BRADFORD PARK AVENUE 2, MATLOCK TOWN 2
Matlock left the Horsfall Stadium with mixed emotions after this pulsating encounter played on a heavy pitch finished all square.
The Gladiators led by a Tyeisse Nightingale double at the interval, but Avenue certainly deserved something from the game. And they got it as Michael Duckworth halved the deficit on the hour and then in stoppage time Adam Clayton headed the hosts’ equaliser.
Matlock had been under intense pressure for long periods and while it was disappointing to lose a two goal advantage, the Gladiators would probably have settled for a point beforehand. At least the losing run against Avenue was halted at the eighth time of asking.
Matlock gave a debut to new signing Craig Nelthorpe on their left flank but unfortunately it was a trunkated first appearance as a recurrence of a hamstring pull which kept him out of the home defeat by Hednesford three days earlier, saw him limp off on the half hour.
First choice central midfielders Liam King and Gareth Davies were both missing through suspension so Kris Bowler and Steve Warne were in the engine room.
Lee Featherstone came in for the injured Ben Algar at full back with Nightingale replacing Lee Morris in attack.
Avenue but forward immediately and might have been in front in only fifty seconds but centre half James Riley planted a free header over the bar from an inviting Nicky Boshell corner. Soon afterwards Boshell crossed for Michael Duckworth to nod wide.
But Matlock were looking dangerous on the counter attack with Nightingale just failing to rach a Nelthorpe cross at the far post and James Knowles blocking a Nightingale strike following good build up play involving Bowler and Kris Witcombe.
Nightingale though gave Matlock an 11th minute lead when Bettney floated in a trademark pin point corner and the former Hucknall striker ghosted in to head past John Lamb.
Witcombe made a timely and fantastic block to deny Nathan Hotte before Jon Kennedy pulled off the first in a series of tremendous saves which would go a very long way in earning Matlock their point. He was alert to turn around the follow up shot from Matty James around the post.
Then on 25 minutes Matlock broke with purpose as Danny Davidson latched on to an error by defender James Knowles to feed Bettney whose shot took a deflection but found the lurking Nightingale to force home from two yards.
The goals were a just reward for Nightingale who ran unselfishly all afternoon. What he lacks in quality is more than made up for in effort and he sent out a clear message to Mark Atkins that when Ian Holmes is fit once again, he wants to stay in the side.
Kennedy then ensured a clean sheet up to half time with superb saves from Boshell and Clayton plus a free kick from Martin Drury. For Matlock Featherstone won possession with a fine challenge on Hotte in the Avenue half to stride forward and fire over the bar.
Avenue replaced full back Drury with new signing and striker Curtis Burnard at the interval as they set about saving themselves. Burnard held the ball up well to set up Jordan Deacey whose shot flashed narrowly wide.The pressure intensified and bore fruit when tricky winger Duckworth, who had teased Featherstone all afternoon, cut inside to shoot low into the opposite corner from 25 yards. This time Kennedy could do nothing about it, although Matlock might reflect that they had lost the ball cheaply earlier.
Witcombe was booked for illegally blocking Boshell’s run, leading to him later leaving the field with a shoulder injury to be replaced by Micky Harcourt. Lee Whittington, back from Belper and having replaced Nelthorpe, had a sniff of a chance when found by Davidson, but Riley recovered to concede a corner.
This was a brief excursion deep into Avenue territory for Matlock. Avenue were soon back on the offensive and O’Brien’s run from deep ended with a shot that cleared the bar by a foot at the most.
The Avenue man was then booked for a foul on Bowler who then was cautioned himself for bringing down Boshell.
As the match reached its final eight minutes, Kennedy produced another top class save as he tipped a Clayton piledriver wide and James Lukic produced a marvellous challenge to halt a run by Matty James.
Four minutes of stoppage time had been announced and in the second of these minutes, O’Brien produced a peach of a cross from the left which was met by an even better header which nestled in the bottom corner.
Matlock: Kennedy, Witcombe (Harcourt 68), Featherstone, Bowler, Yates, Lukic, Bettney, Warne, Davidson (Joynes 83), Nightingale, Nelthorpe (Whittington 30) Other sub: Buxton.