Matlock Town were knocked out of the FA Cup on Tuesday in controversial fashion by National League North outfit Guiseley. The Gladiators went down 2-0 to the Lions but constantly had the odds stacked against them after a host of very questionable decisions from the referee.

The Gladiators finished the match with nine men and also had an unused substitute sent off as a first half penalty from Lebrun Mbeka and a second half effort from Jonathan Wafula condemned Matlock to defeat and sent Guiseley through to the final qualifying round.

The Gladiators started the game magnificently and really bossed the first few minutes of the match to suggest that a cup upset could be on the cards. After only three minutes, man of the match Spencer Harris smacked the cross bar from twenty yards out. The Lions were given a further warning as Reece Kendall’s darting run into the penalty area in the fifth minute was almost rewarded with a goal but his headed effort from Alex Byrne’s right wing delivery flew wide of the post when he really should have hit the target.

The game turned on its head completely though as early as the seventh minute when the referee made a huge call to show Matlock’s skipper and goal machine Liam Hughes a straight red card. The sending off came as a shock to many as numerous people didn’t even see the incident that lead to the red card take place. The referee decided that Hughes had intentionally stamped on an opposition player while Adam Yates was preparing to take a throw-in and promptly gave the Gladiators captain his marching orders to his astonishment. The decision shocked the entire Matlock team and management staff. After the game, Hughes was adamant that it was himself who had been stamped on and not the other way around. The fury surrounding the decision even lead Paul Phillips himself to receive a booking.

Matlock fought hard with a man down and only broke the deadlock due to a penalty because of a silly challenge from Byrne on the in-form Kaine Felix. It was a stonewall penalty and probably the only decision the referee made in the entire game that wasn’t up for debate. Mbeka stepped up to take the penalty in the 23rd minute and confidently sent Shaun Rowley the wrong way to give the Lions the lead.

The Gladiators continued to impress though and were still very much in the game even with a man down as the first half came to a close. This was no ordinary game however and there was drama even during the interval. Incredibly, the referee’s red card appeared for the second time when no players were even on the pitch. Shortly after the second half began, it was revealed that unused Matlock substitute Kade Coppin had been given a red card for dissent towards the man in charge.

Despite the latest setback, the Gladiators continued to work tirelessly and genuinely had golden opportunities to equalise before even more obstacles were put in their path. The first major chance of the second half fell for Guiseley though when centre-half Mark Howarth should have done better when his shot inside the penalty area ballooned over the bar when he had plenty of time and space.

The Gladiators should have got back on level terms on the hour mark when Kendall once again managed to lose his marker in the penalty box and should have headed on target from close range after an excellent free kick on the left wing from Declan Walker.

Remarkably, the Gladiators were dealt another huge blow just another minute later when Adam Yates was shown a red card for a second bookable offence. It was yet another soft decision which both enraged and exasperated the Matlock players, management and fans alike.

The game naturally ended up becoming increasingly stretched but Matlock still showed enormous character to maintain some attacking threat. Incredibly, the Gladiators really should have levelled the match when substitute Cesaire Lingouba fired over the bar when he had ample time from the edge of the penalty area to find the back of the net.

The numbers game soon caught up with Matlock though and in the 67th minute, former Gladiator and Chesterfield player Wafula took full advantage of an exposed defence and poked home from close range to double Guiseley’s lead. Matlock continued to impress with everything going against them. The cross bar was hit again in the 69th minute from a Ryan Qualter header following a corner kick.

After this point, the game petered out with Guiseley comfortably able to maintain possession against a Matlock team who had worked their socks off. As the final whistle went, the players could leave the pitch with their heads held high as they put in a monumental performance that was sadly to no avail and the Derbyshire club’s dreams of returning to the First Round Proper since 1989 will have to be put on hold for another year.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Yates, Kendall, Egerton, Qualter, Lees (Chippendale 72), Byrne (Lingouba 28), Harris, Hughes (c), Abadaki (King 79), Walker. Unused subs: Coppin, Dolan, Hull, Bond.

Attendance: 0 (No spectators allowed due to current government measures regarding the Covid-19 pandemic)

Paul Phillips Quotes

“I thought we were brilliant – even with ten men, we had better chances. On another night, we would have taken one of those. Even with nine men, we had chances! I thought we defended brilliantly and all the lads did the club proud with everything that got thrown at them from the eighth minute onwards. I think if we had eleven men on the pitch, and this is not sour grapes, I think only one team were looking like they were going to score until decisions got taken that were out of our hands. Guiseley played some good stuff and they held the ball up well, as I knew they would do with extra men. But they never really hurt us. I can’t remember Rowley making too many saves of note. As a whole, we got the subs right, we got it tactically right and I thought the players were absolutely tremendous. They put their heart and soul into that and I feel sorry for them because it wasn’t down to them that we got beat.”

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