On the evidence of Tuesday night’s first home game it could be a long season for Matlock Town.
Both the performance and result were huge disappointments for Gladiators fans as from the 20 minute mark they were outfought and distinctly second best to a well-drilled, workmanlike Stamford outfit.
The hosts had the perfect start, going ahead from a Danny Holland penalty in only the third minute, but once Nabil Shariff had flashed a fierce drive narrowly wide after 21 minutes, Stamford took over.
Matlock would have been happy to still have been in front by the interval but as they did on Saturday when they came from behind to beat Workington, the Daniels played their trump card, bringing on Ryan Robbins from the bench. Robbins, a tall bustling striker, repeated his feat of the previous weekend by scoring both goals to sink the opposition.
Town retained exactly the same squad that returned from Trafford with a goalless draw in the season’s opener, and hopes of beginning their home campaign on the front foot received an early boost when Stamford skipper Richard Jones was ruled to have handled in the box.
Up stepped Holland to score but not without a flutter in his heart as the ball struck the post on its way into the onion bag.
Holland glanced a header across the six yard box following good work by Liam Needham on the left but that was basically as good as it got for Matlock in the opening half.
Stamford upped the tempo and after Sharriff’s drive, Matlock clung on again twice soon afterwards with Jon Kennedy turning away a Jon Challinor shot for a corner before he pushed clear another effort, this time from Lewis Carr who later sliced wide when Jones headed another flag kick back across the penalty box.
Matlock manager Mark Atkins changed tactics, adopting a 4-3-3 formation instead of the earlier 4-4-2 in a bid to alter the flow of the game, but it made little difference.
Robbins had only been on the field four minutes when he netted a deserved leveller but it was a soft goal from the Matlock viewpoint.
A long throw from the left was left by Oscar Radford and the substitute could scarcely believe his luck as he forced the ball home.
Sharriff saw a 20-yarder deflected inches wide before he acrobatically shot past Kennedy’s left hand post in fine style.
But Matlock could and almost certainly should have regained the lead on 68 minutes when Zeph Thomas first of all failed to make a telling contact with a bouncing ball which fell to Stokes whose shot certainly had the venom to beat goalkeeper Richard Knight, but unfortunately for the hosts, caught the side netting as it flashed agonisingly wide.
Five minutes later the game was settled thanks to the second spot-kick of the evening as Micky Harcourt’s clumsy challenge on Robbins was punished again by the substitute who drove emphatically low into the corner from 12 yards.
Both Leon Osborne and Niall Dawkins were brought on and after Robbins forced Kennedy to tip his rocket of a free-kick over the bar and prevent his hat-trick, Dawkins came close to an 86th minute leveller, screwing his shot wide after an excellent run and cross by Joe Leesley, who was one of few Matlock players on the night to impress.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014:
Matlock: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Joe Leesley 4 Adam Yates 5 David Haggerty 6 Oscar Radford 7 Jason Stokes (Niall Dawkins 79) 8 Josh Meade 9 Danny Holland (Leon Osborne 79) 10 Zeph Thomas 11 Liam Needham. Subs not used: Alex Hewitt, Lavell White, Matty Leese
Stamford: 1 Richard Knight 2 Ryan Clarke 3 Ellis Myles 4 Lewis Carr 5 Richard Jones 6 Cameron Powell (Ryan Robbins 58) 7 Jon Challinor 8 Dan Lawlor 9 Nabil Shariff (Emeka Nwadike 82) 10 Jordan Smith 11 Matt Cotton. Subs not used: Dalton Bettles, David Staff
Ref: S Richardson (Huthwaite)
Star Gladiator: Joe Leesley
Report by Ian Richardson