Matlock completed a perfect February with another deserved and hard-earned victory, this time against Nantwich Town at the Autoworld Arena.
In their latest relegation six-pointer, a marvellous first-half display set the tone before a battling second-half performance proved key as Nantwich hit back.
Something had to give with both sides on 38 points from 34 matches and both teams in good form, the Gladiators searching for a fifth league win on the bounce,
After a tight start it was Matlock who quickly gained momentum to go on and dominate the opening half.
Jamie McDonagh and Otis Khan ran the visiting defence ragged, aided ably by Niall McManus as Matlock constantly ripped the visitors wide open as they attacked down the left.
Nantwich were happy to breathe again in the 13th minute as McDonagh’s centre was just out of Khan’s radar, but the pressure would be virtually unrelenting.
McManus teased Shaun Dowling on the left before easing comfortably past him to set up captain Liam Needham whose shot whistled narrowly over the bar.
Matlock were buzzing around the Nantwich box and finally broke through in spectacular style on 25 minutes when Khan was brought down four yards outside the box.
The home fans knew what would probably follow but goalkeeper Terry Smith clearly didn’t as for the third league match in a row, Khan found the net from the free-kick, curling a stunner into the corner.
Buoyed by the goal, Matlock kept flying forward and McDonagh was unlucky only to find Smith’s arms with a neat flick from a McManus centre on 29 minutes.
Five minutes later McDonagh thought he had doubled the lead as he headed home a Micky Harcourt free-kick from the right, but an offside flag came to the visitors’ rescue.
A break involving Khan and then McManus saw the ball find Needham whose goalbound strike was deflected wide for a 42nd minute corner from which Muhammed Sabo headed over.
But the second goal Matlock had threatened came on the stroke of half-time and again it involved the lively Khan and McManus, the latter’s cross being clipped home at the near post by McDonagh.
That stung Nantwich into action and Jon Kennedy was called into action to brilliantly claw away a volley from Sean Cooke to preserve the two-goal lead into the interval.
Nantwich looked more businesslike after the break but Matlock had pace on the counter and new loan signing Danny Frost was denied by two crucial tackles, Oscar Radford’s header also dropping across the face of goal.
Khan then drove too high before Nantwich were back in with a shout as substitute Steve Jones rolled home a low shot from 15 yards to set up a tense finish.
Harry Clayton drove into the side netting when well placed but that was just about the only moment of danger for Matlock who defended superbly as a unit.
Max Harrop’s red card for a second yellow card made life easier for Matlock as they survived without too much pain to continue their excellent run of form, Nantwich skipper Mat Bailey also dismissed after the final whistle for his part in a melee as the players left the field.
For Matlock, the win took them up to 15th and another huge step towards safety.
Saturday, February 28, 2015:
Matlock: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Oscar Radford 4 Josh Meade 5 Muhammed Sabo 6 Julian Banton 7 Ted Cribley (Danny Frost 56) 8 Liam Needham 9 Jamie McDonagh 10 Otis Khan 11 Niall McManus (Adam Yates 90). Subs not used: Scott Maxfield, Grant Black, Danny Holland
Nantwich Town: 1 Terry Smith 2 Shaun Dowling 3 Andy White 4 Mat Bailey 5 Ben Harrison 6 Mark Jones (Steve Jones 46) 7 Sean Cooke 8 Elliott Osbourn 9 Harry Clayton 10 Max Harrop 11 Matty Kosylo (Mark Winslade 70). Subs not used: George Mannion, Cliff Moyo, Grant Hartley
Att: 305 Ref: A Moore (Stockport)
Star Gladiator: Niall McManus