Stocksbridge 2 Matlock Town 3
Matlock deservedly claimed maximum points from what was, even at this early stage of the campaign, a must win game as two of the early season strugglers met at the Look Local Stadium.
The Gladiators dominated much of the game with the only disappointment, apart from Lewis McMahon’s red card in stoppage time, being the concession of two goals, ironically scored by two former Matlock players.
Joe Leesley led the line superbly scoring twice and setting up the third goal for Adam Yates.
Manager Mark Atkins was forced into making changes as Leesley replaced the suspended Massiah NcDonald, while Kane Richards and Gareth Davies deputised for the injured Matthew Hamshaw and Glyn Cotton.
Encouraging news came with Ben Algar, James Ashmore and Brad Grayson all being named on the bench after long injury absences.
Matlock immediately went on the attack as Oscar Radford headed over from a free kick and Marin Foster’s long range shot was held by goalkeeper Adam Billard.
But any hopes Matlock might have had of a first clean sheet of the season evaporated in only the 4th minute as Nathan Joynes stroked in the loose ball after Jon Kennedy had blocked a close range effort from Danny South who had met a cross from the right.
To their credit though, the Gladiators did not let that early setback disrupt their rhythm as they continued to look the better side.
Leesley fired a free kick into the defensive wall, McMahon shot directly at Billard who then kept out a deflected effort from Leesley.
McMahon had the ball in the net as he converted a Richards cross in the 29th minute as the winger consistently teased full back Nicky Swirad.
A faulty back pass from Radford nearly presented Joynes with another goal but little was being seen of Stocksbridge as an attacking force and nobody could argue that Matlock deserved their 37th minute equaliser.
It was again beautifully created by the pace and skill of Richards who delivered an inviting cross into the danger area which was pushed home in a scramble by Leesley in determined fashion.
A confident Leesley drove inches wide from 20 yards and, as confidence seemed to run through everyone in a tangerine shirt, Yates mishit his shot after a great five-man move.
McMahon’s shot was a fraction too high after more good work by Richards as Matlock ended the first half on a high.
So it was important that the tempo in the Town performance was maintained after the interval. Leesley turned smartly only to fire wide but he had better luck in the 54th minute.
His free kick from 25 yards could only be helped into the top corner by Billard’s despairing right hand and now Matlock had the platform for their victory.
A rare Stocksbridge attack saw Micky Harcourt scramble the ball away, a timely reminder for Matlock that they needed to be fully switched on.
But they looked dangerous going forward and McMahon might have scored in the 61st minute, shooting wide after another flowing move.
The all important third Matlock goal gave them some breathing space with twenty minutes to go. This time Leesley was the provider, breaking down the left to cross perfectly for Yates to power home his header.
Matlock looked home and dry but a cross cum shot from Chris Bettney, the ball curling over Kennedy into the top corner gave Steels renewed hope with eight minutes remaining.
Billard tipped over a Richards strike as the Gladiators sought to regain their two goal advantage before in stoppage time McMahon was sent for first use of the showers after the assistant referee had flagged for a foul by the Gladiator on Nicky Swirad.
The allegation was that McMahon had stamped on the Steels player, but it did not look totally clear and the dismissal was harsh.
But the important statistic was the Matlock victory, one which their performance deserved.
Matlock: Kennedy, Harcourt, Roe, Foster, Radford, Lukic, Richards (Ashmore 85), Yates, Leesley, McMahon, Davies (Grayson 90).
Subs not used: Algar, Dennis, Buxton.
Referee: P Cook (Hull).
Star man: Joe Leesley.