Matlock boss Mark Atkins feels that hard work is earning its reward as their impressive pre-season form continued last week.
Prior to last night’s home meeting with a Sheffield United XI, the Gladiators had won all five of their away friendlies, albeit against lower opposition.
Their only defeat came against a strong Chesterfield side at the Reynolds Stadium.
While pre-season wins mean nothing in terms of league points, the manner in which Matlock have won their games has impressed Atkins.
“We’ve looked a far better side when we’ve had the ball, we’ve played at a quicker tempo and have scored a good number of goals (16 in six matches)” he said. “It’s been a tough pre-season and we still have Rainworth (on Saturday) and Derby County (next Wednesday) to play. We need to keep the workrate up.”
Attention is quite rightly fixed on the season’s opener at home to Nantwich Town on Saturday week and Atkins says that players will be battling to make the team to face the Dabbers.
The only certainty is that skipper James Lukic will miss out as he starts a three-match ban following his dismissal against Whitby Town last term.
Barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, Jon Kennedy should line up in goal. But places are up for grabs for the outfield positions.
“We’ve a big squad and we’ll be utilising the squad and working on certain things in the remaining friendly matches,” Atkins continued. “We’ve got two players for each position and I’ll be seeing who can best adapt to what we’re aiming to do.
“Jon Kennedy is a certain starter but everybody else knows that one bad game could see them out of the team. They need to be on their toes, that’s a good thing and it’s probably the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve managed to be in this sort of position. The new lads have shown a great appetite, in fact everyone’s worked hard.”
The work ethic is emphasised by the fact that Atkins has had his squad in for two hard training sessions the night before midweek games in the last couple of weeks.
The Gladiators beat both Sheffield County League Handsworth and Evo-Stik First Division North Ossett Albion 2-0.
“We probably didn’t quite get as much out of the Handsworth game as we could have with just one striker available, but the Ossett game was a very good game for us. We bossed it again, having 80 per cent of the play so I was very pleased with us,” Atkins declared as he then praised the goalscorers of Friday night Lee Ellington and Joe Leesley. A promising partnership seems to be developing.
“Lee has seen it and done it, he knows non-league and will score goals for us but he also works hard and his build up play is good. Joe’s an unknown quantity at 18 who has done well, works hard and scored some cracking goals.”
Lewis McMahon and Nathan Joynes appear to have recovered from injury, having come through Tuesday’s training and were expected to start against the Blades.
Meanwhile Chris Bettney will not feature for Matlock this season. The winger was released at the end of last season and asked Atkins for another chance, but the manager has decided that Bettney is not part of his plans.