Belper Town fully deserved a second chance after pushing Evo-Stik Premier Division hosts Matlock Town all the way in a pulsating cup tie at the Reynolds Stadium.
Dan White pulled out at the very last minute through injury and Richard Adams had the latest of call-ups to face the Gladiators.
It was also an emotional return for former Gladiator Steve Warne who was made captain for the day
The Nailers had a shaky start to the game with Lewis McMahon having an early opportunity when Lee Ellington nipped in ahead of Aaron Chapman, and when the ball came out to McMahon the Matlock striker was thwarted by Chapman who had managed to recover his ground.
Belper took time to settle into the tie and were soon a goal down after Kevin Deakin lifted the ball over a hesitant Aaron Pride and with the Belper defence wrong footed, Joe Leesley provided a fine volley from the resulting cross to give the Gladiators the lead.
Andy Rushbury lifted spirits two minutes later with a sparking run and shot that Jon Kennedy had to tip over the cross bar, and the Nailers were up and running.
The Matlock rearguard had been under increasing pressure when the Nailers hit back on 14 minutes. Aaron Pride moved the ball inside to Richard Adams who immediately put a low cross behind the Gladiator’s defence where Simon Harrison was on hand to prod the ball into the net.
A nervy Matlock side took time to recover from this setback but they were to go behind just 4 minutes later when Simon Harrison challenged for a ball to the far post, and he was able to nudge it on to Ashley Longstaff.
Longstaff thoughtfully passed the ball across the face of goal where Aaron Pride was on hand to steer the ball into the unguarded net.
The game gradually gathered pace and was unrelenting all the way through.
Matlock goal scorer Joe Leesley had to be stretchered off in the 26th minute following a clash with Richard Adams, and with much of the action between the respective penalty areas; there were few direct efforts on goal for the remainder of the half.
However in the closing minutes of the period Simon Harrison had a speculative effort saved by Jon Kennedy, and in a late resurgence from the Gladiators, Lee Ellington nearly turned a cross from the ever-dangerous Kane Richards, who was a constant thorn in Greg Wright’s side.
Crucially though, Matlock levelled the scores just before the half time whistle after Kane Richards was released into space and although Aaron Chapman did well to save his shot, the ball spilled out to substitute Shaun Tuton who couldn’t miss the target.
Tuton was then close to getting a second goal deep in added on time and after a mazy run, his shot hit the outside of the post and the Nailers retreated to the dressing room grateful that they had retained parity.
The second period was a fast and furious affair and it was the Nailers who asked most of the questions, but in the event the Gladiators came up with all the answers.
Richard Adams brought a fine save out of Jon Kennedy in the 53rd minute from a Simon Harrison free kick, and from then on the Nailers put in relentless effort that the home side struggled to match.
Belper put together plenty of good moves and crosses from both flanks and the Matlock defence was worked extremely hard for the majority of the half.
Jon Kennedy proved to be a great asset at this time as his command of his six-yard area was crucial, and when called upon he went in bravely to make important saves and interceptions.
Ryan Mallon switched to the left wing mid way through the half and supplied some telling crosses, and from one of these Mark Ward headed over the cross bar.
A great opportunity was spurned in the 77th minute when Mark Ward’s industry set Richard Stirrup up for a shot, but with Simon Harrison in a better position, he fired straight at the ‘keeper.
Jordan Ball added an extra dimension to Belper’s forward line when he came on, and in the 80th minute he went on great run, but his cross went across the goalmouth untouched.
He provided another excellent centre in the 83rd minute and the Gladiators survived after the ball bounced around the six-yard area and just wouldn’t go over the line.
Jon Kennedy dived to stop a Mark Ward effort on 88 minutes and the officials obstinately ignored a strong shout for a penalty although it seemed obvious to everyone else that the offence took place.
Shaun Tuton might have broken Belper hearts when he turned the ball wide of the target on 89 minutes, and Belper had time for one superhuman in the last 30 seconds when Jordan Ball and Colin Marrison were denied with point blank saves, after which the referee’s whistle sent the tie into a mouth watering reply at Christchurch Meadow on Tuesday evening.
And a final word for the Belper supporters who’s vocal support was unstinting and helped to create a tremendous atmosphere in the Reynolds Stadium.
Matlock Town: Kennedy, Laight, Roe (Featherstone 60), Foster, Yates, Lucid, Richards, Lesley (Tutonr 25, Ellington, McMahon, Deacon (Jones 66). Unused subs: Foster, Dennis, and Nick Buxton.
Belper Town: Chapman, Pride, Wright, Stirrup, Colley, Adams, Harrison (Marrison 75), Warne, Longstaff (Ward 65), Mallon, Rushbury (Ball 57). Unused subs: Leonard, Roulston, Ratcliffe.
Referee: L Jones (Hucknall)