The incentive for Matlock Town to beat rock bottom Burscough on Saturday and earn a third successive home win is the possibility of leaping from 15th to tenth in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division table, should results elsewhere go their way.
Prior to last weekend’s 1-0 home win against Nantwich, when Lewis McMahon netted the winner for a second successive home match, manager Mark Atkins said the target was for six points from the Nantwich and Burscough games.
Part one, and on paper, the more difficult task, has been safely negotiated, but with the Gladiators expected to win, they must guard against any complacency.
For Atkins, a win on Saturday is the all-important factor against a Linnets side who have taken twice as many points on their travels as they have collected in home games. Burscough have 12 points from their 14 away matches, including three victories, yet have only five points to show from their games at home.
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“Even though they’re at the bottom of the league, we’ll need to be focused on our game” insisted Atkins. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that there are no easy games in this league and they probably find it easier to play away from home as they’ll look to hit us on the break. I’ve always maintained that our home form will be vital in determining where we finish and we’ve won the last two at home and we’ll be looking to win again on Saturday. I’d obviously like us to win well but if it’s 1-0 again, so be it.”
Having scored just five times in their last seven league games, the lack of goals is an obvious concern for Atkins. But he takes comfort from improved defensive performances. While the Gladiators are the sixth lowest scorers in the division, they have the eighth best defensive record.
“I’ve been concerned with the lack of goals all season, we’ve not been able to kill teams off. We knew all along it would be more difficult than last season when we had Ross Hannah knocking in the goals.
“Strikers of his quality are in short supply and we’re delighted to hear that he has been given an extra year’s contract at Bradford City. We need to be more clinical in the last third, but defensively we’ve been much better, we’ve tended to largely cut out the silly mistakes which saw us concede cheap goals. We spoke about being tighter defensively during the pre-season and the lads have worked hard in this respect which is very pleasing.”
Matlock’s only hat-trick scorer this season, Nathan Joynes, who netted his treble in the 4-0 home win over Chorley on October 8, should return to training this week after knee surgery. This is a big boost for Matlock as Atkins initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season.
Former Gladiator Paul Riley came to the Nantwich game and re-signed for Matlock afterwards. Riley, formerly with Notts County and then Alfreton and Ilkeston Town, spent four and a half years with the Gladiators before moving to his hometown club Eastwood Town during the summer of 2009. His adaptability, being comfortable on the ball whether it from left back, left wing or in the centre of midfield, will be useful.
“Eastwood have a lot of financial problems at the moment and they let a lot of players go last week, ” Atkins explained. “Paul came to the game on Saturday and was keen to join us, he’s often come to our games when Eastwood haven’t been playing.
“I actually spoke to him in the summer but we couldn’t match the financial package Eastwood offered him then. He likes the club and it’s good to have him back for he increases our options, particularly down the left.”
Riley will be added to the squad to take on Burscough. Matlock are at Chasetown on Tuesday night before facing champions elect Chester at home next weekend.
Meanwhile, two Gladiators have left the Reynolds Stadium for pastures new.
Striker TJ Nightingale has joined Evo Stik First Division South bottom club Quorn while winger Craig Nelthorpe has been released to join Brigg Town from the same division.
Nightingale has struggled to hold down a regular starting place after his move from Hucknall Town in the summer, often being a substitute, but has still netted nine times for the Gladiators.
On his Twitter account he said: “Just letting MTFC fans know I’ve signed for Quorn FC. Thanks for all the support, it’s been great, I wish the club all the best and thanks to the Matlock players and staff.”