Matlock Town made it five games unbeaten on Saturday afternoon as their hard work was rewarded with an excellent 4-1 victory over a decent Ashton United side.

Goals from man of the match Declan Walker, Alex Byrne and Liam Hughes plus a bizarre own goal from Ashton’s Michael Raynes sealed the victory for the Gladiators which has now pushed them into a play-off spot in the NPL Premier Division league table.

It was a very tight and competitive first half which only saw the Gladiators go into the interval in the lead because of very fortuitous circumstances. The Robins fired an early warning to Matlock in the third minute when Liam Tomsett’s twenty yard attempt whistled past the post and cannoned off the station. In the fifth minute though, Matlock went down the other end and won a penalty. Callum Dolan waltzed into the penalty area and, after some miscommunication between a defender and the Robins goalkeeper, Dolan was blatantly tripped as he tried to nip in and take advantage. The referee had no choice but to point to the penalty spot and up stepped Declan Walker who smashed the penalty home to Greg Hartley’s right-hand side. To be fair to Hartley, he almost pulled off what would have been an outstanding save as he managed to get one hand to the ball but the Irishman’s effort was so firmly struck that the effort was just too hot to keep hold of from the goalkeeper.

Callum Dolan was a very lively figure throughout the game until he had to be substituted early in the second half after picking up a knock. The youngster looks to be growing in confidence after every game and the goal he scored against Grantham Town in the FA Cup has clearly done him the world of good. Dolan’s pace almost put him in a one-on-one situation with the keeper in the fifteenth minute but an excellent last-ditch hooked clearance from Ashton’s last man prevented a golden opportunity for the Gladiators to double their lead. Five minutes later, Dolan had the ball at his feet from twenty-two yards out following a clearance from a corner-kick. The youngster instinctively attempted to fire the ball past Greg Hartley but his ambitious effort sailed wide of the post.

The Robins managed to get back onto level pegging in the twenty-sixth minute. Ben Hardcastle, who was Ashton’s best player over the ninety minutes, had time and space from twenty yards out and his effort appeared to clip a defender as it went past a stranded Shaun Rowley and into the net. Matlock will have been annoyed at the manner of the goal conceded as they will have felt that Ben Hardcastle could have been closed down earlier to prevent the shot in the first place. The Robins were gaining momentum and in the 32nd minute they threatened to take the lead when Louis Almond’s effort from outside the penalty area glided over the cross bar.

The Gladiators regained the lead in strange circumstances. With pressure coming from a chasing Callum Dolan, Robins centre-half Michael Raynes panicked twenty-five yards from his own goal. All he needed to do was to roll the ball along the pitch back to Greg Hartley but Raynes struck the ball with far too much power and the ball looped over the keeper’s head. When the ball was struck, Hartley was on the edge of his penalty area and the keeper almost managed to clear the ball just in time before the ball crossed the goal line but the assistant referee adjudged that the ball had just gone over the line before Hartley reached it.

Matlock almost went 3-1 up on the stroke of half-time. Reece Kendall managed to meet an excellent right-wing delivery from Alex Byrne but he couldn’t quite manage to steer his close-range header on target after great pressure from his marker.

The Gladiators should have extended their lead four minutes into the second half when Callum Dolan cut inside a defender inside the penalty area. Unfortunately, with the goal at his mercy, his effort lacked composure and his shot was sent straight at Greg Hartley who was able to palm the ball away from danger. The Robins’s best chance of an equaliser arrived in the sixty-first minute when Louis Almond’s effort from fifteen yards out flashed over the bar.

Matlock’s huge work ethic paid off though and they managed to extend their lead after sixty-eight minutes when Alex Byrne’s effort from fifteen yards out took a slight deflection which wrong-footed Greg Hartley and slotted home into the back of the net. With ten minutes to go, Liam Hughes took advantage of a tired and stretched defence to bag his fifth goal of the season. Hughes managed to chest the ball down from twelve yards out following a delivery in from Alex Byrne and he had to plenty of time to volley the ball easily past Greg Hartley to make it 4-1 to the Gladiators.

The Robins came very close to securing a consolation goal in the 89th minute when Ben Hardcastle’s hard shot from ten yards out rattled off the post and away from danger.

As the final whistle blew, it was another job well done as Matlock Town continue to improve after the dismal opening day performance in the league. After four league games played, the Gladiators find themselves in the play-off zone in fifth position. Their attention will now return to cup action as they square off against Guiseley away from home in the FA Cup Third Qualifying Round on Tuesday evening.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Yates, Kendall, Egerton, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Harris (Lingouba 75), Hughes (c), Dolan (Johnson 54), Walker (Bond 87). Unused subs: Coppin, King.

Attendance: 532

Paul Phillips Quotes

“I thought we did really well. I thought we conceded a sloppy goal but I think that was the only meaningful shot they had all game. I think we defended really well, as we have done throughout the season so far. I thought we looked really compact, really well-drilled. We defended when we had to. I thought the substitutions worked. I think we deserved to win. We took our chances well. They made mistakes but we had to be there to capitalise on them. Callum Dolan caused our first two goals. You’ve got to be there to take your chances and we have done. I’m really pleased. It wasn’t the greatest spectacle and that’s hard to say after a 4-1 win but like last week, we ground out a win. We’ve asked the lads to do certain jobs and we’ve worked on things based on how Ashton play, we managed to stop them playing and we’ve rammed it home.”

“I still think our midfield can improve in possession. Mark Lees has been fantastic today as has Spencer Harris. Dec Walker was brilliant. We’ve got a lot of competition for places. We’ve still got Callum Chippendale to come back. Craig King is raring to go off the bench. People have got to keep on top of that standard because if they don’t, they’ll be out of the team and then they’ve got a fight on their hands to get the shirt back. I’ve asked them to work on things on training on Thursday night and we’ve done the right things in the right areas today. Liam Hughes was man of the match for me. I think he’s lead the line perfectly and scored a goal. I just think he’s a real handful and a real team player. I think there should be a special mention for Callum Dolan as well. His confidence has been a bit hit but he scored a goal last week and he’s created two today. He’s been really, really good going forward.”

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