Ashton United 3, Matlock Town 0
The result suggests a drubbing but this was far from the truth as the final scoreline flattered the Robins in the season’s opener at Hurst Cross.
For Matlock it was obviously not what they wanted after a promising pre-season campaign. They took the wrong option at crucial times in the contest which made life easier than it should really have been for the current League Cup holders.
Their first questionable decision came after just four minutes when a combination of Simon Sturdy and Adam Yates sent Jonathan Bathurst sprawling in the box.
It was a rash challenge and possibly one that did not need to be made. Liverpool referee Jonathan Hunt pointed straight to the spot and Aaron Burns slotted neatly home from 12 yards beyond Jon Kennedy’s dive to the right.
At least the response from Matlock was positive but at times they wanted the extra touch in promising attacking positions. The build up play was neat and tidy and for long periods, the Gladiators looked the better side, but penetration was at times lacking.
Ashton’s new signing from Kendal Town, George Melling, was immense at the heart of the winners’ defence, protecting a sometimes suspect goalkeeper in Terry Smith with authority and steel.
Lee Whittington, who partnered Tyeisse Nightingale up front with Ian Holmes on the bench, was again a busy bee and he could have stung the Robins on 12 minutes.
He controlled a long ball with a cushioned header and a controlled volley followed which Smith unconvincingly pushed aside.
Ashton’s one big chance of the half followed on 16 minutes when Matty O’Neill cut inside and fired over with just Kennedy to beat.
But Matlock could consider themselves unfortunate to trail at the interval as they struck the woodwork twice. On 29 minutes, Yates, probably in a bid to atone for his part in the early Ashton spot kick, stormed forward to fire a venemous shot goalwards which struck an Ashton defender on the hand to divert the ball against a post. Matlock’s appeals for a penalty of their own went unanswered.
Ashton had Liam Dawson booked for bringing down Chris Bettney, joining Steve Warne for speaking out of turn, and from the free kick Bettney struck the bar with Smith well beaten. A goal then, just a minute from the interval would have done wonders for Matlock.
Holmes replaced Ryan Mallon seven minutes into the second period with Gareth Davies coming on for Warne shortly afterwards. This move saw Matlock keep the ball a little better and they looked dangerous every time Bettney was on the ball.
The winger’s excellent 69th minute cross saw Holmes rise to head straight at Smith before Bettney had a go himself but his drive struck Nightingale and robbed it of the venom to trouble Smith.
Perhaps the defining moment came with 11 minutes to go when from another Bettney cross, Sturdy headed back across goal for Whittington to hook inches wide.
It was a great chance and within seconds, Matlock were two goals behind. Bathurst broke clear for Kennedy to parry his shot but substitute Chris Amadi followed up to fire low into the corner.
Yates struck another piledriver which flattened Ian Bennett after hitting him in the most private of areas, but Bennett would have the last laugh. In stoppage time he broke clear from the half way line and emphatically shot past Kennedy to give the scoreline a very harsh look from the Matlock perspective.
It is not all doom and gloom for Matlock.
Sure, there are aspects in which they can improve and they will need to do so quickly, but equally there are grounds for optimism and with a little tweaking in certain areas, better results should be around the corner.
Matlock: Kennedy, Harcourt, Yates, King, Sturdy, Lukic, Bettney, Whittington, Nightingale, Warne (Davies 60), Mallon (IHolmes 52) Other subs: Featherstone, Kendall, Buxton.