Hell-bent on avenging a defeat at the hands of arch local-derby rivals Ashbourne earlier in the season, Matlock staged a stirring fightback to squeeze a 12-12 draw out of their fellow high-fliers.
In a tight but entertaining National League, Midlands 2 East (North) division clash, Matlock looked to be heading for another setback when they went in at half-time 12-0 down. But with their coach’s wise words ringing in their ears, they recovered well in the second period and were rewarded for their hard work to share the spoils against a home side sitting second in the table.
Matlock remain in fifth spot, five points behind Ashbourne, but they should make ground and return to winning ways this Saturday when they entertain bottom-of-the-table Spalding in a re-arranged league fixture.
They were almost at full strength for the short trip to their Derbyshire counterparts, and after a string of strong performances in recent weeks, they were also full of confidence. However, they were out of sorts throughout a frustrating, stop-start opening half in which they struggled to find any fluency or maintain sufficient control of the ball. They also seemed to be constantly penalised for a variety of infringements.
Both sides missed early penalties before Ashbourne crossed for the game’s first try after good work had created space out wide.
Matlock tried to change the tempo of the game, but were hit by a huge stroke of bad luck just before the interval when an unintended miskick fell kindly into the arms of the Ashbourne winger, who was stood in acres of space and was able to race forward virtually unopposed to touch down under the posts.
The second half was a different story, with determined Matlock firmly on the front foot and forcing Ashbourne to defend for long periods.
They finally got on the scoresheet when Simon Wright dived over in the corner after fine play from a tap penalty, and although the conversion attempt was missed, the visitors were playing with much tighter control and more intensity by now.
Matlock brought the scores level with a penalty try, awarded for a desperate, high and illegal tackle when they looked certain to score, and from then on, they went looking for the killer punch to win the game.
Charlie Jackson appeared to have crossed for a perfectly good try, only for it to be disallowed by the referee. And then as Mike Allen charged towards the corner, a tackler on the line dislodged the ball from his grasp. More anguish followed when the choice was made to try and step the last defender, rather than exploit a simple two-on-one advantage for a certain score.