Ben Algar will miss Matlock’s challenge for glory on two fronts as he jets out to America at the start of March.
While the Gladiators are bidding for promotion to Blue Square North via the play-offs and also aiming to lift the League Cup – a 5-0 mauling of Stocksbridge in their own backyard earning Matlock a semi-final slot – Algar will be joining FC New York in the USL Premier Division, the third tier of the American Soccer Pyramid.
Matlock boss Mark Atkins said it was too good an opportunity for the former Chesterfield winger to turn down.
“Ben had a trial out there a few weeks ago and has been offered a playing contract. He’s disappointed he’s having to leave us but it’s a full-time contract and while we’re sorry to see him go, we’re all very pleased for the lad, as it’s a great chance for him to progress his career.
“Really he doesn’t want to leave as he loves it at this club but it’s not as if he won’t be playing for Matlock any more. The season out there lasts from March until September so I’m sure he’ll be back with Matlock during the winter months.”
Algar flies out to the States at the beginning of March so his last Matlock appearance this season looks like being at Marine on Saturday week. He has recently regained his place in the Town starting line-up, albeit at left back following an ankle injury to regular number three Lee Featherstone in the home defeat by Marine on January 22.
And with Featherstone suffering a reaction after some light warm-up work at last weekend’s home win against Kendal Town, Atkins may soon have a problem as to who to play at left back.
“Lee joined in the warm-up but has had a reaction with pins and needles in his foot so he needs to see someone to get to the bottom of the problem,” Atkins explained. “Having Ben available for the next three matches at least gives us some breathing space and a chance to weigh up our options.”
Midtable Nantwich Town visit the Reynolds Stadium on Saturday before the Gladiators have a huge promotion clash on Tuesday at second-placed Colwyn Bay.
“Nantwich for me are the surprise of the season, not being up at the top end of the league,” admitted Atkins. “They’re a very good side with good players in most positions and in Michael Lennon they have the best striker in the league, apart from Ross Hannah, so we’ll need to be wary of him.
“But it’s a matter of taking each game as it comes. We’ve got a tough game against Nantwich. They have quality and, while games are often decided on mistakes, when you are in our position they can be decided on that bit of extra quality which I feel we have as well. We’ll be hoping for a win on Saturday and then we’ll look at the Colwyn Bay game.”
Matlock cemented their current third-placed standing with an excellent 3-1 win at home to Kendal thanks to a Hannah brace and a goal from Liam King. Hannah then bagged a hat-trick against his old club at Stocksbridge with Nathan Joynes and Adam Yates the other marksmen in the League Cup success.
Hannah now has an amazing 39 goals in league and cup games and, while he has earned star rating in both of these victories, it has been magnificent all-round team displays which have caught the fans’ eyes.
“It was a very good game against Kendal between two very good sides with the game played in the right way,” Atkins said. “It was a very good advert for the Evo-Stik League. We passed the ball very well in the first half and created some good openings although, at times, I was disappointed with our defending in the first half, especially for their goal and I thought we were sloppy at set plays. I made my feelings known at half time and then in the second half I thought our defending was excellent. We fully deserved to get the three points, it was a great team performance against a side who recently have always been up there challenging for promotion.”
Atkins was drooling about the result and performance at Stocksbridge, as Matlock gained ample revenge for a controversial 3-1 defeat in the league three weeks earlier.
“Fantastic, excellent,” he enthused. “We bossed the game from the first to the last whistle, some of our play and the goals we scored were absolutely fantastic.”
Circumstances mean Atkins may have some tough choices to make ahead of the forthcoming two vital games. But it looks as if his assistant boss Nick Buxton will remain in goal even if Adam Sollitt recovers from back trouble.
“Adam trained well last Thursday but phoned me at 1pm on Friday to tell me that he’d got a bad back and could hardly move.
“I made some phone calls and we were set to sign a goalkeeper on Friday night but he went to a club in a higher division. Nick came in and did very well in both games. He himself has had a back problem and he’s been taking painkillers to play. If Nick’s fit he’ll be in again on Saturday for we have a policy at this club that if you get in and do well you stay in whoever you are. It doesn’t matter that Nick is the assistant manager.”
That policy is likely to be tested though as on-loan Anthony Wilson missed out at Stocksbridge due to a family bereavement and Nathan Joynes came in, scored and played well. Lee Morris had two teeth out and sat out the cup tie, as did Ben Turner who is carrying a niggling foot injury, but both are expected to be fine to face the Dabbers.
l As the League Cup semi-finals are scheduled for Saturday, March 12, Matlock’s trip to Kendal Town will have to be rearranged, most probably now for a midweek date.