‘Let’s turn this slump around’

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Manager Mark Atkins has conceded that his side’s hopes of reaching the play-offs are all but over.

At the end of February, the Gladiators were riding high in second spot but since their 2-1 win at Whitby on March 9, their form has been nothing short of disastrous with a meagre return of two points out of 24.

The defeat which broke the camel’s back came at Ashton United on Monday night when errors at the back returned to haunt Matlock after a nearly faultless defensive performance in the unfortunate 1-0 home loss to Bradford Park Avenue last weekend.

Matlock now lie 11th and while there is just a sniff of an opportunity if they win all their remaining four matches, and other play-off chasing teams slip up badly, this is extremely unlikely to happen.

Atkins admitted: “To be honest, I think that’s just about it for us. It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what’s gone wrong but sometimes that’s how things go. It’s fair to say our passing game going forwards hasn’t been as good as it was in recent weeks. But now is the time for us to get as much pride as possible and not let the season peter out. We must still get as many points as we can. Life goes on and I’m sure that the lads will still give 100 per cent.”

Atkins admitted this was his worst run as both a player and a manager.

“I can’t recall ever having a run like this before. I’m the worst loser ever, I’m ever so disappointed. The lads are distraught, it’s really hurt them. But they will still show qualities of desire and determination that they have given me for most of the season. It’s a case of sticking together and keeping going.”

Atkins looked to be fuming at the final whistle but had calmed down somewhat by Tuesday night.

“We passed the ball quite well at times but were too eager to win too early. Then we left too many gaps at the back. The difference between the teams was in both penalty areas. We didn’t defend our own area well and gave away three easy goals. The quality of our balls into the box could have been better, and we failed to make the most of some promising situations, particularly in the opening 15 or 20 minutes of the second half when it looked as if we’d go on and win. The lads are desperate for the win but after being on top we let them have a free header for the second goal and the third one came from a long throw.There were a few positives to come from the game which we’ve got to take into the game at Hucknall on Saturday.”

Atkins was encouraged by the performance against Bradford when a late penalty proved the difference between the two sides after Matlock had a strong appeal refused. He questioned the validity of the spot kick.

“It was never a penalty in a million years. We attended a meeting with the FA at the start of the year with Neale Barry being there and he told us that referees have to be 100 per cent definite before making such decisions. If it had been definite then he’d have given it straightaway, not delaying his decision like he did. That cost us and the incident with James Knowles looked more of a penalty than the one he awarded.”

Hucknall lost 6-0 at Bradford on Monday night so Matlock will approach the derby game hopeful of arresting their slump, but remembering that the Nottinghamshire club gained a surprise 2-1 win at the Reynolds Stadium in November. Then comes Matlock’s penultimate home game of the campaign against Nantwich on Tuesday.

Atkins has hinted that players are performing to remain part of his plans for next season.

“I don’t think it’s rocket science that if we’re to make a challenge next season then we need to improve the squad. So if the lads that we currently have here want to stay on next season then now’s the time for them to show me what they can do.”

It’s fair to say that I’ve learned more about people in these last few games when we haven’t been winning than when we were having better results. I still have utmost confidence in these players, perhaps at times they don’t believe enough in themselves. Perhaps we need more experience in the squad but that costs money.”