Matlock’s expected win at bottom club Skelmersdale saw them advance into a play-off spot of third - but the 2-0 win on Tuesday night did not come without a scare and frustration along the way.
After an untidy first period and then escaping a tremendous scare in the opening two minutes of the second half, Matlock then struck twice within nine minutes through Marcus Dinanga and Paul Ennis to have a two goal lead by the hour mark.
The Gladiators were in the comfort zone but even then a plucky Skem outfit failed to throw in the towel on a spongy Stormy Corner pitch and in a swirling strong wind.
Matlock freshened up their starting line up with Curtis Morrison replacing the injured Ted Cribley and Nico Degirolamo and Andy Wright coming in for Jake Green and Michael Williams respectiively.
Cleveland Taylor, free of suspension, joined Green and Williams on the bench with more regular occupants Mark Newsham and Jamie Yates.
With the elements against them, the Gladiators were soon on the back foot, the tricky winger Max Allan showing a clean pair of heels to Liam Marsden before a teasing low cross was scrambled as far as the supporting Dean Shacklock who fired a fourth-minute strike over the bar.
That was the early warning sign that Matlock would not have things all their own way, but there was little else in terms of goalmouth action for the rest of what looked to be a below par showing in the opening forty five minutes from the Gladiators viewpoint.
Degirolamo met a Paul Ennis free kick in the ninth-minute to stab a volley wide, Degirolamo later heading a cross from the right intelligently back along the six yard box before Skem hooked the ball clear.
A quick turn from Jack Watts saw the midfielder fire yards wide of Jon Kennedy’s goal in a half devoid of goalmouth activity and excitement.
Matlock had struggled to impose themselves due partly to the young hosts’ enthusiasm and endeavour, being keen to avoid a repeat of the 5-0 hammering inflicted on them at Hednesford three days earlier, but also on reflection the wind was more troublesome than it first appeared, so being level at 0-0 was perhaps better than things initially seemed.
Then 90 seconds after the resumption the Gladiators had a tremendous let off when from a free-kick deep in their own half, Skem defender Jason Jeffries found Allan on the left with an inch-perfect 70-yard delivery.
Allan crossed early and the sliding Nathan Randell connected first time only to miss Jon Kennedy’s right-hand post by inches, with the goalkeeper beaten.
Whether that acted as a kick-up the backside for Matlock is open to debate but the visitors sprung into life like an angry animal.
Morrison, Town’s best hope of a breakthrough in the opening half, went down under Callum Grogan’s challenge, referee Danny Hitchell waving away appeals for a penalty.
Ennis saw a shot deflected wide before on 51 minutes, top scorer Dinanga ran on to a powerful header forward from Dwayne Wiley to outstrip the home defence and calmly place his shot under goalkeeper Chris Cheetham.
Cheetham then spilled a low shot from Wright but redeemed himself with a fine block from Morrison off the rebound, the offside flag having come to his rescue in any case.
Niall McManus ran on to a ball from Joe Doyle-Charles to roll his shot agonisingly wide before Cheetham managed to keep out a Dinanga effort with the rear of his legs, Allan booting away Wiley’s header from the corner by the post.
But the pressure was rewarded when McManus robbed Jack White to find Ennis who shot comfortably low past Cheetham and a more emphatic win looked on the cards.
Skelmersdale rallied, substitute Stuart Callaway shooting wide with his first touch, his side still being prepared to take the game to their highly placed visitors.
But Ennis might have netted again as he met a penetrating cross to the far post by Jamie Yates, his shot being deflected wide.
Matlock were made to battle for their victory,which now sees them unbeaten in five matches, four of them being won.
It was a case of at times, doing the ugly things correctly and then finding the extra touch of quality when needed. They passed this test on both counts.
SKELMERSDALE UNITED: 1 Chris Cheetham 2 Phil Mooney 3 Jack White (15 Reece McNally 79) 4 Jason Jeffries 5 Callum Grogan 6 Steve Irwin 7 Jack Watts (14 Remirez Howarth 66) 8 Dean Shacklock (17 Stuart Calloway 72) 9 Nathan Randell 10 Steven Gillespie 11 Max Allan. Subs not used: 12 Michael Vaughan-Muscat 16 Seb Bradshaw.
MATLOCK TOWN: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Liam Marsden 3 Nico Degirolamo 4 Joe Doyle-Charles 5 Adam Yates 6 Dwayne Wiley 7 Niall McManus (17 Jamie Yates 79) 8 Andy Wright (15 Cleveland Taylor 66) 9 Paul Ennis 10 Marcus Dinanga 11 Curtis Morrison (16 Marc Newsham 84). Subs not used: 12 Michael Williams 14 Jake Green.
REFEREE: Danny Hitchell (Wirral).
BEST GLADIATOR: Nico Degirolamo.