Tough tests for the Gladiators

Matlock Town manager Mark Atkins.
Matlock Town manager Mark Atkins.

At least three Football League clubs will be visiting the Reynolds Stadium to provide Matlock Town with testing and attractive opposition in the lead-up to the 2012-2013 Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division season, which starts on Saturday, August 18.

Matlock’s players begin what manager Mark Atkins describes as a tough pre-season programme when they return for their first session on June 28.

Then, after away games at Baris Northern Counties East League First Division Teversal on Tuesday, July 17, and Shirebrook Town on Saturday, July 21, Chesterfield make their annual visit to contest the Banner Jones Cup on Tuesday, July 24.

The Spireites suffered both joy and heartbreak last term, winning the Johnstone Paints Trophy with a 2-0 win against Paolo di Canio’s League Two champions Swindon Town in March, but then suffered relegation back to League Two after only one season, six weeks later.

The match is popular with both sets of supporters and usually attracts a 1,000-plus gate to give the Gladiators’ finances a healthy boost ahead of the new season.

Danny Wilson will be sending his Sheffield United side to Matlock on Wednesday, August 8, a fixture which evokes memories of a famous Matlock win in a pre-season game in 2004.

The then-Blades boss Neil Warnock fielded a full strength first team squad in what was Town’s new management duo Phil Brown and Gareth Williams’s first game in charge following the departure of Ernie Moss to Hucknall Town.

A Danny Holland hat-trick and a last-gasp strike from Rockie White gave Matlock a 4-3 victory against their more illustrious Championship opponents.

Nigel Clough’s Derby County will provide the opposition for both clubs’ final pre-season game before their respective seasons get under way.

The Rams come to town on Wednesday, August 15.

Matlock won last season’s fixture 3-2 with T J Nightingale, James Lukic and Lee Whittington all on target for the Gladiators.

Matlock also have away matches at Hucknall Town on Saturday, July 28 and Rainworth Miners Welfare on Saturday, August 11.

Both clubs currently compete in the Evo-Stik NPL First Division South.

Atkins expects his players to maintain a decent level of fitness during the summer months.

He explained: “Lads who’ve been with us know how difficult pre-season is.

“There’s not a lot of time, possibly two or three sessions a week, so we expect lads to remain fit so it gives us more time to do more work with the ball. All lads at non-league level have to work very hard to get their fitness levels in.”