Gladiators gain valuable ground

Ross Hannah
Ross Hannah

Matlock boss Mark Atkins reckons last Saturday’s 4-0 win at foot-of-the-table Retford United was a massive result for his side in more ways than one.

Not only did it end a run of three successive league defeats, but, on a day when half of the Evo-Stik League Premier Division programme was washed out, the Gladiators gained valuable ground in the play-off race.

“It was a vital game for us, especially with a lot of the other sides not playing,” Atkins admitted. “Points on the board are better than games in hand, as we’ve found out recently. But we’ve managed to take 15 points from our last eight games, which can be classed as championship-winning form. If we can continue with a return like that, we’ll be right up there. Other clubs will have to face the type of demanding schedule we faced in January when we had to play a lot of games. Injuries, tiredness and suspensions can all kick in with a programme like that, so there is pressure on the other clubs to get the points that they need.”

Atkins was pleased with both the result and the performance in testing conditions at Cannon Park as goals from James Lukic, James Knowles, Ross Hannah and Anthony Wilson earned the win that was universally expected against a Retford side yet to taste victory on home soil this campaign. The fixture presented Matlock with a nasty banana skin and it was essential they did not slip up on a mudbath of a surface which only just passed the referee’s inspection, and in torrential rain.

“It was always going to be a tricky game for us, bearing in mind Retford’s position, coupled with the conditions we found when we got there. But I have to say that I thought it was a thoroughly professional performance from us. It was an important three points for us and it could have ended up seven or eight nil but for the Retford keeper (who also saved a Ross Hannah penalty) and better finishing.”

After the recent glut of fixtures, a clear midweek ahead of Saturday’s home clash with play-off rivals Kendal Town was welcomed by Atkins.

“The lads were very tired at the end on Saturday, having played on a mudbath of a pitch so the free midweek was ideal. We’re training just the once, so it’ll give the lads the chance to get their breath back and have a well-earned rest. Gareth Davies will be available again on Saturday after suspension, which gives us another option.”

Matlock will be looking to set the record straight after Kendal visited the Reynolds Stadium in November and won 2-1 in an FA Trophy replay.

“We didn’t play well in the Trophy replay, we gifted them both of their goals, so that’s something we musn’t do on Saturday for Kendal are a good side. With this match and all of our games, it’s a matter of taking each one as it comes and if we can give 100 per cent, then we’ll stand a good chance of winning,” Atkins declared.

Then on Tuesday, Matlock travel to Stocksbridge Park Steels for the second time in three weeks, this time in the quarter-finals of the League Challenge Cup. Again, revenge will be in the Gladiators’ thoughts, for the Steels won 3-1 in controversial circumstances.

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won 3-1 in controversial circumstances.

Matlock will be aware also that the South Yorkshire side appear to be hitting form after a disappointing season to date. Since the win against them, Stocksbridge have also knocked high-flying North Ferriby United out of the League Cup and then last weekend won 3-2 at Kendal.

“We got beat in the league so obviously we want to go there and put things right,” said Atkins. “If we can play as well as we did then, but this time take our chances and have the rub of the green, then we’ll stand a good chance of going through. It’s a chance to get into the semi-finals and we’ll be going all out to get a positive result as it’s a good draw for us.”

Atkins was hoping to have added to his squad prior to the Retford trip, having put seven days notice in on two players, but it appears as if he might need to look elsewhere.

“One of them is staying with his club, the other’s thinking about it, but we’ve heard nothing as yet so I’m not optimistic about him coming. We have other avenues to go down, but we must ensure we keep within the funds we’ve got available.”

The Gladiators’ boss though was quick to praise the recent contribution of Liam King, who this season has operated in midfield, central defence and as a full-back. He believes that the former Rotherham United youngster has been Matlock’s best player over the last few weeks.

“Liam had a bad time of it early on in the season when his tonsilitis set him back a bit. Consequently, we had to leave him out of the side but since coming back in, whether it’s been in midfield, at centre half or full-back, he’s been absolutely outstanding and his fitness levels have been fantastic.

“His attitude’s been spot on and it’s a lesson others should learn to follow Liam’s example in that, having been left out, he worked so hard to earn his place back and then keep it. He’s been our best player this past few weeks.”