Matlock’s encouraging pre-season campaign comes to an end at Belper on Saturday, but there remains one puzzle to solve for manager Mark Atkins – his striking options.
It appears fairly certain that one of the forward positions will go to returning favourite Ian Holmes, a prolific goalscorer in his first spell with the Gladiators in 2006-07 and the Evo-Stik Northern Premier First Division South golden boot winner with Glapwell last term.
Who partners Holmes, not back from holiday until after the weekend, remains uncertain, especially as injuries to prospective candidates have come into play.
Nathan Joynes pulled a hamstring in the draw against Bradford City three weeks ago.
Trialist Tyeisse Nightingale terrorised Derby for 40 minutes and scored before being helped off with a foot injury.
Atkins was hoping to take another look at Nightingale in last night’s (Wednesday) home meeting with Alfreton Town and then at Belper.
If Nightingale signs, he would have a strong chance of making the starting line up in the curtain raiser to the new season at Ashton United on Saturday week. Joynes has been nursed along with a view to him featuring at Christ Church Meadow.
As things currently stand, the busy Lee Whittington looks the best bet to sneak into the forward line. Whittington has been a pest to Matlock in recent seasons, scoring for Hednesford Town, Hucknall Town and last season, Retford United against his new club.
Four goals so far in the Gladiators’ pre-season games certainly will not have harmed his claim. A late leveller at Teversal in the opener was followed by the winner against Derby and both goals in the 2-1 win at Sheffield last Thursday.
“Lee’s looked very dangerous and I’ve been very pleased with his work ethic and how he’s ran to find space in the opponents’ penalty box” explained Atkins. “He’s scored four good goals so far and really he’s been the big plus for us, which adds to our striking options.”
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Matlock were fortunate to beat First Division South Sheffield and Atkins was critical of the performance. The hosts twice struck the crossbar and were thwarted time and again by goalkeeper Jon Kennedy. On the other side of the coin, he believes it was the most useful warm up game so far.
“We were hit and miss after changing the team a lot to give all the players the chance to impress. We didn’t defend well as a team in the entire ninety minutes and we would have lost the game if it wasn’t for a great display by Jon Kennedy.
“We did though create some good chances and Lee Whittington could have had at least a hat-trick. We should have scored more than the two we got. I thought it was a good game for us to have, a more physical one and more like we’re going to face when the season starts. Getting down to the bread and butter was probably more use to us for I’ve learned more about us against Sheffield than in the previous three matches.”