Matlock’s FA Cup run ended after a gallant showing at National League North and renowned cup fighters Altrincham.
Having gone in front through Niall McManus; first goal of the season, it was all square at the interval as Damien Reeves equalised five minutes later but the game was settled in the opening seven minutes of the second half when a Sean Miller brace gave Alty a degree of breathing space.
Matlock then missed chances to earn a replay, notably failing from the penalty spot for the fourth time this season and Alty were reduced to ten men late on when substitute Tom Hannigan clattered unnecessarily into Michael Williams.
So for Matlock it was a tale of what if. What if they had held out until half time, what if had they not lost concentration or focus for that brief spell just after half time? What if, had they taken more of their chances including the penalty which would have set up a tense finale?
But Matlock can still emerge from the disappointment of defeat with their heads held high, as can their 150 fans who made the trip and gave them tremendous vocal support. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be.
Liam Marsden and Jake Green came in for Nico de Girolamo and Alex Pursehouse who were named as substitutes, while in attack, Curtis Morrison retained his place with Marcus Dinanga named as a substitute.
Morrison got behind the hosts’ defence to have a sniff of the goal in the eighth minute, but his shot lacked pace and home custodian Tim Deasy had a comfortable save as Matlock began brightly playing towards their supporters.
Ted Cribley tied Sam Patterson in knots in the 18th minute before chipping narrowly beyond the far post as Matlock continued to look the more threatening and accomplished side.
Two minutes later referee Marsden waved away his claims for a penalty after he went down in the box under Patterson’s challenge. Then in the very next breath, an excellent move involving Cribley and McManus saw the ball break to Marc Newsham whose shot was superbly saved by the outstretched leg of Deasy who had a big shout in being Alty’s man of the match.
Deasy was in the thick of the action again on 26 minutes, clawing away a curling Williams shot before McManus saw a shot blocked and Deasy denied Morrison.
Altrincham’s star striker Reeves broke the monotony of Matlock chances with an audacious lob from 40 yards which cleared the bar before being inches away from James Lawrie’s low cross but it was Matlock who deservedly went in front after 32 minutes when Cribley’s pass found McManus who came inside to stroke a left footed shot from 15 yards beyond Deasy’s despairing dive.
But Matlock’s joy lasted only five minutes thanks to a finish and skill of the highest quality from Reeves who turned smartly and fired a marvellous low shot past Barnes from the edge of the box in one movement. A Greg Wilkinson shot found the sidenetting soon afterwards but on the balance of the opening half, Matlock should have been ahead.
But then came the match defining minutes that made Matlock’s task a steep one.
Just two minutes after the restart Matlock found themselves outnumbered as Lawrie broke down the right and picked out Miller who had the easiest of chances to shoot into a vacant net and put the Robins in front.
Dwayne Wiley’s header was knocked off the line for a fruitless corner as Matlock tried to hit back, but that would be Wiley’s last contribution as he succumbed to a first half injury and was replaced by de Girolamo.
Then within a further minute, Alty opened up a two goal lead, Miller having too much time and space centrally as he shot comfortably past Barnes. Matlock had conceded two poor goals.
Matlock to their credit though would not give up. Deasy saved from Cribley and a strong Morrison shot was deflected wide before Dinanga came on for Morrison with still a third of the contest remaining.
Altrincham’s former Alfreton midfielder Jake Moult was booked for a foul on Williams who followed him into the referee’s notebook soon afterwards, somewhat harshly for holding Moult.
After a Cribley strike was blocked, Dinanga missed a great chance to cut the deficit on 73 minutes, shooting high and wide with only Deasy to beat following more fine approach play by McManus on the right.
Dinanga then fired into the sidenetting as the chances were still there for Matlock and on 82 minutes came probably their best chance when Moult was lucky to stay on the field as he sent Dinanga sprawling in the box.
Newsham’s penalty though was more akin to rugby league as it cleared the bar by some distance.
Two minutes later came Hannigan’s dreadful tackle and deserved red card that left Williams limping with a dead leg to be replaced by Nicky Travis.
But the missed spot kick signalled the end of Matlock’s recovery hopes and their FA Cup run which has been a memorable one.
They leave the competition with their heads held high, but perhaps with a tinge of regret. Had they made the most of their chances and not had a mad seven or so minutes straight after half time, it would probably have been the Gladiators in Monday night’s First Round Proper draw.
ALTRINCHAM: 1 Tim Deasy 2 Sam Patterson 3 Josh Doherty 4 John Cyrus (16 Tom Hannigan 60) 5 Alan Goodall 6 Simon Robinson 7 James Lawrie 8 Jake Moult 9 Greg Wilkinson 10 Damien Reeves (14 Phil Marsh 64) 11 Sean Miller (13 Craig Hobson 85). Other subs: 12 Andy Dawber 15 Sam Heathcote 17 Harry Cain 18 Charlie Doyle.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Phil Barnes 2 Liam Marsden 3 Jake Green 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley (14 Nico de Girolamo 51) 7 Niall McManus 8 Michael Williams (17 Nicky Travis 84) 9 Marc Newsham 10 Curtis Morrison (12 Marcus Dinanga 59) 11 Ted Cribley. Other subs: 15 Jamie Yates 16 Alex Pursehouse 18 Arron Jameson.
REFEREE: P Marsden (Preston).
BEST GLADIATOR: Niall McManus.