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GLADIATORS BEAT THE GINGERBREADS TO REMAIN TOP OF THE LEAGUE


Matlock Town returned to winning ways on Tuesday evening as they defeated struggling Grantham Town 3-1 at The South Kesteven Sports Stadium to maintain their three point lead at the top of the Northern Premier League Premier Division. An own goal from Finn Shrimpton and a goal from Alex Byrne put the Gladiators 2-0 ahead at half time. A reply from Thierry Latty-Fairweather gave Grantham home and set up a nervy final half hour but another goal from Alex Byrne deep into injury time killed the game off and gave the Derbyshire outfit all three points. Matlock started the game very well and could genuinely have been 4-0 up. Grantham's defence were atrocious for the vast majority of the first 45 minutes and Paul Phillips will have been mystified that this team hadn't scored more goals. Matlock's first warning to the Gingerbreads arrived after only four minutes when Alex Byrne cleverly cut inside a defender on the right wing before firing in an effort from around 15 yards. His strike though was straight at Grantham's goalkeeper. The Gladiators certainly didn't have to wait much longer though to break the deadlock. After six minutes, more good work from Byrne on the right wing allowed him the opportunity to put in a teasing low cross to create all sorts of problems. While the ball didn't find a Matlock player, Grantham midfielder Finn Shrimpton couldn't help but divert the ball into his own net from around six yards out and this gave Matlock an early lead. The Gladiators were soon running riot and really should have put the game to bed inside the opening quarter of the game. A huge chance to extend their lead arrived in the 15th minute when a through ball cut through Grantham's woeful defence easily and allowed Jamie Cooke to run through and find himself one on one with the Gingerbreads keeper. It looked like Cooke was going to comfortably slot the ball home but Jim Pollard stood his ground well and was able to smartly block Cooke's effort. Just a few seconds later, Cooke had the ball at his feet again. This time Cooke struck the ball firmly from 20 yards out and forced another decent save from Pollard in Grantham's goal. Grantham did start to ease more into the game from around the half hour mark and fired their own warning shot which almost resulted in an impressive equaliser. A complete miskick of a clearance from Jesurun Uchegbulam allowed Grantham's Harvey Grice to fire an attempt from just outside the penalty area and his effort smacked off the bar and then went out for a goal kick. Five minutes later though, it looked to be plain sailing for Paul Phillips's men as they added a second goal for the evening. In the 38th minute of the game, Liam Hughes's darting run saw him with a great opportunity. Instead of going for a shot himself though, he laid a calm and composed pass to Alex Byrne who got in front of his marker from around eight yards out and he slotted the ball past Pollard to double Matlock's lead. The Gladiators came within a fraction of going 3-0 up in the 43rd minute when another excellent through ball saw Jamie Cooke with a golden opportunity but he frustratingly dragged the ball millimetres wide of the post with just the keeper to beat. The last action of the first half was a reminder to Matlock that this game was far from over and that they still had to ensure that they were taking their chances. With just seconds of the half left, a bullet of a shot from Finn Shrimpton almost made amends for his early own goal as his effort whistled just past the post with Shaun Rowley beaten all ends up. Matlock started the second half well, but not quite as dominantly as their start to the first. Five minutes into the second half, the excellent Alex Byrne saw his free kick from 20 yards out flash just wide of the post. Four minutes later, Reece Kendall saw his hooked effort following a corner go just over the bar. In the 56th minute, skipper Liam Hughes found some space just before the edge of the penalty area to smash the ball hard and his effort must have been just inches wide of the post.


