A first draw of the season for Danny Grainger’s well-travelled side ended a tough week with a welcome point.
The manager admitted his team looked weary during the early stages of this game and it was an insipid-sort of performance which lacked the usual conviction and tempo.
And when they went two down just before the hour mark it looked as though they were heading for defeat – like they have many times before in their twenty-six visits to Causeway Lane.
Somehow, though, they got back into the game and found a rhythm that was lacking earlier. They looked better on the ball and started creating chances and Matlock, who must have thought they were heading towards a straightforward victory, were probably happy with the point by the end.
That said, they came tantalisingly close to winning the game in the final few seconds so they may feel it was a case of two points dropped. For yellow-shirted Reds, it was definitely one gained.
After the demanding midweek game at Warrington, the manager had to go into battle without ‘warhorse’, Dan Wordsworth, handing a debut to Argentinian Gabriel Rios Newton as his replacement.
He paired up with Reds’ other emergency centre-half, Niall Brookwell, and the newly assembled defensive pairing performed well under the circumstances.
A penalty saved in the sixth minute by Town’s Saul Deeney didn’t help matters from a Reds perspective. Skipper Conor Tinnion, still to register his first goal of the season, stepped up to take the spot-kick after Steven Rigg had been tripped just inside the area. But his tamely hit effort was smothered by the veteran ‘keeper and The Gladiators took advantage of the reprieve.
They went ahead after seventeen minutes when Finlay Armond’s pass split Reds defence and Josh Barnes cantered through and netted with a fine finish.
The half time deficit might have been more had Jim Atkinson not grabbed a Jonny Margetts effort on the goal line then made a decent save from the same player towards the interval.
Other than the penalty save, Deeney was almost reduced to the role of spectator with Reds hardly troubling the home stopper.
A free kick from Tinnion, which narrowly missed the target, was a rare effort at goal from the visitors.
And when the hosts doubled their advantage twelve minutes into the second period, not many would have backed a Cumbrian revival.
Margetts met John Johnston’s low cross at the near post to steer home and a two-goal advantage seemed a good position to be in.
Grainger introduced two of his ‘less than 100% fit’ attackers, David Symington and Kofi Moore and the pair helped changed the game.
Brookwell’s surging run deep into Matlock territory earned Reds a free-kick, just a couple of yards outside the box. Symington could almost be seen licking his lips in anticipation.
The NPL’s equivalent to the Premier League’s Beckham or Ward-Prowse, did it again from twenty plus yards – a sublime finish which left Deeney helpless.
All of a sudden it was a different game and Workington looked a threat going forward.
They pieced together their best move of the match in the eightieth minute when Finlay Wallbank and Moore linked well down the right. Moore’s cross into the box was guided home by Greg McCaragher for an equaliser wildly celebrated by the small contingent of Workington supporters.
All three substitutes had contributed to Reds’ unlikely comeback.
Even then, Town could have won an entertaining contest. Atkinson made a fantastic save to turn Barnes’ shot onto his right-hand post then, with the last kick of the game, Johnston hurried his shot and the ball hit the bar and bounced over.
The relief and despair, in the respective camps, was tangible.
Matlock Town: Deeney, Sharman, West, Wright (Wakefield, 76), Evans, Wilkinson, Johnston, Wood, Armond (Clark, 82), Margetts, Barnes. Substitutes – McNicholas, Duhameau, Crofts (not used).
Workington: Atkinson, Wallbank, Leslie, Newton (Moore K, 61), Brookwell, Casson, Nelson (Symington, 61), Hubbold, Rigg, Allison (McCaragher, 74), Tinnion. Substitutes – Hammell, Bell (not used).
Referee: Jake Allsop, Birmingham
Bookings: Armond, West, Johnston, Margetts (Matlock Town)
Photographs: Adrian Booth