League leaders Matlock make it four wins in a row
Witton Albion 0
Matlock Town 1
Matlock Town extended their lead at the top of the NPL Premier Division to four points on Saturday as they secured their fourth league win in a row by beating Witton Albion 1-0 away from home.
Reece Kendall's close range strike in the 14th minute proved to be the difference between the two sides in what ended up being a stern test of Matlock's title credentials.
Albion had the chance to take the lead inside the very first minute of the game. A teasing right wing cross found the head of Will Jones inside the penalty area but his header was steered wide of the post when he should have at least hit the target.
Matlock responded well and took charge of the first half overall. Liam Hughes saw his looping header from around the penalty spot tipped over the bar impressively by Albion goalkeeper Greg Hall. In the 12th minute, a confident Hughes once again tested Hall with an excellent 25 yard effort which the keeper did really well to tip around the post to concede a corner from which Liam King's 20 yard effort took a small deflection which carried the ball just inches over the crossbar.
Matlock just needed to wait two more minutes though for the deadlock to be broken. Following another Gladiators set piece, centre-half Ioan Evans saw his close range header blocked. With the ball on the loose, Hall rushed off his line to parry away another effort inside a very crowded penalty area. This time the ball fell to Kendall who smashed the ball home from close range to score his seventh goal of the season and to give the Gladiators the lead.
Matlock's best chance to extend their lead in the first half fell in the 34th minute when midfielder Mark Lees shot from 25 yards out. His effort took a big deflection and Hall did well to save it and keep hold of the ball.
Matlock controlled possession well for the first half in general and the Gladiators defence did a solid job in keeping in-form striker Callum Saunders quiet.
The second half though proved to be a real slog for the Gladiators and they ended up grinding out the three points following a much improved second half performance from Witton.
There's no doubt that Albion should have equalised just seven minutes into the second half. Matlock's defence were looking more vulnerable as Witton started passing the ball around a lot better than in the first half. A through ball put Witton's leading goal scorer Saunders clean through on goal. He really should have found the back of the net but credit must be given to Gladiators goalkeeper Joe Young as he stood his ground well and ended up tipping Saunders' effort inches wide of the post.
Matlock soon found they had a storm to weather as Albion grew in confidence. In the 56th minute, a threaded pass from the by-line found Saunders just 12 yards from goal but his effort was a poor one and he blazed the ball over the bar in what was a real let-off for the Gladiators.
Just two minutes later, Witton missed another huge opportunity to bring the game back onto level terms. Following an excellent parried save from Young in Matlock's net, Will Jones really should have done better with the rebound. His effort lacked composure and he ended up blasting his close range effort just wide of the post.
This was the spell of the game where Witton really should have equalised but Matlock battled hard, weathered the storm and ended up grinding out the final half hour of the game to secure all three points in what ended up being a tricky and awkward away visit, Ryan Qualter and Kade Coppin both going close to a second goal but one being enough.
Matlock: Young, Sharman, Kendall, Evans, Qualter, Lees, Byrne, Wiles, Hughes (c), Chippendale (Coppin 67), King (Daly 85). Unused subs: Okome, F Phillips, P Phillips.