After falling behind, Matlock progressed to the last eight of the Doodson Sports League Cup far more easily than the slender victory margin suggests.
Tuesday night’s tie at the South Kesteven Stadium saw both sides without key players with the Gladiators lacking the injured James Lukic, Oscar Radford and Lewis McMahon, plus the cup tied Lee Featherstone and the suspended Micky Harcourt. The Gladiators bench consisted of Ryan Hindley plus youngsters James Travis, Matt Wilkinson and Declan Jenkins.
But after a shaky start, Matlock took control and should really have put the tie to bed in the second half.
Perhaps the visitors’ early uncertainty was understandable as only Adam Yates in their back four has been a regular starter so far this season.
Gio Carchedi fired over the bar in the opening minute before a scramble in the Matlock six yard box, when Grantham had a dangerous spell in which they quickly forced three successive corners, saw a Deon Meikle header blocked on the line.
The Gingerbreads’ brighter start bore fruit in the 15th minute as Alex Troke threaded a killer pass through the heart of the Matlock defence to leave KALLUM SMITH on a one on one duel with Jon Kennedy. The chance was taken with gratefulness and aplomb, as a low finish easily beat the Matlock custodian.
After Joe Leesley almost immediately shot too high, Matlock lost Will Dennis with a groin injury, so on came Travis to slot in excellently at left back with Gareth Davies moving to the right flank.
An Anthony Griffiths-Junior free kick was hoisted harmlessly over the bar before good solid defending from Matlock led to Nathan Watson’s shot being blocked.
But Matlock were beginning to settle and another free kick led to their 35th minute equaliser. James Ashmore’s grasscutter was pushed away by Jake Turner, but from the resulting corner, referee Steve Meredith spotted a push by Rhys Lewis,on Massiah McDonald, who Lewis had fouled for the free kick and received the contest’s solitary booking. Ice cool Bradley Grayson sent Turner the wrong way from the spot.
Emeka Nwadike flicked a header wide but the equaliser had done Matlock the world of good. Suddenly they looked a real threat offensively and more composed defensively with Travis showing composure beyond his tender years.
A McDonald run was followed by a cross a shade too high for Grayson but then it was roles reversed as Grayson fed McDonald to turn sweetly and guide a low shot just inside Turner’s right hand post for the 43rd minute winner.
It was difficult to comprehend the scoring ending then, it certainly should not have done! Matlock missed a host of opportunities, the first being barely twenty seconds after the restart as McDonald clipped a shot over both the exposed Turner and the bar. Then in the next minute Griffiths-Junior, later to limp off injured, rounded Turner but his cross was disappointingly inaccurate.
Livewire Grayson turned Liam Bray inside out only for his cross to flash across the six yard area and narrowly beat the far post. Turner dived full length to beat away an Ashmore free kick before easy chances were squandered by firstly Grayson, with a weak side foot finish at Turner after a McDonald cross and Leesley’s shot from four yards being blocked at pointblank range by the goalkeeper.
Realising they may have an escape route, the Gingerbreads suddenly woke up. Watson stood on the ball when well placed and Kennedy tipped over a good strike from Smith.
But Grayson again should have netted as on 71 minutes he headed against the post after a forceful break and cross by Davies. Travis then superbly intercepted a crossfield pass aimed for Watson that had it got through, might well have caused Matlock problems, but the visitors saw out the rest of the match, including six added minutes, in relative comfort to earn a home tie with Farsley on March 19 and maintain their unbeaten record in four games at the South Kesteven Stadium.
GRANTHAM TOWN: 1 Jake Turner 2 Ryan Leggett (15 William Rawdon 59) 3 Liam Bray 4 Deon Meikle 5 Rhys Lewis 6 Emeka Nwadike (14 Jacob Pease) Nathan Watson 8 Alex Troke 9 Gio Carchedi (12 William Drury 72) 10 T J Nightingale 11 Kallum Smith. Subs-all used.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Will Dennis (14 James Travis) 3 Gareth Davies 4 Martin Foster 5 Adam Yates 6 Laurence Gaughan 7 Bradley Grayson 8 James Ashmore 9 Massiah McDonald 10 Anthony Griffiths-Junior (12 Ryan Hindley 59) 11 Joe Leesley Other subs: 15 Matt Wilkinson 16 Declan Jenkins 17 Nick Buxton
REFEREE: Mr S J Meredith-Mansfield. ATTENDANCE: 81 STAR GLADIATOR: James Travis.