Three weeks ago a defensive headache was troubling Matlock boss Mark Atkins when the Gladiators prepared for their league clash at top of the table Northwich Victoria.
This weekend they travel to second-placed Chester FC, unbeaten at home so far this season, with problems at the other end of the pitch, having potentially just two fit out-and-out forwards at their disposal in leading scorer Ian Holmes and TJ Nightingale.
There’s also the added irritation of midfielder Kris Bowler missing out, serving a one-match ban for his harsh dismissal a fortnight ago at Hednesford.
Nathan Joynes was a surprise exclusion from the squad which drew 1-1 at home to Worksop Town last Saturday after aggravating a knee injury and Atkins admits that Joynes’s injury is a problem he could well have done without.
“Nathan’s injury has come at a bad time for us. He’s had it for about a month but we kept it quiet and tried to manage it the best way we could by playing him in short spells and not overdoing things.
“However, he’s aggravated it and we’re now waiting to see what a specialist says this week.”
So the Gladiators’ striking options look to be limited unless Atkins can recruit before the trip to the Exacta Stadium, and he had his fingers firmly crossed that there were no further injury blows, particularly to Holmes and Nightingale, in last night’s Doodson Sport League Cup tie with Mickleover Sports at the Reynolds Stadium.
It remains to be seen whether the striker shortage influences his team selection at Chester.
In that scoreless draw at Northwich, and the following week’s FA Trophy tie at Hednesford, which also ended 0-0, Atkins opted for the 4-5-1 formation.
Holmes played as a lone attacker, with Atkins hoping that any of his five midfield players could burst through to add potency up front.
“We’ve got a busy month of matches and it’ll probably mean that I’ll have to use everyone we have left because we can’t keep expecting the same players to play 90 minutes after 90 minutes after 90 minutes,” Atkins continued.
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“Lee Featherstone’s also still out so we’re a bit short on numbers but there are a couple of options that might be open to me.”
The two seven-day notices Atkins put in on players, believed to be forwards last week, failed to bear fruit as both players’ personal and work commitments meant that they would have been unable to commit fully to the Matlock cause, despite their desire to join the Gladiators.
Atkins, though, remains confident that his troops can return from Chester with a decent result.
“We showed in tough games at both Northwich and Hednesford, both very good sides, that we’ve got players who are up for the challenge and I see no reason why they can’t go to Chester and do it again.
“Playing in front of a big 3,000 crowd won’t faze our players, they’ll enjoy the experience and I think they’ll do very well.”
Then on Tuesday night comes a visit to Stafford Rangers , who gave the Gladiators a good game at the Reynolds Stadium in September with Matlock needing a last gasp James Knowles header to rescue a point in a 1-1 draw.
It was a similar story in last weekend’s Worksop game, only this time it was Micky Harcourt’s 94th minute header, his first Matlock goal, which brought the hosts level after former Gladiator Jamie Jackson had fired the Tigers ahead ten minutes into the second half.
“I think a draw was right on the day. You have to be satisfied with a draw when you get to the 90th minute of the game 1-0 down. There were two good sides out there. I was pleased that we kept on going and playing football to the end, we showed the desire to keep going.
“It was a great goal from Micky Harcourt. We encourage the lads to go out there and express themselves and Micky’s took it upon himself to go up there for the corner and he’s got on the end of it with a magnificent header.”