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LATE HEARTBREAK FOR THE GLADIATORS


A dramatic 89th minute goal from Aaron Smith subjected Matlock Town to an agonising league defeat on Saturday afternoon.

It was yet another match this season where the Gladiators failed to convert the chances they created and this latest setback means that Matlock Town are now four home games without a win and have won only one match from their last eight games overall.

Quite simply, Matlock's form must pick up immediately otherwise their hopes of winning the NPL Premier Division league title and securing automatic promotion will very quickly evaporate.

The Gladiators almost got off to the best possible start in a first half which was a pretty quiet and scrappy affair overall. Matlock's skipper Liam Hughes just managed to reach the ball ahead of Atherton's goalkeeper just outside the edge of his area after only two minutes played. Hughes had to turn his body round in order to get a shot in but goalkeeper Danny Taberner did well to block Hughes's effort with his chest and concede a corner.

While it was certainly not the most eventful of halves, Matlock will have been disappointed to have gone into the interval with the score at 0-0 as the Colls had offered absolutely nothing up front and struggled to hold onto the ball at any point.

In the 17th minute, Hughes saw his curling 20 yard effort flash wide of the post while in the 25th minute, Ryan Qualter's header to meet an Al Byrne corner sailed harmlessly over the bar.

Matlock's best opportunity of the first half probably fell in the 37th minute when Ross Hannah gave himself some time and space to fire in a shot from just outside the edge of the area. However, his rapid effort was comfortably off target and the striker was visibly annoyed with his attempt. While Matlock were certainly the better team in the first half, there was, once again, a worrying lack of bite up front.

The opening 20 minutes of the second half was Matlock's best spell of the game and this was certainly the period where the Gladiators should have taken the game away from Atherton and secured a comfortable three points.






Just three minutes after the restart, Reece Kendall delivered an excellent cross from the by-line which found Liam Hughes. Hughes managed to hook an effort on target but Taberner was equal to it and produced an excellent outstretched save to tip the ball around the post.

Jesurun Uchegbulam, who came on for the start of the second half in place of Adam Yates, gave himself a really good chance following an excellent surging run from right wing into the middle of the pitch. However, his shot from just outside the edge of the penalty area was straight at Taberner.

The pressure began to increase. Just two minutes later, Ioan Evans was unlucky to see his close range strike blocked by a Colls defender just in front of the goal line. From the resulting corner, yet another Hughes effort was saved well by Taberner.

Al Byrne then launched his first attempt on goal in the 64th minute from just over 20 yards out but the effort was straight at Taberner who saved easily. Matlock would come to rue all these missed opportunities.

With Matlock piling on more attacking options, Atherton finally started to show some threat of their own in the final third in the last 25 minutes of the game.

In the 66th minute, the Colls produced their first chance of any kind. Striker Zack Clarke beat Ryan Qualter for pace following a long ball pumped forward and found himself with only goalkeeper Joe Young to beat. Young did excellently though in closing down the striker's angles and blocked the ball before then diving and holding onto it to prevent a rebound from happening.

Five minutes later, a shot fired in from the Colls from just inside the penalty area stung the palms of Joe Young and the ball ended up landing on the roof of the net.

As the final few minutes ticked by, it looked certain that another frustrating home draw was going to be notched up. However, the situation would prove to become far worse for Matlock in the 89th minute. With all their attacking options now out on the pitch, The Gladiators had lost their shape and were becoming far more exposed and vulnerable at the back. With the 90th minute in sight, Atherton suddenly went on a counter and had Matlock's defence outnumbered. A low cross in from the left wing should have been cleared away by Mark Lees but the defensive midfielder could not get the ball out from underneath him. This allowed Aaron Smith to bundle the ball past Joe Young and into the back of the net from only a few yards out to give Atherton a very late lead. It was a horrible goal to concede and the Gladiators supporters were heartbroken at the timing of the goal.

Remarkably, Matlock almost found an equaliser in injury time. Ioan Evans almost secured a last gasp point for the Gladiators but his close range header from a corner was expertly tipped over the bar by Taberner, who was easily Atherton's best player of the game.

The final whistle blew and marked another step in Matlock's alarming downturn in form. Manager Paul Phillips clearly has much to ponder over. The away victory over Gainsborough Trinity hasn't signalled a change in fortune as expected and the Gladiators have now only scored one goal in their last four home games.

With eight games to go, Matlock Town are six points behind league leaders Buxton but do have a game in hand on the Bucks. While the title race is certainly not over yet, Matlock have simply got to rediscover quickly that swagger they showed in abundance over the first half of the season if they are to clinch the league title.

Matlock Town team: Young, Yates (Uchegbulam 46), Kendall, Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Hawkridge (Marshall 59), Hughes (c), Hannah (Webb-Foster 74), Chippendale. Unused subs: Daly, Sharman.

Attendance: 673

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