It’s crunch time for play-off bid

James Lukic
James Lukic

Make no bones about it, Matlock need to beat Whitby Town in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off (1pm) at the Reynolds Stadium.

After a fantastic February which saw them win four successive league games and two in the Evo-Stik League Challenge Cup to earn boss Mark Atkins the Manager of the Month award, it’s been a miserable March as six games have brought a tally of just four points.

A home draw with Northwich on the first Saturday of the month was followed by victory at Whitby the following Wednesday.

But then it started to go wrong for the Gladiators, who succumbed to a late goal to lose 1-0 at Kendal before Buxton, Bradford Park Avenue and North Ferriby United all got the better of Matlock by the same 3-1 margin.

Atkins’s men, in fifth spot, are clinging on to the final play-off place by the skin of their teeth but now FC United of Manchester and Worksop Town could overtake them by winning their games in hand.

By the time you read this, FC United might just have done that last night (Wednesday) if they won at Whitby.

While there is still time to put things right, Matlock skipper James Lukic agrees that a win on Saturday is essential.

“Me and the lads are gutted with recent results,” the Matlock legend admitted.

“We’d got ourselves into a good position but at present we seem to be throwing it all away. So we’ve got to go out and win on Saturday.

“Other teams are going to have bad patches. Let’s hope we’ve had ours now. It’s not as if we’ve played badly, except against Buxton, but giving away silly goals is killing us and it’s something we’ve got to eradicate.

“To let in nine goals in three games is plainly not good enough, yet earlier in the season we were strong at the back and not conceding a lot of goals.

“We got up to second so it’s not as if we’re a bad side, but we’ve got to get that win on Saturday and then take things from there.”

Matlock should be boosted by the return of the league’s top scorer, Ross Hannah, who scored his 45th goal of the campaign by giving his side an early lead at Bradford last weekend.

But later in the match he was forced off with a tweaked hamstring and had to sit out the Ferriby defeat when scouts from Oldham Athletic, amongst others, had turned up to keep tabs on the Gladiators’ prize asset.

“It was just too soon on Tuesday for me,” Hannah explained. “The problem was it was a hamstring. Anything else and I could possibly have given it a go, but a tear or a pull can lead to the season being over and that’s just not worth it. Hopefully, I’ll be right for the Whitby game on Saturday though.

“We know that we’ve got to start winning games again by putting our chances away and not conceding goals for fun like we’re doing at the moment.

“We’re all focussed on the job in hand and need to go out there on Saturday and do the good things we were doing two or three weeks ago.”

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Atkins added to his squad as promised last Friday when he brought in, on loan, six foot four inch striker John McAliskey on loan from Northwich Victoria for the rest of the season and also made a permanent signing in winger Ryan Mallon from Worksop Town. Both made their debuts at Bradford, although McAliskey’s was cut short after the referee threatened to send him off around the half-hour mark for persistent fouling.

“We had no choice other than to bring him off as the referee was going to send him off before long” said an angry Atkins. “To have to substitute him because the referee was threatening to send him off was an absolute disgrace, but we couldn’t afford him to be sent off. We had six players booked, Bradford just one and yet there wasn’t a dirty tackle in the game. We had two very dodgy penalties given against us. if the players say they didn’t touch the player and Ben (Turner) and Adam (Yates) are both very honest lads, then I believe them. But we came up defensively short again so it turned into a very disappointing afternoon.”

Matlock could now face a punishment from the Football Association for their six yellow cards.

On McAliskey and Mallon, Atkins said they would prove to be two good additions.

“Both John and Ryan will give us that bit more quality” Atkins declared. “John did very well against us in both games he played for Northwich and we needed someone in especially as I couldn’t get Anthony Wilson back from Alfreton. I’d been looking to bring in Ryan for a while and he’ll give us something extra down that left hand side. More importantly it helps us numbers wise for at times we’ve had just two outfield players on the bench. that’s not ideal but I’m not complaining as I fully understand that the work needed to be done with the new stand and the new Social Club which will benefit the club long term.”

The new club will be open for its first Matlock Town game against Whitby when after the early kick off, the Wales v England EURO 2012 qualifier will be shown on TV. fans can gain details relating to membership by seeing Graham or Phil in the bar.