MArk Atkins has praised his Matlock Town players for their fine start to the season but believes there is even more to come from them.
The Gladiators went into last night’s (Wednesday) home match with Stafford Rangers boasting a six-match unbeaten run following Saturday’s battling 2-1 win at struggling Burscough but Atkins feels his side needs to brush up on its finishing, to enable them to kill off teams earlier in games.
Nevertheless, the grit and determination shown in last Saturday’s potentially tricky fixture certainly pleased him as his pre-match warning about there being no easy games in the Evo-Stik League Premier Division proved correct.
He explained: “It was a horrible day with all the wind and rain and that made it a difficult game. Burscough are not a bad side so all credit to them for the way they battled throughout.
“We had three or four good chances which we didn’t take and then suddenly we were 1-0 down, but the lads showed a lot of character to come back strongly. They applied themselves and fully deserved the three points.
“I’ve told them that they’ve got to start taking these chances and stop making it so difficult for themselves. 14 points from our first seven games is a good start but we can improve our finishing to kill teams off.”
Atkins was pleased to be able to include both Lee Whittington and TJ Nightingale in his starting line-up as both had picked up injuries last week and there were fears Nightingale could have been out for some time.
“Lee was only a slight knock and we thought he’d be OK but TJ was more of a worry because we feared he’d done his knee ligaments.
“But he rested it, iced it, said he felt OK and passed a fitness test so that was good news for him and for the team.
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“We are also now able to bring back Nathan Joynes at any time from his loan at Ossett so that potential problem up front has eased.”
The Town boss said during the close season that his side had lacked experience at the business end of the last campaign and is delighted with the way his more experienced new additions have blended in so far.
“The mix of youth and experience is just right. Chris Bettney has been a big player for us. With his experience and his knowhow, he’s helped to change the dynamic, Ian Holmes has been at this level before for a number of years, as has TJ, so that experience is helping the younger lads, such as Liam King, push on and benefit from playing alongside those older players.
“I’ve been very pleased with Ian Holmes. He has come in to fill Ross Hannah’s shoes so that’s a big position to fill but he’s done well, he’s got his five goals so far, he’s fitted into the side easily and his workrate has been phenomenal.
“All the new lads have done well and they have taken on board what I want from them. The same goes for the whole squad so I can’t fault anyone for their efforts so far or for their attitude.
“Last year, at times, I was realistically picking from 14 or 15 so it wasn’t difficult to choose a team but this time we have a stronger squad and more competition for places so that’s ideal.
“Lads who are coming off the bench, like James Knowles and Kris Bowler on Saturday, are doing well and pushing me to give them a starting place. We seem to be working well as a squad.”
Saturday’s game at home to Bradford Park Avenue and Tuesday’s match at Hednesford provides a useful benchmark to see how far Matlock have improved on last season as both opponents are currently in the top five.
“They are tough games coming up and we’ll know a little bit more about how good we are after those. I think it will be the same old faces chasing promotion with the odd surprise team perhaps creeping but I can’t complain about the start we’ve made.
“Having said that, I’m sure there’s more to come from us. We’ve been trying to get the lads focusing on what we can do, rather than bothering about who’s in the opposition changing room. I know these teams, we have them watched and I can prepare the lads for the matches but I want them to focus on what we are capable of, and I’m pleased to see they are taking that on board.
“I just want us to get a little better with taking our chances because we are making it hard for ourselves. We should be putting these games out of sight by half-time and killing teams off. Apart from that, I’m happy with them.”
On the injuries front, Lee Featherstone is still recovering from a thigh injury while Simon Sturdy is expected to play a game this weekend, possibly with Pickering, to help with his ongoing comeback.