Matlock Town picked up a point on Tuesday night in an entertaining 2-2 draw against Basford United at the Proctor Cars Stadium.

The Gladiators showed great character and resilience by coming from behind twice thanks to goals from Reece Kendall and Liam Hughes. The point picked up means that Matlock Town remain in ninth position in the table at this very early stage of the 2020/21 NPL Premier Division campaign.

This was a thoroughly entertaining game with both teams giving it absolutely everything on the pitch in a feisty and frantic encounter. Either team could have nicked all three points so a point shared was the deserved outcome for the game.

Matlock came very close to taking the lead in the ninth minute when the in-form Liam Hughes met an excellent left-wing delivery from Alex Byrne. His header surprisingly lacked conviction though and Kieran Preston was able to tip the ball over the bar. Hughes will have been disappointed with that effort as even though he didn’t get a firm connection to the ball, guiding it to either side of the keeper would surely have resulted in a goal with the effort being from such close range.

In the 18th minute, Alex Byrne’s twenty-five yard free kick diverted off the wall and went out for a corner. From this, the Gladiators almost scored directly from the corner kick with the in-swinging delivery almost fooling everyone and Preston was just able to backpedal in time to tip the ball over the bar to concede another corner. The Gladiators almost took the lead once again in the 23rd minute when Spencer Harris had time to slot home from twelve yards out but he completely miskicked the ball and it dribbled well wide over the by-line in disappointing fashion.

Basford’s first major chance fell in the 33rd minute when skipper Matt Thornhill struck a firm volley from ten yards out inside a crowded penalty area but Shaun Rowley did excellently to not just save the effort but to keep hold of the ball too.

The Gladiators fell behind in an unlucky manner in the 37th minute. A wayward attempt from the edge of the penalty area was stuck hard and ended up diverting off central defender Sam Egerton. It was one of those situations where the ball could have pin balled absolutely anywhere but unfortunately for Matlock, the ball ricocheted off Egerton straight into the back of the net. The Gladiators didn’t feel sorry for themselves though and they equalised soon afterwards right on the stroke of half-time. Alex Byrne (who was later voted man of the match) delivered an excellent corner and a magnificent leap from Reece Kendall ensured he met the ball with a firm header and there was no chance Kieran Preston could stop that from going in from such close range.

The second half was even livelier than the first. Matlock came agonisingly close to taking the lead just two minutes after the re-start when Reece Kendall’s hooked effort from twelve yards out following another corner was headed away off the goal line by Ryan Wilson. Just three minutes later, the ball found itself in the back of the net after a Liam Hughes header but the goal was ruled out by the referee after it was adjudged that the goalkeeper was fouled in a very crowded penalty area during the corner-kick delivery. It looked to be a very soft decision and it was a big let-off for the Lions.

In the 64th minute, Liam Hughes came close once again to giving Matlock the lead when his hooked effort from twelve yards out following another excellent Alex Byrne delivery just flashed wide of the post. It was Basford though that re-took the lead just two minutes later. Another cracking attacking set-piece in the game found the head of Matt Thornhill and the captain’s close-range effort beat Shaun Rowley and rippled the back of the net.

Once again though, the Gladiators kept their heads up and showed great resilience. Just five minutes after Basford went 2-1 up, Liam Hughes made it four goals in three games as he secured an equaliser. An excellent corner delivery cause chaos and panic in the penalty area and Hughes somehow managed to find room to poke in an effort which just managed to go over the line. The referee did not initially deem it as a goal but the assistant referee raised his flag instantly and instructed the referee that a valid equaliser had taken place.

It really could have gone either way in the last section of the game as both teams fought tooth and nail for the three points. The Gladiators should have claimed a late winner in the 82nd minute when Reece Kendall’s header from close range somehow managed to miss the target altogether. Basford applied huge amounts of pressure right at the death and were it not for Liam Hughes’s headed clearances and some superb tackling from Ryan Qualter, the Lions could have taken all three points right at the end of the game.

A big round of applause greeted all the players from the crowd of 444 as the final whistle went and the Matlock players stepped off the pitch to a great reception in appreciation of an excellent game and an excellent effort. Matlock go into Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Grantham Town in good spirits.

Matlock Town team: Rowley, Yates, Kendall, Egerton, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Harris, Hughes (c), Greenfield (Walker 88), Abadaki (Dolan 76). Unused subs: Hull, Coppin, Bond.

Attendance: 444

Paul Phillips Quotes

“I thought the performance was half-decent. I think we started off really well, similar to last Saturday. I thought we missed two or three really good chances early on that would have really put a stamp on the game. We conceded a goal that’s very unlike us. It was a scrappy goal. We’ve not conceded goals like that so far this season or in our pre-season games. I thought, all in all, when you look at the standards our lads are setting out there, they’re a bit disappointed and they needed picking up in the changing room and this was a team that have been in the play-off places for the last few years. It shows the steps that we are trying to make in the right direction.”

“The character of the team was great. We got asked questions in this game that we’ve not had before this season. I don’t think we’ve gone behind many times at all before tonight. I don’t have to question the character of our side. We’re lead by a captain out there – Liam Hughes, who I thought was outstanding tonight yet again. We’ve got enough characters and enough players that set high standards out there and I know that if we go behind, they’re not going to be in for an easy ride and we’re not going to get bowled over like this club did last season.”

“I thought the midfield was really good tonight. I thought Spencer Harris was getting back to where he wants to be. I thought Mark Lees managed the game well. I thought Danny Greenfield was really good. He didn’t get the end product that he probably wanted but he worked and he drove at people and when we get Callum Chippendale back, those two will be able to interchange and give us options in that same area and they’ll be a good partnership in midfield. There’s a lot of competition for places in that midfield – it’s a case of people have got to put their names on the shirt with people still to come back from injuries and coming back up to full fitness.”

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