Matlock Town returned to winning ways on Saturday afternoon as they beat Stalybridge Celtic 2-0 at Bower Fold to move up to second position in the Northern Premier League Premier Division. Second half goals from Ryan Qualter and Jesurun Uchegbulam secured all three points for the Gladiators which gives them some momentum coming into two huge games to end the calendar year with. The first half was a cagey and tight affair with very little between both teams and very few clear-cut chances. The game finally kicked into life in the 36th minute when Tyreece Onyeka (making his debut for the Celts) came very close to taking the lead for Stalybridge. Onyeka's well-timed run saw him with just the keeper to beat from around 12 yards out. To Matlock's relief, Onyeka somehow missed the target altogether when he really should have scored. Matlock's first real opportunities of the game came in a flurry with just two minutes remaining of the first half. Callum Chippendale saw his well-struck close range effort saved by the keeper; from the following corner, Jerome Greaves saw his close range effort blocked to concede another corner. From the resulting set piece, Greaves was allowed a second bite of the cherry and his firm header was cleared off the goal line. The second half was a more entertaining affair and Matlock controlled the game better with a pleasing second half performance away from home. The Gladiators got off to the perfect start following the interval when centre-half Ryan Qualter scored the opening goal after 47 minutes with an excellent strike from 18 yards out which cut through a crowded penalty area and found its way to the back of the net. Despite having a lot more possession in the second half, Stalybridge came mightily close to an equaliser in the 62nd minute. Dan Wallis (making his second debut for the Gladiators) came out well to block a Celts effort from close range but the ball fell to another Celts player inside the penalty area. His rebound looked sure to be heading into the back of the net but Stalybridge were thwarted by the heroics of Ryan Qualter as he launched himself to clear the ball from the goal line in the nick of time. Qualter was phenomenal all afternoon and it was no surprise that he was named as Matlock's man of the match after the final whistle blew. Matlock almost doubled their lead in the 63rd minute when Ross Hannah missed the target from close range following some excellent work down the right wing from Alex Byrne.
Manager Paul Phillips didn't have to wait long though for his side to secure a vital second goal of the game. In the 71st minute, an excellent corner from Byrne found an unmarked Uchegbulam and he controlled his header superbly for the ball to loop over the keeper's head and stay under the cross bar to hit the back of the net. The Nigerian's seventh goal of the season sparked wild celebrations among the Matlock players and the club's staff in the away dugout area. The Gladiators almost made it 3-0 in the 83rd minute when substitute Reece Kendall's flicked header from a corner found Ross Hannah just a few yards away from goal. Unfortunately, with a host of Celts players closing on him immediately, Hannah's effort went narrowly over the bar. Once Matlock were two goals ahead, the Gladiators never really looked in any danger of allowing Stalybridge back into the game. All in all, a very satisfactory away performance and a much needed win in the league to regain some momentum ahead of the enormous derby game against Buxton on December 27. Matlock Town team: Wallis, Sharman, Chippendale (King 67), Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne (c), Wiles, Hannah (Okome 89), Greaves (Kendall 72), Uchegbulam. Unused subs: Sargent, Hall. Attendance: 437 Dave Wild Quotes: "I thought we were really good today. Very dominant. We showed the grit and determination that's expected of us. We came into this game without a win in three league matches, so we knew we had to come here and put that right. We don't want to be slipping into those lower parts of the play-off places, especially over this Christmas period. I don't think Stalybridge threatened us massively at any point in the game. We defended resolutely. Very pleased today." "If we were to miss out on a top five spot, it won't be because we've not given everything. That will never happen. We've brought reinforcements in recently because we don't stand still. It's as simple as that. We've had good patches and bad patches. We've had a bit of a blip recently but today looks to have stopped that. Because we had such a good start to the season, I think that put a target on our back. But that's a good thing. We've just got to make sure we continue to respond to that. So I'm not concerned by any comments from anyone that thinks we're going to lose momentum and start dropping down the table." "We know what we're good at. We know what we need to stick to in order to keep winning football matches...if we start getting more clean sheets back into our game like today, then I think we can be quite confident about the games we have coming up in the next few weeks." "I thought Dan Wallis did really well. He's only had one training session with us coming into this match. His distribution and his kicking today was outstanding considering the weather conditions. He made a really good block with his feet in the second half. We're pleased to have him on board. We need competition for places and he's come in today and will be keeping the shirt based on that performance." "The next couple of games for the club are exciting. These are the games you want to be involved in. Looking slightly further ahead at that Buxton game; that's going to be a massive game for both clubs. As it stands right now, it's first versus second. Obviously, Paul Phillips used to be in charge at Buxton. It's a local derby. There's a lot of spice going into that game! This is just an exciting time for the club. I don't think I've ever won a game on Boxing Day or on the 27th, so we could do with putting that one right. In terms of the York City game next weekend, we're not fearful of them. Certainly not scared to play them. I think we'll give a good account of ourselves."