Matlock when they hosted Loughborough.
Matlock battled back from 21-13 down and looked as if they had scored the winning try with minutes to go when Simon Wright drove over after a period of pressure on the Loughborough line.
But from leading 23-21, they lost 24-23 because they paid the penalty, literally, for giving the visitors both territory and possession as the clocked ticked away.
From the scrum, they were adjudged to be guilty of a high tackle on the visiting scrum-half, and Loughborough gratefully dispatched the relatively easy penalty-kick to steal the result.
Beforehand, the table in the National League, Midlands 2 East (North) division suggested there would be little between the two sides, with Loughborough one place behind Matlock in sixth spot.
But as the result of a very physical midweek cup fixture, which ended in a narrow defeat, the hosts were left counting the cost of several injuries picked up in the tie. The three-quarter line was particularly hard-hit as they lost Dan Hooton for the rest of the season, along with Mike Allen and Marcus Bolam.
John Statham was also injured and missing from the pack, and with Tom Morton unable to play, several changes had to be made. Mike Gunter and Luke Howard started in the centres with young Mark Thornley on one wing and Chris Buckley rolling back the years on the other. Dave Hartley provided the steadying influence at full-back, while Charlie Jackson returned in the pack as a straight swap for Statham, and Tom Stokes and Curtis Bolam came on to the bench.
Despite the wholesale reshuffle, Matlock more than matched their visitors, with the highlight of the first half being the sight of Buckley’s weaving run from inside his own half to score a fine try in the corner.
After both sides had also scored a couple of penalties apiece, the half-time score was 13-6 to Matlock. But early in the second period, Tim Taylor picked up ten minutes in the sin-bin, and Loughborough took advantage of the extra man to drive the scrum over for a converted try and edge in front.
The visitors turned the screw moments later and forced another converted score after Matlock had failed to clear their lines.
Eight points behind, the hosts looked up against it but they fought hard and their, ultimately futile, comeback started when Gunter went over for a try.
Matlock’s season has three more fixtures to fulfil, starting with a trip this Saturday (kick-off 3 pm) to Market Bosworth, who sit ninth in the 12-team table.