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COOKE'S DEBUT BRACE GIVES GLADIATORS VICTORY OVER BRIG


Matlock Town returned to winning ways on Saturday after an impressive 4-2 victory away at Bamber Bridge in the NPL Premier Division.

In a highly entertaining game, a debut brace from loan signing Jamie Cooke plus goals from Liam Hughes and Alex Byrne gave the Gladiators all three points at The Sir Tom Finney Stadium at Irongate. Matlock's eighth win from ten league games means that the Gladiators remain in second position in the table and sit just two points behind title favourites South Shields.

After a bright and positive start to the game, the Gladiators deservedly took the lead after 11 minutes following a fantastic strike from Jamie Cooke on his Gladiators debut. The attacking midfielder outmuscled the last Bamber Bridge defender back and sped away from him before firing the ball past the Brig goalkeeper very confidently indeed from the edge of the penalty area.

The Gladiators really should have extended their lead just six minutes later when skipper Liam Hughes somehow missed the target altogether from very close range. Some excellent work from Alex Wiles gave him freedom down the right wing and he threaded a superb ball across the penalty area to find an unmarked Hughes with the goal at his mercy. In a huge let off for their Lancashire opponents, Hughes got his connection all wrong from only eight yards out and inexplicably guided the ball past the wrong side of the post.

Bamber Bridge quickly took advantage of Matlock's missed opportunity in the 24th minute when they won a penalty after Harvey Gregson was adjudged to have been fouled as he shot from close range. In-form Ewan Bange sent Shaun Rowley the wrong way to convert the spot kick and net his eighth league goal of the season.

Any concerns about Matlock feeling sorry for themselves for not converting enough chances were very quickly dispelled though as the Gladiators regained the lead literally a minute after Brig's equaliser. In an almost carbon copy of the build-up to Hughes's glaring miss, the Gladiators skipper made amends and fired the ball home from close range without any problem this time around.

Bamber Bridge came close to equalising once again in the 28th minute when Rob Apter's 20 yard effort took a heavy deflection and Shaun Rowley did very well to tip the ball over the bar and keep Matlock's lead intact. Four minutes afterwards, Liam Hughes almost extended the Derbyshire side's lead when his header from 12 yards out following an Alex Byrne delivery flew narrowly over the bar.

With just a minute to go before the half time interval, Bamber Bridge were handed another huge let off when Alex Byrne spurned a glorious opportunity when he was clean through one on one with Brig's goalkeeper. The winger chose to try and chip the ball over the oncoming keeper but the pace was just slow enough for him to claw the ball around the post to concede a corner.



After a frantic first half, the second half showed no signs whatsoever of slowing this match down. Bamber Bridge almost secured a second equaliser within a minute of the second half starting. Rowley was forced into a good point-blank reflex save to deny Mark Yeates and then immediately dived onto the parried ball to prevent Yeates from tucking in the rebound from very close range.

Matlock soon recovered control of the game though shortly afterwards and thoroughly deserved their third goal of the afternoon when it arrived in the 61st minute. It was a lovely goal too. A perfectly paced through ball from central midfielder Alex Wiles split the Brig defence all ends up and put Jamie Cooke clean through on goal with just the keeper to beat. The loan signing from FC Halifax Town rounded the goalkeeper very confidently and stroked the ball home casually into an empty net to give the Gladiators a two goal lead.

Despite bossing the game and dictating the high tempo very well indeed, Bamber Bridge refused to give up and they managed to cut the deficit in the 73rd minute of the game. Substitute Fin Sinclair-Smith, who was making his debut for the club following his transfer from FC United of Manchester, was given too much time and space from 25 yards out following a corner. His rocket of an effort took a slight deflection off Liam Hughes's head and that was just enough to wrong foot Rowley in goal and the ball smashed the back of the net to give Bamber Bridge real hope of securing something from the game still.

