STAFFORD RANGERS 1, MATLOCK TOWN 1
Midfield dynamo Liam King’s 61st minute header cancelled out Neville Thompson’s opener for Rangers on 31 to earn Matlock a deserved point at Marston Road on Tuesday night.
The Gladiators bounced back from their 4-0 loss at Chester last weekend with a determined and spirited performance. On another day, they might even have won.
But the point came at a cost with Kris Witcombe, Gareth Davies, King and Ian Holmes all picking up worrying injuries ahead of this weekend’s home FA Trophy clash with Blue Square North leaders Hyde.
Matlock started brightly although it needed a superbly timed tackle by skipper James Lukic on Thompson to avert danger in the opening couple of minutes. Town responded and after Nightingale, who again drew applause from the visiting fans for his tremendous workrate, was fouled some 25 yards out, Rangers goalkeeper Danny Read dived smartly to his left to fingertip a Chris Bettney free kick to safety.
Stafford were a physical spoiling outfit whose main objective seemed to be to stop Matlock from playing. They put in some hefty challenges which saw bookings for skipper karl Espley, Glyn Blackhurst and Peter Heler before the break and Dan Skelton in the second half.
King shot at Read after Algar’s dazzling run and pass from the left before Holmes kicked the ground as he challenged Read to a through pass. He needed treatment and laboured through the rest of the half before being replaced by Lee Morris at the interval.
Gareth Davies was a godsend for Town in the physical battle and he might have claimed an assist as he shrugged off a couple of challenges to set up fellow midfielder King who shot a couple of feet wide from the edge of the box.
So it was against the run of play when Stafford drew first blood in their next attack as Thompson drove low and hard and watched his firmly struck effort beat the diving Kennedy and settle in the bottom corner.
Matlock were out early for the second half, keen to find an equaliser at the very least. Nightingale was closed down swiftly after meeting Algar’s cross. His intention was to find the supporting Bowler.
Sometimes they were too eager, being caught offside too frequently, but the 61st minute brought them joy when Morris knocked down Algar’s cross to Bettney who chipped sweetly over Read and King towered above the Rangers defence, hanging in the air to plant a delightful header into the top left hand corner.
With Morris leading the line with strength and purpose, Matlock now looked favourites to go on and win.
Bettney fired just a foot too high, King’s penetrating run through the heart of the Rangers back four saw him just miss out on Davies’ through pass and a Nightingale pull back from the right should really have been gobbled up by a Gladiator, had anyone been on the end of it.
In a last push, Matlock broke to win a corner, invitingly floated at neck high along the six yard box by Ben Hunter. The limping King and then Yates behind him could not get that vital touch that would have sent the three points back to Derbyshire.
The match between the division’s draw specialists predictably ended all square, but at the final whistle Read and Espley raged at one another and had to be separated, as each blamed one another for the mix up from the corner which very nearly cost them the game.
Matlock: Kennedy, Witcombe, Bowler, Algar, King, Yates, Lukic, Bettney (Hunter 81), Nightingale, Holmes (Morris 46), Davies (Warne 77), Bowler. Sub not used: Buxton.