Matlock Town suffered a 1-0 defeat at home to South Shields in Saturday's crucial top of the league encounter in the Northern Premier League Premier Division. A goal shortly after the hour mark from Darius Osei gave the Mariners all three points in a lively game which was watched by a superb crowd of over 1,300 at the Proctor Cars Stadium.

While it was Matlock's first defeat at home in the league this season, the Gladiators are still top of the table on goal difference ahead of the Mariners with over a third of the league campaign now played.

Graham Fenton's men almost got off to the perfect start. Alex Kempster saw his close range effort cannon off the woodwork after just three minutes of the game following a lovely threaded ball from the right wing. That big opportunity certainly set the tone for what was to come in the first half. Despite playing away from home, the Mariners dominated possession and Matlock were having to work extremely hard to repeatedly chase the ball down. There was no question that South Shields are the best team that Matlock have faced so far this season.

In the 14th minute, the impressive Darius Osei surged his way down the right wing and managed to strike the ball firmly once inside the penalty area but his effort was well saved by Shaun Rowley in Matlock's goal. The Mariners had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock though in the 21st minute of the match. In a similar build-up to Alex Kempster's missed chance in the third minute, another ball in from the right wing found Kmepster, but this time the midfielder had much more space to strike the ball home. In a huge let-off for the Gladiators though, Kempster somehow blazed his effort over the bar.

Matlock had their first real chance of the game after 26 minutes. Jamie Cooke found time and space to run down the middle and his thunderous effort from 20 yards out sailed just over the bar. Despite finally getting a chance at goal, the Mariners continued to boss the game in the first 45 minutes and really should have gone into the interval with the lead.

The Gladiators had Shaun Rowley to thank for keeping the boys in blue in the game in the 38th minute when he produced two outstanding saves to deny the opposition. Firstly, following a mistake from Alex Byrne, Rowley did extremely well to save Conor Tee's bullet header from 12 yards out and tip the ball around the post. From the following corner. Rowley then dived to his right to expertly palm away Callum Ross's headed effort from ten yards out.

Matlock started the second half better than the first but there was still no question that the Mariners were the stronger team. Ryan Qualter, Ioan Evans and Adam Yates were once again fantastic at the back as they had to deal with a serious amount of pressure on them for the first 65 minutes of the match.

The Mariners ended up breaking the deadlock in the 62nd minute of the game. Kempster's headed effort from a corner found Darius Osei alone from around six yards out and he was easily able to head the ball into the net as he was gifted too much space during the course of the set piece.

Intriguingly, that was South Shields's final effort of the game. Despite the Gladiators looking increasingly leggy, Matlock's best period of the game easily came in the last 25 minutes once they were a goal down. It proved to be a huge testament to the work rate of Paul Phillips's team and their never-say-die attitude. It also showed that the Gladiators really can go toe to toe with any team in this division and that, despite losing the game, there were plenty of very encouraging elements to the last 25 minutes of Matlock's approach. The Gladiators were not the best team over the course of the full 90 minutes but they certainly had South Shields on the ropes in the final 15 minutes of the game.

A big part of Matlock's spirited fightback was the return of Jerome Greaves who came on for the last 15 minutes following his long-term absence due to injury. The loan striker's strong hold-up play and his ability to draw other Matlock players into an attack certainly gave the Mariners defence plenty to ponder as the minutes ticked down; and on another day, Matlock could well have picked up a point.

With just seven minutes of the match remaining, Alex Byrne finally had some time and space to deliver an excellent cross from the right wing. His delivery was met by the head of skipper Liam Hughes and his effort from 12 yards out rolled just wide of the post in agonising fashion. But there was more drama to come as the tension really ramped up!

With five minutes left, a corner for Matlock resulted in an impromptu game of pinball and panicked the Mariners back line. Jerome Greaves and Liam King both saw close range efforts blocked instantly but then the ball found its way to Ross Hannah from only eight yards out. His effort was blatantly handled by a South Shields defender right on the goal line. All the Matlock players, staff and fans screamed for a penalty but astonishingly neither the referee nor his assistant were convinced and left everyone at the Proctor Cars Stadium stunned and baffled by the decision to not award a late penalty.