It was a frantic and full-blooded final ten minutes as both teams still played the game the right way and attacked with a high tempo. As the minutes ticked by though, things were getting somewhat nervous for the Gladiators. Matlock were given a big scare in the 87th minute when an impressive free-kick from the right wing caused a mini goalmouth scramble. Ewan Bange attempted to back-heel the ball into the net with nobody being able to retain possession but Shaun Rowley was wise to what was going on and blocked the ball before the Matlock defence was finally able to scramble the ball away.

In a breathless final few moments of the match, substitute Jesurun Uchegbulam was then put clean through on goal on a counter attack. With just the keeper to beat, Uchegbulam tried to place the ball to the keeper's right hand side but Mateusz Hewelt got down very well to yet again tip the ball just around the post.

As the 90th minute ticked by, the Gladiators finally killed the game off when they were awarded a penalty. Alex Byrne stepped up to take the spot kick and he absolutely leathered the ball home to restore Matlock's two goal lead and win the game 4-2.

It was a superb response by Paul Phillips's men to bounce back from their away defeat at Stafford Rangers the previous weekend and make it eight wins from their first ten league games of this season's NPL Premier Division campaign. A special mention must be made for Adam Yates who has remarkably come out of retirement to help Matlock following the sudden departures of Sam Egerton, Declan Walker and Ashton Hall plus the absence of Jamie Sharman due to personal reasons. The Matlock legend answered Paul Phillips's emergency call to help the team smooth over their very low numbers in defence. How long Yates will come out of retirement for is still unknown, but considering he hadn't played a competitive match since December, the right-back played very well indeed and it was like he'd never been away at all!

Focus now turns to Matlock's away trip to Radcliffe this coming Tuesday evening. A win for the Gladiators in that game could even see them move to the top of the table.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Yates, Kendall, Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Wiles, Hughes (c), Cooke (Uchegbulam 84), Chippendale (Hannah 69). Unused subs: King, Coppin, Cooper.

Attendance: 347


Paul Phillips Quotes

"In the main, it was a very good performance. For me, the game could and should have been over by half time with the amount of chances we missed. Let's not take anything from Bamber Bridge though. They've had some good results this season. Jamie Milligan's got a very good team. But I honestly do think we should have won by one or two more goals than what we ended up winning by...all in all, we deserved the three points."

"It was hard coming into this game, as we've had to change three centre-halves since the last game. Adam Yates obviously hadn't played a game all season, I've asked Evans to play on the left hand side of the centre-halves where Sharman or Ashton would normally play. So we've not had much time to work on anything with the players that we had on the pitch today. We conceded two goals today that we wouldn't normally concede. All in all though, I think we defended really well. I thought Hughes was unplayable up front today, Everyone's now seen what kind of player Jamie Cooke is. I thought his first goal was sublime. His second goal was almost as good. He worked his socks off. I don't think the scoreline quite reflects how dominant we were in the game."

"We know we're light on numbers with our squad. We're looking to get a new midfielder in. We've got a lot of games coming up soon. I think if we can add a new midfielder and a forward, then I think we'll be in a much stronger place as a group to manage the games ahead of us. But let's not take anything from the team today. I thought we were fantastic from the first minute to the last. Those two sloppy goals conceded are the only blight on the copybook, but we responded at the other end."

"I just think Adam Yates wanted pre-season off! He was great today. Today says everything about the calibre of the lad. He's given the squad a lift and the spectators a lift too. I didn't think he put a foot wrong today and I want to thank him because, without him today, we would have really struggled with our defensive options for this game. I think he won every header in the game; he's done what we asked him to do. He looked like he hadn't been away, which is the biggest compliment I can give him."

"I think the game against Radcliffe will be a different kind of game to the one we had today. I think it will be more direct; plenty of pace and power...we've got to go on the front foot. Teams are going to start taking a different approach to us now that we've started so well and are high up the league. We've got to make sure we solve those puzzles and do the right things in the right areas. We want to get on a good winning run again and get to the top of the league."

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