Debutant Cooke nets a brace as Matlock win at Bamber Bridge
Pitching In NPL Premier
Bamber Bridge 2
Bange 24pen, Sinclair-Smith 73
Matlock Town 4
Cooke 11, 61, Hughes 25, Byrne 90pen
Matlock Town returned to winning ways on Saturday after an impressive 4-2 victory away at Bamber Bridge in the NPL Premier Division.
In a highly entertaining game, a debut brace from loan signing Jamie Cooke plus goals from Liam Hughes and Alex Byrne gave the Gladiators all three points at The Sir Tom Finney Stadium at Irongate.
Matlock's eighth win from ten league games means that the Gladiators remain in second position in the table and sit just two points behind title favourites South Shields.
After a bright and positive start to the game, the Gladiators deservedly took the lead after 11 minutes following a fantastic strike from Cooke on his Gladiators debut. The attacking midfielder outmuscled the last Bamber Bridge defender back and sped away from him before firing the ball past the Brig goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area.
The Gladiators really should have extended their lead just six minutes later when skipper Hughes somehow missed the target altogether from close range. Some excellent work from Alex Wiles gave him freedom down the right wing and he threaded a superb ball across the penalty area to find an unmarked Hughes with the goal at his mercy, but he got his connection all wrong from only eight yards out and inexplicably guided the ball past the wrong side of the post.
Bamber Bridge quickly took advantage of Matlock's missed opportunity in the 24th minute when they won a penalty after Harvey Gregson was adjudged to have been fouled as he shot from close range. In-form Ewan Bange sent Shaun Rowley the wrong way to convert the spot kick and net his eighth league goal of the season.
Any concerns about Matlock feeling sorry for themselves for not converting enough chances were very quickly dispelled though as the Gladiators regained the lead literally a minute after Brig's equaliser. In an almost carbon copy of the build-up to Hughes's glaring miss, the Gladiators skipper made amends and fired the ball home from close range without any problem this time around.
Bamber Bridge came close to equalising once again in the 28th minute when Rob Apter's 20 yard effort took a heavy deflection and Rowley did well to tip the ball over the bar and keep Matlock's lead intact. Four minutes afterwards, Hughes almost extended the Derbyshire side's lead when his header from 12 yards out following a Byrne delivery flew narrowly over the bar.
With just a minute to go before the half time interval, Bamber Bridge were handed another huge let off when Byrne spurned a glorious opportunity when he was clean through one on one with Brig's goalkeeper. The winger chose to try and chip the ball over the oncoming keeper but the pace was just slow enough for him to claw the ball around the post to concede a corner.
After a frantic first half, Bamber Bridge almost secured a second equaliser within a minute of the second half starting. Rowley was forced into a good point-blank reflex save to deny Mark Yeates and then immediately dived onto the parried ball to prevent Yeates from tucking in the rebound from very close range.
Matlock soon recovered control of the game though shortly afterwards and thoroughly deserved their third goal of the afternoon when it arrived in the 61st minute. A perfectly paced through ball from central midfielder Alex Wiles split the Brig defence all ends up and put Cooke clean through on goal with just the keeper to beat. The loan signing from FC Halifax Town rounded the goalkeeper confidently and stroked the ball home casually into an empty net to give the Gladiators a two-goal lead.
Bamber Bridge refused to give up and they managed to cut the deficit in the 73rd minute of the game. Substitute Fin Sinclair-Smith, who was making his debut for the club following his transfer from FC United of Manchester, was given too much time and space from 25 yards out following a corner. His rocket of an effort took a slight deflection off Hughes's head and that was just enough to wrong foot Rowley in goal.
It was a frantic and full-blooded final ten minutes as both teams still played the game the right way and attacked with a high tempo. Matlock were given a big scare in the 87th minute when an impressive free-kick from the right wing caused a mini goalmouth scramble. Bange attempted to back-heel the ball into the net with nobody being able to retain possession but Rowley was wise to what was going on and blocked the ball before the Matlock defence was finally able to scramble the ball away.
In a breathless final few moments of the match, substitute Jesurun Uchegbulam was then put clean through on goal on a counter attack. With just the keeper to beat, Uchegbulam tried to place the ball to the keeper's right hand side but Mateusz Hewelt got down very well to yet again tip the ball just around the post.
As the 90th minute ticked by, the Gladiators finally killed the game off when they were awarded a penalty. Byrne stepped up to take the spot kick and fired the ball home to restore Matlock's two goal lead and secure the points.
It was a superb response by Paul Phillips' men to bounce back from their away defeat at Stafford Rangers the previous weekend and make it eight wins from their first ten league games of this season's NPL Premier Division campaign.
Adam Yates who came out of retirement to help Matlock following the sudden departures of Sam Egerton, Declan Walker and Ashton Hall plus the absence of Jamie Sharman due to personal reasons. The Matlock legend answered Phillips' emergency call to help the team smooth over their very low numbers in defence.
Focus now turns to Matlock's away trip to Radcliffe on Tuesday evening. A win for the Gladiators in that game could even see them move to the top of the table.
Matlock Town: Rowley, Yates, Kendall, Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Wiles, Hughes (c), Cooke (Uchegbulam 84), Chippendale (Hannah 69). Unused subs: King, Coppin, Cooper.