Tough test for the Gladiators

Lewis McMahon, who grabbed two goals in the 3-1 win for Matlock Town in their match against Burscough.
Lewis McMahon, who grabbed two goals in the 3-1 win for Matlock Town in their match against Burscough.

MATLOCK’S recent impressive home record will be tested to the full in front of their best home crowd of the season on Saturday.

Table topping champions elect Chester visit the Reynolds Stadium, expecting to have the backing of around 800 fans, and will face a Matlock side riddled with injury problems.

As many as five key Gladiators could miss out and manager Mark Atkins has hinted at the possibility of drafting in loan players.

Gareth Davies aggravated his knee problem in the home win against Nantwich a fortnight ago and has already missed two games.

It looks like being another fortnight before he can resume training. Skipper James Lukic battled on for over an hour in the weekend’s 3-1 victory over Burscough after injuring his back and was forced to sit out the midweek 1-1 draw at Chasetown.

Then came a treble blow as full back Micky Harcourt lasted just ten minutes on Tuesday before a suspected broken bone in his foot saw him hobble off, top scorer Ian Holmes retired with a side injury and Lee Featherstone, suffering from a groin strain, was replaced in stoppage time by Nathan Joynes.

“It could be we’ll be without all of them for Saturday,” Atkins ruefully conceded. “It’s far from ideal and I’ll have to see how we’re fixed nearer to the time but it could be that I’ll have to bring some players in on loan.”

Chester’s lead over second placed Northwich Victoria is currently five points and they have a game in hand. Matlock’s recent improved tally of ten points from their last five games has left them tenth, hopeful of finishing the season in the top half.

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They have the fifth best home record in the division with 31 of their forty six league points being amassed at the Reynolds Stadium.

“Basically we’ve nothing to lose on Saturday “ Atkins continued. “It’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to, we know Chester are a very good side and there’ll be a big crowd but it’s a challenge we’ll relish and whatever side we put out, we’ll be determined to give it our best shot.”

Matlock suffered their heaviest defeat of the season at the Deva Stadium in November, but Chester scored twice at the death to double a two goal lead and win by 4-0. But Matlock have shown resilience at home lately to win three on the trot to give themselves breathing space from being sucked in to the relegation picture.

Liam Wilkin’s first competitive goal for Matlock gave them the lead at Chasetown, the former Winterton Rangers striker had made a telling impact as a substitute against Burscough. He made the opening two goals and might have capped a fine performance with a goal late on only to lose control at the vital moment.

“Liam changed the game for us,” said Atkins. “I was disappointed not to be in front at half time with the chances we had, but I felt we needed something different and Liam got in behind their defence with his pace, similar to how Ross Hannah did when he was with us. We’ve missed that. I wanted to see what he could do with next season in mind and that’s why we didn’t fight too hard to keep hold of TJ (Nightingale) knowing we’d got Liam ready and waiting. His work commitments has meant he’s only trained once with the squad since coming to us, so to be fair to him we’ve had to bring him along gently. But on Saturday he did very well and he got his chance from the start on Tuesday scoring a good goal and having a clever back heel cleared off the line just before.”

Better news on the injury front is the return of forward Nathan Joynes earlier than expected after knee injury. It was initially feared he would be out forn the rest of the season but he has made cameo appearances in the last two games after a week’s training.

“Again we’ve got to keep a close eye on him but it’s great to have him back “ said Atkins.

Matlock are asking fans to arrive at the ground a little earlier than usual on Saturday to avoid congestion at the turnstiles.

“There’s going to be a good crowd in and there should be a cracking atmosphere with the chance for fans to make it an afternoon of football with the lunchtime televised game being shown in the Social Club which is open from noon” said a club spokesman. “We ask fans to allow that extra time to get into the ground and we hope everyone enjoys a great game and hopefully another home win.”

Having been given an extra year on his contract at Bradford City, Ross Hannah has been loaned to Blue Square North FC Halifax Town to get some goals and some much needed playing time. Hannah has been used mainly as a substitute for the Bantams since his move from Matlock and has scored three first team goals.

Matlock’s next Sportsman’s Dinner takes place in the Social Club this Thursday (March 29) when guest speaker is former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley. Comedy comes from one of the country’s top entertainers in Steve Womack. Tickets cost £35 and are available from chairman Tom Wright on 07850 075968.