It was all set up to be a tough test for high-flying Matlock against one of the Midlands Division Two East (North) surprise packages and so it proved.
Ashbourne arrived in confident mood after a good victory over Shrewsbury in cup the previous week. Matlock had also pulled off a good win the week before at Veseyans with a much changed side.
The squad for this week was strengthened by the return of the centre partnership Neville and Hooton and Howard on the wing but injuries and unavailability’s made further changes necessary.
Ritchie returned to the side but in the unfamiliar position on the wing. In the pack Richardson, Tom Wright and Jackson were all ruled out for this game.
In addition Robinson and Coombes remain on the injury list so the depth of the squad is being severely tested.
The opening exchanges were very even but with the Matlock pack missing their more aggressive tacklers the contact area was all important.
With the visitor’s appearing a little hungrier they gained good turnover ball and used it well to score the opening try of the match. The conversion attempt was wide.
Matlock struck back with a well struck penalty from the boot of Morton but moments later Ashbourne added to their lead with a converted try under the posts.
With 15 minutes gone Matlock were 3-12 down against a very buoyant Ashbourne side. Now was the time for the home side to dig deep and show some character and they did not disappoint.
The last 20 minutes of the first half saw Matlock on the front foot, playing with pace and intensity and scoring two excellent team tries both converted superbly by Morton to give them a lead which would not be surrendered.
The first was scored by Atkinson diving over following good forward pressure on the Ashbourne line and the second was by Goodall again showing good strength to force his way over the line.
With the score now 17-12 the home side had momentum and Ashbourne were visibly rocking under the intense pressure.
Unfortunately the home side could not capitalise further on this period of supremacy and the visitor’s welcomed the sanctuary offered by the half time whistle.
Half time never comes at a good time for the team who are in the ascendency. The second half began with Matlock still looking the stronger in attack but too often the lineout failed them and good attacking possession was turned over.
Ashbourne then pulled back three points from a penalty kick and this seemed to reinvigorate the visitor’s self-belief.
This made for a very tight and tense last quarter with neither side being able to gain the upper hand or fashion any clear scoring opportunities.
With 15 minutes remaining Ashbourne had the chance to regain the lead with a fairly simple penalty attempt but the effort was put wide.
At the final whistle Matlock had done enough to claim a hard fought victory.
The growing list of Injuries and unavailability’s is proving a severe test of the depth of the squad and despite not quite playing at the high level they demand of themselves they are nevertheless managing to grind out the results and maintain winning ways.
Matlock: Bunting, Boam, Goodall, Twyford, Atkinson, Noble, Wright S, Wagg, Morton T, Fairclough, Ritchie, Neville, Hooton D, Howard, Whittaker. Subs: Ball, Crofts, Kawalek.