• Matthew Rhodes

Matlock ease past Sheffield in friendly win

Matlock Town made it seven wins from eight pre-season games as they beat Sheffield FC 3-1 at the Home of Football Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

A very early goal from Ross Hannah and two second-half strikes from Jesurun Uchegbulam gave the Gladiators the victory in what was a competitive friendly with the start of the season proper edging ever closer.

Matlock took the lead after only two minutes. The ball looked to be heading into the net anyway following Liam Hughes' excellent header to meet a corner-kick delivery from Alex Byrne but Hannah wasn't taking any chances and rifled the ball home from very close range to give the Gladiators the perfect start. The goal maintains Hannah's fantastic pre-season form as this was his sixth goal ahead of the 2021/22 campaign.

The Gladiators almost doubled their advantage after ten minutes when Declan Walker's stinging effort from 20 yards out was tipped over the bar superbly by Sheffield's goalkeeper.

The world's oldest football club found an equaliser though against the run of play just four minutes later following a debatable decision by the referee to award a penalty. Former Matlock striker Marc Newsham sent Paul Cooper the wrong way from the spot and converted his penalty to level the match.

Matlock maintained their pressure though and continued to press in their attempts to regain their lead. In the 26th minute, Hannah teed up Byrne inside the penalty area and his effort was very well blocked by the Sheffield defence.

The closest the Gladiators came to re-taking the lead before half-time was in the 39th minute when Hughes was desperately unlucky to see his strong header cannon back off the post following a Hannah cross from the by-line on the left wing.

Matlock carried on with their high tempo in the second half and it didn't take long for them to get back in front. Uchegbulam, who came on straight after the interval, showed great composure in the 52nd minute when he calmly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper in a one on one situation to make it 2-1 to Paul Phillips' men.

The Gladiators almost threw their good work away just three minutes later but, thankfully, substitute goalkeeper Shaun Rowley came to their rescue. Newsham was put clean through in the 55th minute following a through ball but Rowley came off his line quickly and was able to block Newsham's effort smartly.

Byrne came close to bagging his sixth goal of pre-season in the 74th minute when he hammered the ball from the edge of the penalty area forcing Sheffield's goalkeeper into another great save to tip the ball over the bar.

The game petered out after that but Matlock managed to make it 3-1 with literally the last kick of the game. The impressive Uchegbulam weaved his way past his marker to break free of the defence and rifled the ball home from close range.

Matlock boss Paul Phillips said afterwards: "We started well. It sounds daft but we might have scored too early as it seemed to take the wind out of both teams' sails!

"I think they got an iffy penalty, to say the least. But Jesurun has come on and changed the game. I doin't think we needed to get out of second gear in the second half. It didn't help losing Alex Wiles in the warm-up and then losing Callum Chippendale after about ten minutes. That was a big blow as we lost some drive in midfield.

"Wiles just got a bit of tightness in his hamstring during the warm-up. We decided not to play him as a precaution. Chippendale felt a pain in his groin after a shot on the game. We know we're going to get knocks like this because all these players went so long without playing a game. But we've come through it, we scored three good goals.

"I thought Ross Hannah was outstanding as a nine. He was a stand-out player. We've seen what Jesurun can do in that second half. I was disappointed we didn't keep a clean sheet. I think we now just need the competitive stuff to start and start playing for something. When that starts, you'll see another gear from these players and they'll go up another level."