It’s still very early days of course but Matlock Town claimed another victory on Tuesday night away at Grantham Town to maintain their excellent start to the 2020/21 campaign.
Matlock defeated the Gingerbreads 1-0 at the South Kesteven Sports Stadium thanks to a first half penalty from Declan Walker. The three points picked up from this game means that the Gladiators are now second in the NPL Premier Division table after picking up four wins from their first six league games.
Matlock were made to work extremely hard though for the three points, particularly in the second half where the Gingerbreads threatened to claim an equaliser. The Gladiators took a little while to get a proper footing on the game and Grantham, who have suffered a poor start to this season’s campaign, were in the mood to get their first league win of the season on the board.
In the 11th minute, the Gingerbreads did have the ball in the net but to the relief of the away fan base, the assistant referee came to Matlock’s rescue and raised his flag immediately for offside. Three minutes later, a warning shot was fired from twenty yards out from the Grantham midfield but the ball sailed over the bar.
It was the Gladiators though that broke the deadlock though in the 24th minute via the penalty spot. Following a blatant trip inside the area, Irishman Declan Walker placed the ball on the spot and smashed it home into the back of the net sending the Grantham goalkeeper the wrong way in the process for his second goal of the season.
The opening goal really seemed to ease the Gladiators into the game and Matlock came extremely close to doubling their lead just a minute later when Joe Bunney (making his first start for the club in the absence of the suspended Liam Hughes) struck the ball from twenty yards which agonisingly flashed inches wide of the post.
In the 38th minute, Shaun Rowley made an outstanding save to tip the ball around the post following a close-range header. Matlock’s young keeper is really impressing people with his start to this season and his performance in this game has only served to reinforce his reputation as a huge prospect for the future. With just two minutes to go before the interval, midfielder Callum Chippendale came close to doubling Matlock’s lead when his scrambled attempt from ten yards out was tipped to safety by the Grantham keeper. Straight afterwards on the counter, Rowley was forced into another good stop when he came out to deny the Gingerbreads attack in a one-on-one opportunity.
The second half surprisingly saw Matlock retreat further and further back as Grantham pushed very hard for an equaliser. It was yet another test though that the Matlock defence passed with flying colours. As always, Ryan Qualter made several important blocks and tackles while 18 year old Jake Hull (also making his first start for the club) was impressive in how calm and assured he was at the back while not losing a single aerial battle all night.
In the 65th minute, the Gingerbreads made a huge appeal to the referee for a penalty to be given for handball but the referee firmly rejected their plea. Grantham had their golden opportunity to equalise with twenty minutes of the game remaining. In the 70th minute, striker Ashley Worsfold really should have done a lot better when his close-range header didn’t even hit the target. With the Matlock defence finally stretched and breached, Worsfold simply needed to show some composure and steer the ball to either side of Rowley. Worsfold panicked and rushed his decision though and the ball ricocheted off his head and glided over the bar from only eight yards out. It was a big let-off for the Gladiators.
The Gingerbreads almost snatched a dramatic last-gasp equaliser in injury time following a chaotic goalmouth scramble. Fortunately for the Gladiators, once there was enough space for an attempt to finally be mustered, the shot was weakly aimed straight at Rowley.
It was to some relief when the final whistle blew. It was certainly a more backs-to –the-wall game than Matlock would have anticipated but ultimately it was job done despite a leggy performance from many of the players as the game progressed. Despite not being a commanding display, this is now two away league victories on the trot without conceding a goal and only Warrington Town are above the Gladiators at this early stage of the season.
Matlock Town team: Rowley, Hull, Kendall, Egerton, Qualter, Lees, Byrne (c), Harris (Lingouba 67), Bunney (Whitehead 87), Chippendale (Abadaki 67), Walker. Unused subs: Dolan, Phillips.
Paul Phillips Quotes
“Even though Grantham are struggling, they’re certainly not a bad team. They asked us a lot of questions and, to be fair, I think our lads came up with all the answers…I thought we managed the game well. They put a lot of pressure on us but we stood up to it. We were probably a bit leggy tonight. We had three players out suspended and Craig King wasn’t available due to a stomach bug. We struggled a little bit up front without having the presence of Liam Hughes.”
“I thought Joe Bunney did well though. He won us the penalty. I think he could have ended up winning us another penalty as well being completely honest. We do still have to adapt our game plan a little bit when we’re without Hughes and Callum Dolan. I thought when Osebi Abadaki came on, we opened up a little bit more but, fair play to our lads, it wasn’t a classic, but I’d rather see us take the three points with how we played tonight. We got the goal, we defended resolutely like we normally do and we took the three points.”