Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Matlock Town moved out of the relegation zone after a pulsating encounter at the Proctor Cars Stadium, where the teams had to settle for a point apiece.
The Gladiators took the lead early on in the second half thanks to a Marcus Marshall goal but were pegged back late on in a game which frequently reached boiling point and resulted in a red card for both teams.
This was an explosive game which had action from start to finish and would have to be considered as one of the most entertaining games of the season so far.
The first big opportunity arrived for the Gladiators as early as the sixth minute when Adam Yates whipped in an excellent cross from the right wing. His delivery found an unmarked Nathan Valentine who attempted to volley home but his effort flashed just wide of the post.
Three minutes afterwards, Morpeth came very close to taking the lead when Liam Noble’s free kick from twenty yards out was denied by an excellent diving save from debutant Kyle Trenerry to tip the ball around the post.
The Highwaymen probably should have taken the lead in the 20th minute when Liam Henderson was allowed far too much time and space inside the area to head home but his attempt lacked conviction and his effort sailed high and wide of the target when he really should have done better.
At the other end, Matlock’s other debutant Alex Byrne came agonisingly close to opening his Gladiators goal account in the 24th minute when his ambitious 20-yard attempt cannoned off the cross bar.
It was shortly after this moment that it became clear that the referee had already lost his authority on the game. Three players including the returning Spencer Harris were issued bookings for dissent after an extended period of heated arguments between the two sides and the match never really calmed down after this point.
In the 33rd minute, Byrne’s hands were on his head in disbelief after his close-range attempt following a cross from Marshall ricocheted off the post. Byrne was outstanding all night and it was a debut to remember as he fully earned his man of the match award.
Huge drama occurred just before the half time whistle and, to be frank, it had been coming for some time. The arguing between the two teams refused to simmer down and it came to a head when Harris took the bait after some serious opposition goading and leaned his head in towards a Morpeth player.
It was a moment unfortunately seen all too often these days on a football pitch where an opposition player pretends to be seriously hurt when barely any contact has been made, but as soon as the referee saw Harris’s head move forward and make contact with an opposition player, he admittedly had no other decision but to send Harris off according to the laws of today’s game.
One may well have expected it to have been one way traffic for the second half but that proved to be anything but the case. The Gladiators started the second half admirably considering they were a man down and incredibly ended up hitting the woodwork in the 49th minute. Marshall found room to hammer in a close-range attempt only to find his effort smash off the post and away from danger.
The Gladiators refused to feel sorry for themselves though and deservedly took the lead in the 53rd minute when Marshall managed to get in front of his marker and met an excellent delivery from Byrne to bundle the ball into the net from six yards out.
Another huge moment in the match occurred in the 59th minute when Morpeth forward Stephen Turnbull received a straight red card for an awful challenge on Jude Oyibo which meant it was ten against ten. The referee once again had no choice but to issue a red card but was repeatedly struggling to keep control of the game and it was genuinely surprising that nobody else was sent off for the remainder of the game.
Straight after Morpeth’s red card, the Highwaymen were twice denied an equaliser by some fantastic goalkeeping from Kyle Trenerry. Firstly, Trenerry tipped a deflected shot from Stephen Forster around the post.
From the resulting corner, Carl Finnigan rose above the Matlock defence to steer in a header only for Trenerry to superbly keep the ball out with an outstanding dive across the face of goal.
The pace of this game simply never slowed down. Substitute Piteu Crouz had two excellent opportunities to seal the three points after two consecutive counter attacks but his hesitancy allowed a defensive block the first time around while his second attempt was rushed and dragged frustratingly wide of the post.
Morpeth finally beat Trenerry in the 79th minute to make it 1-1 when Ryan Hutchinson’s glancing header from another corner kick sailed into the top corner with Trenerry rooted to the spot this time around. Morpeth almost stole all three points right at the very end when substitute Jack Foalle’s close-range effort was denied by an outstanding last-ditch block to concede a corner.
The final whistle put an end to a frantic and breathless encounter. While naturally frustrated that they couldn’t hold on for the three points, the Gladiators will have been encouraged with how they played against one of the better footballing sides in this division and a team who is still in with a shout of gaining a play-off spot. While Matlock are now three games without a win, there was plenty to be positive about after Tuesday night’s performance.
Matlock Town: Trenerry, Yates (c), Wiley, Dean, Harris, Gooda, Byrne, Valentine, Marshall (Chilaka 84), Tague (Gordon 46), Oyibo (Crouz 62). Unused subs: Poole, Wilson.
Paul Phillips Quotes
“Proud of them. I think you go down to ten men after thirty minutes which is an uphill struggle to start off with, I think it was a stupid red card, Spencer knows that, he’s too long in the teeth to get conned into doing what he did although there was minimum impact. I think we’ve then reacted, I think we were the better team in the first half, we hit the post, the bar, I think we hit the post again but we’ve not took our chances…but I think they gave everything they got. If you told me that, when we were down to ten men, that we’d get a point I’d have snapped your hand off.
“Alex Byrne was a player I was trying to get when I was at Buxton. I know all about him. His energy, his work rate, his cleverness off the ball, his delivery. I thought he was brilliant tonight. A winger’s got to do just as much work off the ball than what he does on the ball, and I think we had too many wingers when I walked into the club that were great when we had the ball but when they didn’t have the ball, they were a bit of a passenger and we’ve got to change that culture.
“I still thought we could win the game, even with ten against eleven. You can see with the disappointment in there, even though I’ve told them they should be proud of themselves, where we are as a group and we’re building, we’re building something here. No disrespect to the previous manager here, but when I walked into this place it lacked heart, lacked desire to win and it was more of an individual game than a club culture and I can’t have that.
“This club is in a position that it should never be. With the fans, where it is, the team we’ve got in there, we’ve got to make sure that we get safe this year, hopefully win a cup, and then next year build on something that we’ve started gaining this year and push on and try and get out of this league.”