Deep into injury time, another goalmouth scramble followed a Matlock corner. Instead of pinballing around, the ball literally ground to a halt near to the penalty spot with a whole host of players from both sides desperately trying to win the ball. The scenes looked more like a scrum in a game of rugby. Eventually, the Mariners defence somehow managed to clear the ball away and then the referee blew the whistle for full time.

Despite not picking up any points, Matlock Town must not be disheartened by this defeat and must keep their heads up for next Saturday's tricky league match away at Lancaster City.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Yates, Uchegbulam (Hannah 71), Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Wiles (Greaves 76), Hughes (c), Cooke (L King 64), Chippendale. Unused subs: Sargent, C King.

Attendance: 1,364

Paul Phillips Quotes

"I'm proud of the lads. I berate them enough! South Shields are a very good team, they're the best team we've played. They should be, because they're a full-time team. They've got a lot of good, experienced players. For me, we stayed in the game, we knew how the game would pattern out. They had a lot of possession in the first half. They had a couple of chances - one of those was because we switched off at the back post. But apart from that, we stayed in touch. I'm very proud of my team, we gave a good account of ourselves. We probably should have taken something at the end of the game. Unfortunately, matters were out of our hands again."

"I was really proud of how we ended the game. I was even more impressed that South Shields brought a second keeper on...but I am proud of my team. We had Reece Kendall missing but Ross Hannah came back and I think we gave a good account of ourselves. Let's not beat around the bush here - this football club has not been in this position for a long, long time. We're now level on points with South Shields after 16 games played and yet there's some people leaving disgruntled because we've just lost. We've lost a battle today but we've still got a chance of winning the war, in my opinion. I'll always come out here and give my honest opinion. I thought we deserved something at the end of today - but we didn't get it, so we have to pick ourselves up and we have to go again and the lads will do that."

"We knew we were going to have to soak up a lot of pressure from the off. The game plan was to suck them in and hit them on the break. Certain elements of that game plan didn't work because some players weren't doing what we wanted early doors but the longer the game was at 0-0, the better we seemed to play with that plan. I can't come here and fault any of the players though. As a group, we gave everything that we got. So we're now level with South Shields on points, other teams now have a few games to make up; let's just see where we go from here. We've played a lot of decent teams at home and we've played teams like Warrington and Nantwich away. We've got a lot of them hard ones out of the way in a space of time where we've not had a big squad. It was a fantastic crowd today. I think we showed them what it means to play for this football club."

"I thought all three subs did really well today. Liam King did well, Ross Hannah worked the line right. He gets himself a goal if Peter Bonetti hadn't saved it on the line. But I think all three subs did really, really well. Against Grantham, none of the subs really offered anything, but today, all three did really well. For me, we've got to embrace what we're doing here. I know most people do but I heard some disgruntled people behind me. We know we're not perfect, we're still a work in motion, we still need to get certain things right...we've lost the battle today, but let's make sure that we roll our sleeves up and be in the mix for when it's time for the trophies to be handed out."

"I think everyone is relieved to have a week's break. We've been playing two to three games a week for a long time and it has depleted us. We've never really had much opportunity to keep fielding a consistent team. That's not making excuses, I think that's been the case across the board for every team."

"Let's touch on that Grantham game just briefly. A few people said you made hard work of that one - well they've just gone to FC United and beat them 1-0, so how much hard work did we really make of it? Listen, I'm sick of negativity at clubs. I've got to be honest with you. Let's be positive, we're still top of the league. Let's be positive in what we're doing. Get behind them. There's a lot of people that want to be positive but there's a certain element that take great delight out of being negative when we're in a good place. The lads have given everything - let's be positive. Let's all sing from the same hymn sheet: from the chairman, to me, to the spectators, to the ball boys. Let's all be positive and the club will be in a better place."

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