Team selection and tactics look sure to be the main talking points among Matlock supporters ahead of their tough FA Trophy trip to Hednesford on Saturday.
Last weekend, the Gladiators brought home a hard-earned point from table topping Northwich Victoria thanks to a sturdy defensive performance when Atkins laid plans to surprise the Vics, who had won convincingly 2-0 at the Reynolds Stadium just a fortnight beforehand.
Ian Holmes was employed as the lone striker, in front of a packed five-man midfield and a defence which saw a surprise recall for skipper James Lukic, who had missed the previous two matches with a knee ligament injury.
The $64,000 question is whether Atkins will use these tactics again against fourth in the table Hednesford, unbeaten in league matches at home for a year.
Blue Square North outfit Corby Town are the only side to have tasted victory there so far this term, coming from two goals down to win 4-2.
Atkins would give nothing away ahead of Saturday’s clash.
“It’ll be a tough game but we’ll go there in a positive frame of mind and if the players are as focused as they were at Northwich, then we’ll be OK. They need to remember it’s a tie to get through. It doesn’t have to be resolved on Saturday. If we need a second game, then so be it.”
The manager justified his tactics at the Victoria Stadium.
“It would have been naive and stupid to go to a side at the top of the league who had beaten us convincingly just a fortnight earlier and take them on at their own game.
“We’ve got good results before at top sides with that system and it’s a matter of horses for courses. If we have to use that system again then we will.
“We worked hard in training on that system and the plan came off to a tee. The only disappointment was that we didn’t use the ball a bit better when we had it, hence we didn’t create a great deal. But it was a very good defensive performance. we managed to stop their midfield from playing and a very dangerous forward line from functioning.”
Atkins said Lukic was “outstanding” considering that he had hardly trained, so it was not surprising he went down suffering from cramp towards the end.
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He was hoping for a clean bill of health from last night’s home league meeting with Stocksbridge Park Steels when a win could have lifted the Gladiators from ninth to sixth spot. Full back Micky Harcourt was expected to return after a one-match ban.
Atkins is hoping to have talks with two potential signings this week, having previously put in seven day notices of approach with their clubs.
“Both are cup tied for the Trophy games so there’s no immediate rush and it gives us that little more time to do any business if we can,” he said.
Defender Simon Sturdy has joined Goole AFC in Evo-Stik First Division South in a temporary move to build up his match fitness.
A back injury has left him on the sidelines since August. Lee Featherstone will need a fitness check ahead of Saturday’s tie after missing out last weekend with a damaged groin.
* Should Saturday’s game end all square, the replay will be at the Reynolds stadium on Wednesday evening.