However, a goal for the Gingerbreads in the 63rd minute changed the complexion of the game and set up a very nervy final quarter of the match for the Gladiators. Thierry Latty-Fairweather beat two Gladiators players and then blasted the ball into the top corner from just inside the penalty area to give the Gingerbreads some belief that they could still take something from this game. Grantham's reply certainly seemed to inject some confidence into the Lincolnshire side and they began to play more confidently when in the final third as Matlock started to sit further and further back. It was Shaun Rowley who ended up playing a hugely significant role in securing the three points for Matlock. In the 76th minute, Rowley made an outstanding outstretched save to tip the ball around the post following a close-range header from Grantham's attack. Shortly after the resulting corner was taken, Grantham had a huge appeal for a penalty turned down which infuriated their players and coaching staff in the dug-out area as the tension began to ramp up minute after minute. With time running out, Lee Shaw had two golden opportunities to equalise for the Gingerbreads in the 86th minute but Rowley made two outstanding saves to deny both chances. Both chances were from close range and Rowley did superbly to keep the ball out on both occasions. This was undoubtedly Rowley's best moment of the season so far. More drama was to follow as the seconds ticked down. At the start of injury time, substitute Ross Hannah was controversially given a straight red card for an adjudged elbow to the face of an opposition player when jumping up for the ball. There was barely any reaction from Grantham's players but the referee incredibly dished out a red card almost immediately to Hannah's utter disbelief. In the final minute of stoppage time, with all of Grantham's players forward bar their keeper, Matlock finally killed the game off with a classic injury time counter attack goal. Uchegbulam managed to win possession with every Grantham player up forward and blitzed down the left wing with a surging run which took him away from the opposition. The winger could have just ran the ball into the corner quadrant but with Byrne completely free in the penalty area and crying out for a free shot at goal, a calm pass was sent over from the left wing and Byrne composed himself well to beat the keeper from about 12 yards out and make it 3-1 to Matlock with virtually the last kick of the game. In the end, yet another three points for the Gladiators but there were remarkable similarities to this game compared to the recent home victory against Mickleover. In short, Paul Phillips knows that his team must be more clinical in front of goal otherwise better teams will punish them for their wastefulness. Matlock's next game is a hugely intriguing top of the table clash at home against title favourites South Shields who sit three points and one position behind the Gladiators in the league table. Matlock Town team: Rowley, Chippendale, Kendall, Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Wiles (Sargent 39, L King 80), Hughes (c), Cooke (Hannah 59), Uchegbulam. Unused subs: C King, Onyeka. Attendance: 221 Paul Phillips Quotes "I thought that Grantham couldn't get a glove on us in the first 20 minutes. We could have been 3 or 4-0 up. That's no disrespect to the opposition; we had some really, really good chances to take the game away from them. But then we got a little bit too comfy. We stopped doing what we were doing. I said to the players at half time, that we've got to make sure we start the second half on the front foot. I think before Grantham had their first shot on target, we still had two or three chances ourselves to score. We think we've had 19 shots in total in that game - but hit the target with about three of them. So I think we got a bit complacent. I put some subs on who didn't do what I needed them to do. I thought Sargent was nowhere near where we needed to be in order to finish the game positionally and to win those second balls. I thought Liam Hughes was unplayable - I thought he held the ball up in both boxes really well and attacked everything. Cooke could have had a hat-trick on another night. I thought Chippendale was immense...as I've said before though, if you don't finish teams off, it can come back to bite you on the backside. Thankfully, Shaun has come up with a couple of decent saves there at the end. The referee saw that one of their players had dived to try and win a penalty and he got booked, which was great; I think the only decision the referee got wrong all night was sending Ross Hannah off. But the ref has said that he will look back at that, so hopefully we can get that overturned." "The finishing just hasn't been good enough and not clinical enough. I said that to the players in the changing room but I don't think they need telling that. We just need to hit the target more. Their goalkeeper came out a few times in the first 20 minutes and spilled the ball two or three times - so let's start hitting the target and find out what the opposition are about. I don't think we asked that question enough tonight. As a former goalkeeper myself, I know that when I was having a bad night, I didn't want the opposition to start hitting the target any more times - so I think we played into their keeper's hands a little bit there. But I guess that does show where our standards are; that we've just scored three goals away from home but we're still picking bones out of it." "Shaun Rowley got a rocket up his backside at half time. I don't think he was helping out his centre-halves like he could have done. He got told that we've got another goalkeeper here that's waiting in the wings and is desperate to get that number one shirt, so he's got to keep his standards up. He knows though how good a goalkeeper he is. He's just got to be a bit more vocal in what he does and be a bit more ruthless when he's coming out to catch the ball. If he has to get hurt, then he has to get hurt...he just needs to take the pressure off some of the players. I thought he was a bit too safe in the first half but in the second half he's come out and claimed everything and made a couple of decent saves." "Alex Wiles came off because of a dead leg. I thought it was too good to be true that we had almost all our players fit for tonight! Even Jamie Sharman was in attendance tonight - hopefully he will be back very soon. Him coming off was a setback, but we'll see how he is for Saturday for the small matter of South Shields. I'm sure all our players will get themselves right for a big game like that." "The game against South Shields will be a tough game. I think they're the title favourites. It's a credit to the lads and everyone at this football club that this coming game is between first and second place. I think it shows how far we've taken this football club. We need to get the fans out for Saturday and we need to get people behind us. If this game was at South Shields, they'd be looking at a crowd between 2,000 to 3,000. So we really need to get the fans in the ground and get behind us and really support the lads on Saturday, because they deserve it. I don't think Matlock have been in this form for a number of years - they deserve to have a lot of support. I don't think the team has been at its greatest in the last three or four games but, come Saturday, we'll make sure that we're prepared. We'll now regroup, do our own work like we always do. South Shields will be a possession team, they'll get their full-backs high. They will ask a lot of questions. But they'll know we will be able to ask them lots of questions too. They've got a good team and they've been unlucky to not be promoted in the last couple of years; but let's relish it. Let's roll our sleeves up and see how far we've come. That's what we're about: we don't want to be fighting at the bottom of the league, we want to be fighting at the top. Let's get the people of Matlock behind us: they've been great tonight, I think we even outnumbered the home fans tonight. So let's get behind them on Saturday and see what we can do."

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