Matlock Town made it two competitive wins in a row after defeating Stafford Rangers at home 2-0 in the NPL Premier Division on Saturday afternoon.

Second half goals from Liam Hughes and Danny Greenfield made sure that the Gladiators earned their first points on the board for the 2020/21 league campaign.

It was a pleasing display from Matlock Town in front of a cracking atmosphere created by the 453 spectators. The first half saw some gilt-edged opportunities missed very early on in the game but the second half performance was a clinical and professional one that saw the Gladiators run out comfortable winners.

It was a lightning start to the game from the Gladiators in their first home match of the league season. Liam Hughes came within inches of scoring a delightful goal with only two minutes gone. His long-range effort clipped the cross bar before going out of play and this set the tone for the first fifteen minutes of the match.

After five minutes, Callum Dolan (playing in a more forward role than in previous games) used his pace to get free of his marker. He was left with just goalkeeper Lewis King to beat but the keeper closed down Dolan’s angles well and was able to block his effort. Just two minutes later, Dolan found himself in a one-on-one position again with Lewis King and Dolan will know he should have done better this time around. Dolan had completely broken free of the last defender this time around and had more time to place the ball past the keeper. Unfortunately, Dolan dithered and when he finally got his attempt in, King was still able to tip away the ball and away from immediate danger.

After the fifteen minute mark, Stafford managed to work their way back into the match after a very slow start. In the 18th minute, Rangers almost managed to take advantage of a stranded Shaun Rowley. Rowley had come out of his area to clear a loose ball but his clearance was closed down well and the ball diverted over to the right wing. Fortunately for the Gladiators, once Rangers managed to get an effort in Rowley had managed to get himself back in position and was able to save comfortably. In the 26th minute, Stafford threatened again to take the lead when a goal mouth scramble took place following a corner kick. Matlock’s defence stood firm though and the ball was eventually cleared from danger.

The first half ended a little flat after such a whirlwind start but the Gladiators soon found their mojo again after the interval and ran out deserved winners. The introduction of loan signing Danny Greenfield in the 54th minute really livened things up and gave Matlock some extra attacking impetus from midfield. Greenfield almost gave Matlock the lead just two minutes after coming on but his close range effort was blocked well by Lewis King in net. Attempts began to multiply as Matlock started to really boss possession. In the 58th minute, Greenfield saw his twenty-five yard effort whistle over the bar while Spencer Harris also fired a long-range effort over the bar just a minute later.

The pressure kept coming though and Matlock finally took the lead in the 64th minute through Liam Hughes with his third goal in his last two games. Following a messy corner, the ball was hooked back into the penalty area from the by-line and Liam Hughes was able to reach the ball first in a packed area to bundle the ball home and into the net. It certainly wasn’t a goal of the season contender but Hughes is beginning to show Gladiators fans a canny knack of being in the right place at the right time.

At this point, all the pressure was coming from Matlock and their lead was doubled eight minutes later thanks to an excellent virtuoso effort from the impressive Danny Greenfield. The loan signing from Gateshead collected the ball from thirty-five yards out and went on a glorious run beating several opposition players in the process. His run took him into the penalty area where he managed to turn past another defender before rifling in an effort that whizzed past Lewis King for an excellent solo goal which absolutely delighted the home spectators.

It looked like it would be plain sailing for the Gladiators from here on in but their task was made more difficult following a questionable sending-off for substitute Kade Coppin. Coppin received two yellow cards with the first coming just before Greenfield’s goal and the second arriving shortly after the magnificent solo effort. The first yellow card raised many eyebrows. Coppin received a booking for slightly delaying Lewis King from releasing the ball and booting it forward. There was no malice in this; Coppin effectively cuddled the goalkeeper briefly when the ball was in his hands waiting to be lumped forward. It was really something from nothing and appeared to be a very harsh booking. Very shortly after Greenfield’s goal, Coppin’s enthusiasm got the better of him and he appeared to clip the goalkeeper’s foot when attempting to close him down. The goalkeeper made an absolute meal of it and writhed around on the pitch in a style that a WWE superstar would have been impressed with. Lewis King’s amateur dramatics resulted in a frustrating yet inevitable second yellow card for Coppin.

Despite going down to ten men for the final fifteen minutes, the Gladiators defended really well and never looked in any real danger of conceding a nerve-jangling late goal. Ryan Qualter in particular had another impressive showing at the heart of the Matlock defence. Matlock comfortably held onto their 2-0 lead and the final whistle meant that Matlock had shot up to ninth in the table at this, admittedly, very early stage of the season.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Yates, Kendall, Egerton, Qualter, Lees, Dolan (Coppin 64), Harris, Hughes, Bond (Greenfield 54), Walker. Unused subs: Byrne, Abadaki, Hull.

Attendance: 453

Paul Phillips Quotes

“I was delighted with the second half. In the first 15 minutes of the first half, I think we outplayed them. We got the ball down, moved the ball across the park, we had two or three really good chances. Callum Dolan got one on one with the keeper twice, got to score at least one of those for me if I’m being critical. After the first fifteen minutes, I thought we huffed and puffed a bit and got a bit one-dimensional. At half time, I set out with them what we needed to do. Making it clear we need to be there winning the second balls. I think in the second half, we totally dominated. We moved the ball around even when we went to ten men. I don’t really remember them having a shot. We’re not playing the greatest of football but we’re finding our ways of winning. I think we looked solid at the back. We played three at the back today and I thought they were magnificent. I think its seven clean sheets now in the last twelve games. All in all, it was a good performance – a lot better than last week. We looked a threat even though I think there’s still a few things that need working on in the midfield area.”

“I just think we need to be a bit braver in the middle third. We have had to freshen things up because of the amount of games we’ve had recently. So we’ve had to rotate and it’s just a case of people getting to know their jobs. We need to look at being braver on the ball, being a bit quicker on the ball. Danny Greenfield was fantastic when he came on. I think he changed the game. He got the ball down, moved it around and scored an incredible goal.”

“Liam Hughes has been fantastic. Even when we went down to ten men, the appetite that he shows – fantastic. I think you’ve also got to give Callum Dolan praise today too. He’s not played in the last two games, I threw him in today because he’ll be fresh. Yeah, he didn’t score but he created chances and set the plat form for everyone today. I think Hughes and Dolan worked well and we’ve got a decent partnership. When you look at the bench as well: Byrne and Abadaki didn’t even come on and these are top quality players. Everyone’s fighting for the shirt and long may that continue.”

“I think with the second yellow for Kade, the keeper has absolutely conned him. Kade probably still needs to be a bit more street-wise. He’s been over-zealous because he really wants to be on that pitch and he’s not had many minutes. But the keeper has conned him, Kade was nowhere near him. I thought the referee had a good game actually but the keeper has conned him into making that decision. For the first yellow, Kade just stood his ground and the keeper got him into a headlock. What’s Kade done wrong? If he’s booking one, he’s got to book them both. But let’s take the positives out of it – we went down to ten men and still had a solid base and a solid unit. We still moved across the pitch well and defended well.”

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