“Give us a break” would probably be the plea from Matlock boss Mark Atkins to referees and the gods as his side aim to stop the rot at Colwyn Bay on Saturday.
After four wins on the bounce, Matlock have now lost their last three, with frustration erupting at Mansfield official Andy Wood in last weekend’s 1-0 home loss to Marine.
Both Atkins and assistant Nick Buxton were ordered to the stand in separate incidents in the second half after a late challenge on Lee Featherstone had seen the full back stretchered off and the tackler, Paul Henry, escape with a caution instead of the expected red card.
Atkins then did well to keep his cool in Tuesday’s 3-1 away defeat to Stocksbridge when he claimed Matlock were on the receiving end of bad decisions by Halifax official Mick Beverley for all three Steels goals.
“On Saturday, I said to the ref that he might as well have a yellow shirt on.” Atkins admitted.
“And from the very first minute, the linesman was on our bench’s case, yet allowing the Marine manager to do what he wanted. The tackle on Lee Featherstone was a definite red card, it was right in front of us, their lad got nothing of the ball. It was also very strange how the referee stayed well away from Fez and never came to see how he was. Referees always go up to see how injured players are, he had no input. I’m not blaming him for the result though, that was down to us as we had no cutting edge in the final third.”
But Atkins certainly believed refereeing decisions cost his team one if not all three points at Stocksbridge.
“We’ve every right to moan about the referee against Stocksbridge. When big decisions need to be made, you expect referees and linesmen to get them right, that’s what they are there for. This one’s missed a corner for us which was 100 per cent, a 100 per cent penalty, and a 100 per cent non-foul by Liam King for the free kick for their second goal.
“Their penalty was dubious, but when Ross gets fouled by being pulled back, it was so obvious. Ross Hannah on his left foot isn’t going to pass up that chance lightly. We don’t get the penalty and then they go straight up the field within seconds and get the third goal. It’s very disappointing when all you can speak about is the referee and linesmen. There’s supposed to be a Respect campaign, but where’s the respect from them to the clubs’ management teams and club officials? Decisions like we’ve seen at Stocksbridge can cost managers their jobs.”
The silver lining for Atkins came in the performance in midweek when they created far more in an attacking sense than they had done against the Mariners, when it was difficult to recall a dangerous Matlock attack of note.
Given that they were down to the bare bones, with Gareth Davies beginning a three-match ban and Featherstone, Kris Bowler and Nathan Joynes all on the injured list, Atkins said he felt gutted for his players.
“We played OK, passed the ball quite well on a good pitch and had good possession without again quite having that cutting edge we’d have liked.
“We had three really good chances though and that definite penalty turned down. I’m disappointed for the lads who themselves were gutted in the dressing room. They’d put everything into the game, the effort and determination were great, but they were beaten by an outside force.”
Atkins, though, issued a rallying call to his players and the Gladiators fans.
“It’s important that we don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to be big enough to stand up there and be counted and try and get that win at Colwyn Bay,” he stressed. “We’re still third in the table despite recent results, we were in a great position, now it’s a good position. Everyone has to stick together and it’s good to see that the fans didn’t get on peoples’ backs. They need to remain strong and loyal, stay with the team and help us turn the corner.”
With his threadbare squad stretched almost to the limit, Atkins drafted in winger James Naylor on Tuesday from Blue Square North side Harrogate Town, and is hoping to add to his squad before the weekend.
“James is a non-contract player at Harrogate and we’ve got him on a dual registration arrangement. Harrogate will get first choice on him but he’s not played for a while. He was always only going to get an hour or so at Stocksbridge but he’ll offer us something different down that left hand side.
“Fez will be out for quite a while although the injury could have been worse, Gareth Davies has two more games out banned. Nathan Joynes is possibly one or two weeks away with a side and back strain and Kris Bowler rang me on Tuesday afternoon saying he’d pulled his back at work and was on his way to the hospital to see how bad it was. We’re really struggling for bodies and Danny Wood came straight from work to help me out, but his job at Sheffield United means he has to work on their match days. I’ve made over 30 calls to clubs and agents during last weekend to see what’s available. I’m trying to get a lad in on loan from a Blue Square Premier club and a player from a Conference North team. Hopefully something will happen on that score before Saturday. I’ve also got two seven day notices in to clubs for players, as we need to freshen things up to try and stop this downward spiral.”
Matlock are in League Cup action at the Reynolds Stadium on Tuesday against First Division South table toppers Barwell, but Atkins will be concentrating on one game at a time.
First it’s Saturday’s six-pointer in North Wales. Matlock have been breathing down the Bay’s neck for a fortnight now, being only a point behind their second-placed hosts, but the games in hand have diminished from four to just one. What better time could there be to halt their bad run?