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Second half goals from Reece Kendall and substitute Lirak Hasani gave Matlock Town a 2-1 victory at home over Hyde United on Saturday afternoon in the NPL Premier Division.

The win meant that the Gladiators moved up a place into tenth position in the league after two wins from their first three league matches of the 2021/22 campaign.

The Derbyshire outfit were certainly the better team in the first half but just seemed to lack punch in the final third and were unable to find a breakthrough.

Matlock’s first real chance of the game arrived in the seventh minute when wing-back Reece Kendall (who had an excellent 90 minutes) blazed the ball narrowly over the bar following a fumble by the Tigers goalkeeper after an Alex Byrne corner.

A spate of opportunities occurred for Matlock from the 25th minute until the half hour mark.

Firstly, Kendall’s header inside the penalty area in the 25th minute was deflected by a Tigers defender just wide of the post. Just two minutes later, Jesurun Uchegbulam came agonisingly close to giving Matlock the lead when his rapid effort from just inside the penalty area was tipped around the post superbly by the Hyde goalkeeper. Then in the 29th minute, Alex Wiles’s long range effort from central midfield was diverted just over the cross bar.

Hyde survived the flurry of chances though and the first half petered out and ended goalless when the referee’s whistle blew.

Matlock took the second half by the scruff of the neck in order to claim their second victory in a row. Just five minutes into the second half, Uchegbulam impressed the crowd once again as he side-stepped his way past two opponents only for his effort from 12 yards to be well blocked by the oncoming goalkeeper.

The key to breaking Hyde’s resolute defence though came from an inspired substitution from Matlock’s gaffer Paul Phillips. In the 54th minute, loan signing Lirak Hasani came on for Jonathan Wafula. This allowed Uchegbulam greater freedom out on the wing and Matlock were instantly able to attack with more fluidity and frequency. Hyde simply had no answer to the gear that Matlock stepped up to for the remainder of the game.

The deadlock was broken on the hour mark when Reece Kendall netted his first goal of the season. Alex Byrne delivered an excellent cross from the right wing and Kendall won the battle with Hyde’s goalkeeper to head home from 12 yards out into an empty net.

Matlock came extremely close to doubling their advantage five minutes later when a Hyde defender came perilously close to diverting the ball into his own net. His attempt to clear the ball inside a packed penalty area following a corner saw the ball ricochet off the cross bar before it was eventually cleared away from danger. Just a minute later, Byrne found himself in a great position from 20 yards out but his shot curled wide of the post when he probably should have done better.

Matlock’s deserved second goal arrived ten minutes before the end of the match when Lirak Hasani scored his first ever goal for the club since joining on loan from Doncaster Rovers. The Hyde goalkeeper should have done better, but Hasani’s glancing header from 12 yards out following a Ross Hannah cross was accurate enough to ripple the back of the net.

Hyde United managed a consolation goal in injury time when former Buxton and Grantham Town striker Liam Hardy scuffed the ball home from close range just out of Shaun Rowley’s reach.

The Gladiators held on though for their second victory in row and now face Nantwich Town away from home on August 24 in the league.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Sharman, Kendall, Egerton, Qualter, Lees, Byrne (c), Wiles (Walker 76), Hannah, Uchegbulam (Hall 89), Wafula (Hasani 54). Unused subs: Coppin, King.

Attendance: 446

Paul Phillips Quotes

“It was a scrappy win. I felt like we played to their tempo in the first half and we weren’t asserting ourselves enough into the game. I thought our first goal was a great goal – that’s stuff we’ve been working on. We had a bit of a makeshift midfield today because of some enforced absences and I thought we huffed and puffed a bit in that first half. But a win’s a win – as they say, sign of a good team when you’re finding the win when you’re not playing that well. We did enough to win and it’s a good three points.”

“I thought Wafula played okay, he just lacked a bit of energy. He’s not played all that much really since joining us. So I brought on Hasani ten minutes into the second half. I think he realised when I took him off in the Ashton defeat that this league is just a bit different to what he’s used to in academy and U23’s football. But he came on today with great energy, a lot of quality on the ball and he got a goal. I thought today was a perfect foil for him. He came on and did exactly what I was hoping for.”

“Nantwich Town have got a decent team. It will be down to us to impose ourselves on the game. We’ll prepare right. They’ll be wanting to fight back after they lost to Whitby Town. It’ll be a tricky game at their ground, it always is. They play football the right way and it’ll be a good test for us.”

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