Town’s win is a relief for Atkins

John McAliskey
John McAliskey

Boss Mark Atkins admitted it was “a huge relief” to beat Nantwich Town at the Reynolds Stadium on Tuesday and end their sequence without a league win at the tenth attempt.

Three draws and six defeats followed the last three-point haul at Whitby on March 9, which saw the Gladiators slide down from second to 11th before kick off.

The 4-2 success was not without its worrying moments, particularly as the relegation-threatened visitors held a 2-0 lead with 37 minutes gone.

“It’s a big relief to get that monkey off our backs,” said Atkins. “But it was a very poor first half from us. One shot at goal at home to a team near the bottom was simply not good enough and I told the players that at half-time.

“But I thought we played very well in the second half. Luck was with us for the first goal on the stroke of half-time, that’s for sure, so it was important we built on that.

“We scored more or less straight away in the second half and that was the catalyst we needed. We fully deserved the win in the end as Nantwich could only muster mainly long shots when we’d gone in front and James Lukic and Adam Yates had fantastic second halves.

“We still gave too much space away, slipping too deep and giving away silly free kicks but we came through in the end.

“I’m very pleased not only for myself but for the players who have continued to work hard in those ten matches.”

Matlock are now ninth, six points behind fifth-placed Buxton, and may now be reflecting on not picking up only another five or so points in the winless run.

A two-goal lead was sacrificed at home to Whitby while Matlock led at Hucknall last Saturday, only to be pegged back again for another draw. Bradford Park Avenue secured a fortunate 1-0 win at Matlock a fortnight ago.

Even in this poor run, opportunity knocked for the Gladiators to remain in contention for a play-off spot.

“Nobody’s been happy with the way things have gone in this past six weeks,” Atkins continued.

“But it’s now a case of looking forward and not back. What’s done is done. We want to get two more wins now to finish the season on a high.”

There was an unlikely match winner against Nantwich as giant on-loan striker John McAliskey (pictured) finally found his feet to score twice and force the own goal which put Matlock back into contention.

“John’s a very honest lad, probably too honest for his own good at times,” said Atkins.

“But he’s a nice lad and everyone is aware that things haven’t worked out as we all would have hoped.

“He’s come to the club at a sticky time and never moaned either at training or when he’s been out of the side. He deserves a lot of credit for his performance for he showed a lot of endeavour and we were all delighted that he’s got two goals.”

Gareth Davies also received a pat on the back from Atkins for a stirring second half display which kept the Gladiators ticking over.

“Gareth’s a different type of player to our other lads in midfield. He’s a ball player and needs to be in good positions. He can create good things for us and make us play and he was different class in the second half.”

But one player rarely out of the headlines is Ross Hannah.

His stoppage time strike saw him draw level with Bobby Mountain on 49 goals for the season, the current club record being set by the pint-sized marksman in 1982/83.

“That’s Ross,” said Atkins who is keen to keep hold of his goalscoring machine despite interest from Football League and Conference clubs.

“One chance and he’s got another goal and everyone here is hoping he can beat that record. He’s done very well in that he’s continued scoring in spite of all the hoo-hah about a possible move, which to be honest has been unsettling for everyone.

There’s a new contract on the table for him with Matlock Town. I spoke to him the other week after the Halifax game and will probably be talking to him again this week. We want him to stay, he loves it here and everyone loves having him here.”

The Gladiators’ season ends with two massive games as FC United of Manchester visit on Saturday (3 pm) before on Easter Monday afternoon Town make the short trip to Buxton.

Both clubs may need wins against Matlock to guarantee their place in the play offs and with Atkins aiming to finish the campaign in winning form, two intriguing games are in the offing.

The FC United game will surely attract Matlock’s best crowd of the season with anything from 800 to 1000 visiting fans expected. Gladiators officials have asked spectators to arrive in good time ahead of kick off to avoid congestion on the turnstiles. The Manchester United versus Everton Premiership game which starts at 12.45 pm will be shown on television in the new Social Club.

Matlock will be without Lee Morris who joins fellow striker Dene Cropper and goalkeeper Adam Sollitt on the sidelines, but they are expected to welcome back Kris Bowler after an ankle injury.

The Social Club’s licence has been granted with no objections being raised and will initially be open from Tuesday to Saturday from 6 pm and for Matlock Town home matches from 12 noon. A number of special events are planned including the club’s awards night on Friday May 6 when the Matlock Mercury Fans Player of the Year award, amongst others will be presented.

On Sunday there is a special charity match between a Rising Sun Select X1 from the Middleton by Wirksworth pub and a Birmingham City Veterans team at the Reynolds stadium. Kick off 11 am, facilities open from 10 am.