Last-gasp Matlock Town keep play-off hopes alive
Never-say-die Matlock Town came from behind and then had keeper Phil Barnes to thank as a 2-1 home win over Rushall Olympic kept their Evo-Stick NPL Premier Division play-offs alive.
The Gladiators trailed at the interval to a Danico Johnson strike after 24 minutes, but then showed character to fight back and then win the game.
Niall McManus levelled on 65 minutes before Dwayne Wiley scored a dramatic winner with four minutes left.
McManus returned to the side in place of Jake Green, who had collected a knock in the midweek draw at Nantwich, with Rhys Sharpe moving to left back.
McManus soon threatened the Rushall defence with a fine run on the right, his penetrating low ball narrowly eluding both Curtis Morrison and Michael Williams when a simple tap-in would surely have brought Matlock the opening goal.
The home side continued to pour forward but could not find the killer touch and it was the Pics that created the next opportunity on 18 minutes as Barnes went down smartly to block a low shot from skipper Aaron Forde and then dropped on the loose ball.
But Barnes was beaten when Isaac Cooper played Johnson in behind the Town defence to slide a low shot into the opposite corner.
Eight minutes later an uncharacteristic slip by Adam Yates let in Forde but he ran out of room as he rounded Barnes he ran out of room.
In between a Sharpe strike from 25 yards dropped wide, but the Gladiators created little else in a disappointing opening period that also saw McManus cautioned for simulation when he went down in the penalty box.
With Rushall looking relatively comfortable, Town joint bosses Craig Hopkins and Glenn Kirkwood made a double change ten minutes into the second half with Joe Doyle-Charles and Marc Newsham replacing Cleveland Taylor and Morrison.
The change worked as Matlock increased their energy in midfield and Newsham won more of the ball in attack. Johnson was booked for a late tackle on Doyle-Charles before, on 61 minutes, Newsham won an important header to let in Marcus Dinanga, who hooked a ten yard effort narrowly wide.
Four minutes later Matlock were back in the game as Newsham’s header out to Ted Cribley saw the Town number 11 slip a short pass to Dinanga in the box. The top scorer’s shot was pushed out by goalkeeper Jose Veiga, but only as far as McManus who gleefully tucked away the loose ball.
Cribley was left free on the left to cross low into the centre with no blue shirt on hand to profit, while at the other end Matlock survived a scare when from Cooper’s ball in from the left substitute Jazz Luckie struck the angle of post and bar with Barnes well beaten.
That was the signal for Matlock to increase the tempo with Hopkins and Kirkwood, plus the crowd, urging them forward.
Newsham’s near post header from an 80th minute corner was narrowly too high but a period of pressure brought its reward for the Gladiators shortly afterwards.
A Sharpe corner from the left was met by a Yates header that Rushall cleared as far as Sharpe, whose second cross was slightly too high for Newsham. Doyle-Charles played a centre back into the middle and Wiley rose majestically above the Pics defence to plant a firm header into the Rushall net to spark mass celebrations on the pitch, bench and terraces.
The game, however, was not over. Sixty seconds later Barnes made a fine point-blank save from Stan Mugisha’s header and in the third minute of added time a miskicked shot from Joe Hull forced Barnes to tip the ball over in a nervous finale for the Gladiators.
MATLOCK TOWN: Phil Barnes, Liam Marsden, Rhys Sharpe, Cleveland Taylor (Joe Doyle-Charles 55mins) Adam Yates, Dwayne Wiley, Niall McManus, Michael Williams (Andy Wright 89mins) Curtis Morrison (Marc Newsham 55mins) Marcus Dinanga, Ted Cribley. Subs not used: Nico Degirolamo, Jake Green.