McNeill torments Gladiators



The 2,605 spectators at the Exacta Stadium on Saturday probably saw the future Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division champions who handed Matlock their heaviest defeat for over two seasons.

Chester were simply superior all over the park, they had strength, flair, determination, in fact all the attributes that champions are made of.

It wasn’t that Matlock played particularly badly, nobody would probably have lived with Chester on the day.

The final two goals came in the 89th and 90th minutes which made the final margin a little harsh on the Gladiators.

Manager Mark Atkins opted for the 4-5-1 formation which had been a success in other recent difficult away games at Northwich and Hednesford. Ian Holmes was again the lone striker, and with Kris Bowler ruled out through suspension, Chris Bettney and Ben Algar were the two wide midfield players while Gareth Davies, Liam King and Steve Warne in the centre.

Lee Morris, re-signed from Belper was on the substitutes bench with fellow striker Tyeisse Nightingale.

Matty McNeill, who was to prove to be a very painful thorn in Matlock’s side, sliced wide and when new signing Antoni Sarcevic found space on the right, he wasted a great opportunity of inflicting harm on Matlock with a poor cross.

But Chester were building a head of steam. Sarcevic pulled a shot wide and McNeill flicked a long throw beyond the far post.

The pressure told on 24 minutes when full back Liam Brownhill, only playing due to an injury in the warm up to Wesley Baynes, delivered a peach of a cross from the right. McNeill met it with a thumping header which went in off the bar.

Chester then piled on the pressure.

A great challenge by Harcourt on Robbie Booth who was in the clear averted more danger and Jon Kennedy did well to turn aside a shot from the same player.

Then there was a real escape as Brownhill fired against a post and when Matty McGinn beat Bettney, George Horan shot wide.

Matlock would have been relieved to regroup at half time just the one goal down.

The interval brought a change of formation as Oscar Radford, who had picked up a first half injury, was withdrawn. Ben Algar switched to full back and a 4-4-2 line-up with Nightingale on up front followed.

But there was no respite for Matlock. Chester immediately went for the kill and doubled their lead nine minutes after the interval. McNeill again did the damage, turning and twisting in the Town penalty box, shrugging off Adam Yates and firing low past Kennedy.

There was a sniff of a chance for Matlock when Chris Bettney took a free kick quickly, but Harcourt’s cross was headed away by Horan, but a fightback wasn’t on the cards because in the main, it was Chester asking all of the questions.

Mark Wilde and another substitute, Luke Holden hit late goals which put gloss on a cultured Chester performance.

Holden’s goal on 89 was controversial as he chipped over Kennedy and the ball dropped on to the line off the bar. It was an audacious effort which the referee’s assistant ruled had crossed the line, quite an astonishing decision given that he was not up with play and was some 30 yards away! At least it wasn’t a match-deciding decision, with Chester fans admitting afterwards that the ball had not crossed the line.

Then Howard found room on the left and hoisted a centre into the Matlock box which Wilde finished with a power packed header.

Matlock Town: Kennedy, Harcourt, Radford (Nightingale 46), King, Yates, Lukic, Bettney, Warne (Morris 64), Holmes, Davies, Algar. Other subs: Witcombe, Buxton.

Attendance: 2,605.