The pre-match warning from manager Mark Atkins about keeping feet firmly on the ground went largely unheeded as Matlock limply departed the FA Cup at First Division South promotion chasers Carlton on Saturday.
The Gladiators had won all three previous cup encounters against the Millers but they seldom looked like winning this one. Once the hosts had gained an early lead they battled hard to stop Matlock from playing with any fluency on a bobbly pitch. The match was certainly not one for the football purist.
Corey Gregory came in for Lavell White who had to miss the game through work commitments in the one change from the side that had brushed aside Stamford in midweek.
Matlock had kept four successive clean sheets but that proud record was soon broken with a scruffy Carlton goal on five minutes when Oscar Radford’s clearance was charged down and Blair Anderson, playing in attack in spite of the number two shirt on his back, fired comfortably past Jon Kennedy.
It might have been worse for the Premier Division outfit in the tenth minute when Joe Lesley carelessly lost possession just inside his own half and Ben Flynn had a clear route to goal but Kennedy was out quickly to block from Flynn and Matlock could breathe again.
From this point on it became a war of attrition and Carlton won that battle as they constantly frustrated Matlock.
It was not pretty to watch and in the first-half particularly, the Gladiators created little. It took until the 39th minute for them to have a strike at goal when Leesley shot beyond the far post after a run on the left.
So half-time came with Matlock needing to get back to basics and increase the tempo of their game substantially.
The Gladiators emerged from the dressing room having received the hairdryer treatment from Atkins and they were on the pitch a good five minutes before their hosts.
The improvement came but still Matlock did not do enough to save themselves.
Danny Holland nodded wide from a 48th minute corner before Gregory’s 25 yarder cleared the bar five minutes afterwards.
Holland then had two half chances, the first being flicked too high and the second, a more difficult one, being hooked into goalkeeper Martin Kearney’s body.
Young striker Dave Edge replaced Gregory with 18 minutes left and he had a chance almost immediately but placed his header disappointingly wide.
Kearney had enjoyed a relatively comfortable afternoon but he kept Carlton in front with a tremendous diving save to tip away Micky Harcourt’s 81st minute free-kick which looked destined for the top corner.
As Matlock became increasingly desperate, Liam Needham volleyed narrowly wide and then drove at Kearney before a fine interception at the other end stopped Sammy MacVicar in his tracks.
There were too many below par performances in what was a big game for Matlock.
Apart from the goal which was gift wrapped for them, Carlton created little else apart from another present soon afterwards.
But Carlton looked up for the game whereas Matlock didn’t.
To add to Matlock’s troubles, David Haggerty was forced off through injury in the 29th minute while there were bookings for Lee Featherstone and Joe Leesley, which means Leesley will miss the league visit to Stafford on October 12 with his caution tally reaching five.
Carlton: 1 Martin Kearney 2 Blair Anderson (Jordan Vilums 80) 3 Billy Bennett 4 Alex Troke 5 Lee Torr 6 Martin Ball 7 Josh Thornton 8 Danny Elliott 9 Sam MacVicar 10 Ben Flynn (Luke Smithson 65) 11 Lee Potts Other subs: Danny Fletcher, Grant Brindley, Shyeim Reid
Matlock: 1 Jon Kennedy 2 Micky Harcourt 3 Joe Leesley 4 Anton Foster 5 David Haggerty (Lee Featherstone 29) 6 Oscar Radford 7 Liam Needham 8 Adam Yates 9 Danny Holland 10 Daryll Thomas 11 Corey Gregory (Dave Edge 72) Other subs: Martin Foster, James Ashmore, Matty Leese, Liam Gaughan, Will Dennis
Ref: M Connell (Castleford) Att: 161
Star Gladiator: Liam Needham
by Ian Richardson