• Matthew Rhodes

Byrne's late winner gives Matlock the points on Tyneside

A 70th minute header from Alex Byrne was enough for Matlock Town to spring a surprise and beat South Shields 1-0 at the 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Despite the Mariners having the lion’s share of possession and chances created, South Shields were made to pay the price for not being clinical in front of goal and the Gladiators headed back to Derbyshire with a hugely impressive full three points.

This was a real statement made by Paul Phillips’s team, proving that they really can beat anyone in this division home or away. It was an extremely gutsy Gladiators performance dominated by some outstanding defending and impressive goalkeeping against the title favourites.

The Mariners looked very likely to take the lead early on when they won a penalty in the 13th minute after star striker Jason Gilchrist was blatantly tripped inside the area. Skipper Robert Briggs stepped up to take the penalty and sent Shaun Rowley the wrong way but, to the surprise of everyone, the ball clipped the outside of the post and went out for a goal kick.

South Shields passed the ball around the pitch very nicely in the first half and had another golden opportunity to take the lead in the 36th minute through the very impressive Alex Kempster on the left wing. Kempster’s pace and excellent dribbling were posing the Matlock defence all sorts of problems but when he just needed to head the ball home from close range following an excellent cross from the right wing, he somehow missed the target altogether to the surprise of everyone watching.

Alex Byrne got Matlock's winner in the second-half. Photo: Jez Tighe

The left winger almost made amends three minutes later when his jinking run from the left wing brought him to the edge of the penalty area but his curling effort flashed narrowly wide of the post.

The Gladiators almost took a shock lead right on the stroke of half time when Liam Hughes came close to heading home Byrne’s superb free-kick delivery deep on the left wing.

The second half continued in the same vein as the first with the Gladiators defence facing a stern test of their credentials. It was a test though which was passed with flying colours with Sam Egerton in particular impressing by winning every single tackle and aerial battle he was involved with.

Just two minutes into the second half, Philip Turnbull fired in a shot from 18 yards out which forced a smart stop from Rowley to concede a corner.

The second half in general would go on to be Rowley’s most impressive performance so far in a Gladiators shirt. Gilchrist should have done better in the 54th minute when his close range header sailed over the bar before Rowley came to Matlock’s rescue again in the 61st minute when a hugely deflected shot was superbly tipped around the post by the young goalkeeper.

Against all the odds though, it was Matlock that broke the deadlock with 20 minutes to go. Joe Bunney, who had earlier come on as a substitute to make his Gladiators debut, had time and space to deliver an excellent cross into the penalty area and found the head of Byrne who steered the ball home from ten yards out past Myles Boney to score his second goal of the season.

As expected, the Gladiators defence had to withstand a barrage of South Shields attacks for the final 20 minutes of the match to hold onto their lead.

In the 81st minute, Rowley made a terrific save to tip the ball over the post denying Jordan Hunter’s powerful 15 yard effort.

South Shields then came agonisingly close to an equaliser on two separate occasions in injury time. Dillon Morse really should have grabbed an equaliser right at the death but his free header from ten yards out with the Matlock defence finally exposed somehow missed the target altogether.

In the final action of the game, Kempster came incredibly close to breaking Matlock hearts when his close-range header following a corner flashed inches wide of the post.

The Matlock staff celebrated wildly on the touchline as the final whistle blew to mark a magnificent away victory for the Gladiators and to send the Derbyshire outfit up to fourth in the league table.

Matlock Town: Rowley, Yates, Kendall (Chippendale 64), Egerton, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Harris (Abadaki 74), Hughes (c), Dolan (Bunney 27), Walker. Unused subs: King, Lingouba.

Attendance: 300