Tough first week for the Gladiators

Zayn Hakeem
Zayn Hakeem

Glenn Kirkwood acknowledged the tough opening his Matlock Town side face to the new season this week, but says his players are itching to get started.

The Gladiators’ first game is at Stourbridge on Sunday, 24 hours after everyone else gets under way with home games to follow against Hednesford Town on Tuesday night and Altrincham next weekend.

“We couldn’t have asked for a tougher start,” Town’s joint boss admitted. “Those three clubs will be right up there at the end of the season.

“Stourbridge are rightly one of the favourites for the league title.

“People shouldn’t be surprised, they reach the third round of the FA Cup every year at the moment. They did really well in the league last season and were unlucky not to be promoted (losing 1-0 in the play off final at Spennymoor). “But we think we’re ready and we’re sick to death now of playing friendlies and training.

“The lads worked really hard with the rain pelting down in training on Tuesday and me and Hoppo remarked what a strong squad we have this season.

“It’s what we wanted, not just the basic 11 players. We have ready made replacements if someone drops out for whatever reason.”

As Kirkwood pointed out both Matlock and Stourbridge will have different squads from last season.

Most notably prolific striker Luke Benbow has moved to Conference National Solihull Moors from Stourbridge while the Gladiators have 10 new additions to their ranks, having lost three.

Marcus Dinanga has returned to Burton Albion and Niall McManus has returned to London following the completion of his university studies in Sheffield.

This week full back Liam Marsden has also left the club.

Matlock had already signed full backs Ryan Wilson and Rory Coleman, former Matlock Academy defender Max Hunt, defensive midfielder Todd Jordan, winger Luis Rose and striker Shaun Harrad before Kirkwood and fellow boss Craig Hopkins made four more signings during the past week.

Mansfield Town strikers Tyler Blake and Zayn Hakeem have arrived in separate loan deals, Blake until Christmas and Hakeem for a month.

Rhys Sharpe, who had a loan spell at Matlock at the end of last season has also checked in with higher placed clubs interested in acquiring his services.

Then on Tuesday former Rotherham United winger Darnell Bailey-King signed on the dotted line after impressing in the pre-season build-up.

“Tyler, Zayn and Darnell should be really big players for us,” said Kirkwood. “And we’re really fortunate to have Rhys Sharpe. Both Stourbridge and ourselves will be two new sides and it’s a case of whoever adapts the best. “We’ve said all along, it’s all about that first game when points are at stake, results and performances in pre-season don’t mean anything.”

Matlock could be in their brand new away strip of all-anthracite at Stourbridge after it was given a debut on Friday night when goals from Harrad and Dwayne Wiley saw them end their pre-season programme with a 2-1 home win over Belper Town, captain for the night Joe Doyle-Charles collecting the Caroline Melbourne Trophy won by the Nailers in a penalty shoot-out 12 months ago.

As for the line-up at Stourbridge, it’s wait and see with a host of players hoping for the nod to begin Matlock’s league campaign.