Matlock Town beat fierce local rivals Buxton 2-1 in front of a huge crowd at The Proctor Cars Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon to move to the top of the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
The Bucks took the lead just before the half hour mark through a well taken Brad Jackson effort from 20 yards out. The whole dynamic of the game changed drastically just three minutes afterwards when James Hurst needlessly picked up two yellow cards in quick succession and was given his marching orders by the referee.
The Gladiators fought back with the extra man advantage and ended up securing all three points thanks to second half goals from substitute Ross Hannah and Reece Kendall.
The game was a very cagey affair for the first 20 minutes. Both teams were certainly well aware of just how much was riding on this crucial A6 derby.
James Hurst's ambitious long range effort after six minutes had Dan Wallis worried momentarily before the ball sailed a couple of metres over the bar. A couple of minutes later, Ryan Qualter saw his header inside the penalty area saved comfortably by Theo Richardson following a decent attacking breakaway from the Gladiators.
The match properly kicked into life after 26 minutes but it was the Bucks who broke the deadlock. The Gladiators failed to clear their lines properly and the ball fell to recent loan signing Brad Jackson from 20 yards out. Jackson struck the ball beautifully and his curling effort beat Dan Wallis and found the top corner of the net to the delight of the travelling Buxton supporters just behind the goal.
The game turned inside out for Buxton just three minutes afterwards though when James Hurst cost his team dearly. Two silly yellow cards in quick succession resulted in Hurst being sent off with just over an hour of the game still remaining and this provided the platform for Matlock to work themselves back into the game.
The Gladiators almost found an equaliser with just a couple of minutes to go before half time. Callum Chippendale went on a surging run down the middle of the pitch which saw him break into the penalty area with just the goalkeeper to beat. Chippendale struck the ball firmly but Theo Richardson made a good save to palm the ball away and concede a corner.
From the following corner, centre-half Ioan Evans saw his header go wide of the target from around 12 yards out while just a minute later substitute Ross Hannah had the ball in the back of the net but his effort was instantly ruled out for offside.
The second half, while not featuring too many clear-cut chances, saw increasing pressure on Buxton's defence as Matlock worked tirelessly to get something from this derby match.
Jesurun Uchegbulam spooned a good opportunity over the bar after only around 30 seconds into the second half while Reece Kendall saw his headed effort from a corner blocked by a defender just a couple of yards in front of the goal line three minutes later.
In the 51st minute, Ross Hannah's close range header found the back of the net and momentarily sent Causeway Lane into raptures before everyone realised the assistant referee had his flag up for offside once again.
Ten minutes later though, Hannah would have the biggest smile in the whole town. After an excellent save from Richardson to deny Chippendale from 12 yards out, Hannah saw his effort blocked on the line before quickly turning his body round to fire in the rebound from around eight yards out. The assistant referee's flag stayed down and the Proctor Cars Stadium went crazy. Matlock finally had their equaliser and Ross Hannah had scored his first goal since August.
The Bucks never really threatened to get a second goal in the match and the pressure was all coming from the Gladiators to find a winner thanks to the extra man advantage.
In the 76th minute, Hannah almost scored another when his flicked header from an excellent right wing cross from Alex Byrne went wide of the post.
Just 60 seconds later though, the bumper crowd was sent into raptures once again. A typically perfect corner kick delivery from Alex Byrne found the head of Reece Kendall and he found the back of the net from just a few yards out to give the Gladiators a deserved lead and secure his sixth goal of the season.
The remainder of the game saw Matlock working hard to preserve their lead. A spirited Buxton side battled hard with ten men right till the end in search for an equaliser but a typically commanding display from Ryan Qualter in particular at the back always kept the Bucks at bay. Buxton's one real opportunity to get back onto level terms arrived in the 82nd minute when an effort from inside the area was fired on target but the ball was straight at Dan Wallis and he comfortably dealt with it.
After four minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew the final whistle sparking huge celebrations from everyone associated with the Gladiators.
The victory means that Matlock Town sit one point clear of Buxton at the top of the NPL Premier Division at the end of 2021.
A very special mention must be made for the size of the crowd for this A6 derby. A truly outstanding attendance of 2,155 watched this game and provided an electric atmosphere all afternoon. It would go on to be confirmed that this was Matlock Town's biggest home crowd for a league game since 1977!
Matlock Town team: Wallis, King (Hannah 41), Kendall, Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Wiles (Sharman 59), Hughes (c), Chippendale, Uchegbulam (Okome 82). Unused subs: Daly, Greaves.