Boss Mark Hume completed the transformation of Matlock Town with a 14th place finish in the NPL Premier Division then a Derbyshire Senior Cup Final win at the Proact Stadium on Monday night.
The cup win by an astonishing seven-goal margin brought the Gladiators season to a joyful end after their final league match of the campaign resulted in a 1-0 win at Ramsbottom United on Saturday.
Winning the relegation battle was always Hume’s chief aim, but he said the Senior Cup triumph, with Hume only at the helm for less than half a season, was “the icing on the cake.”
But he added: “First things first, it was important to finish our league games on a high and we did that at Ramsbottom.”
Even Hume, a demanding boss, could not have expected the demolition job Matlock carried out on their South Derbyshire opponents to lift the county trophy.
Their success was deserved given Matlock’s difficult route to the final which even in a nervous season, has seen them beat play-off chasing Buxton, Conference National side Alfreton Town and then in the semi-final knock out FA Vase finalists and North West Counties League champions Glossop North End.
Reflecting on the final Hume added: “We were a little bit off in the first 15 minutes or so but we changed things around a bit and in the second-half we were so much better.
“At first the pitch was a little too good for us, we’re not used to ones like this in our league but once we did get used to it, there was no stopping us, it suited our pact attacking play and we were superb going forward”.
Jamie McDonagh was unplayable, netting a hat-trick and could have had a good few more goals.
He left Town fans with brilliant memories in what looks like being his last game for Matlock.
The Northern Ireland U21 international, along with fellow loanees from Sheffield United Julian Banton and Otis Khan, will return to Bramall Lane with glowing references from Hume.
Hume said: “For Jamie it was the perfect way to go out and the Sheffield United lads have been fantastic for us.
“I can’t thank and praise Chris Morgan and his staff there enough for their help. We’ve got something out of them being here, but the players and Sheffield United have as well.
“We’ve got a good relationship with the club so I’m hopeful we’ll get other players coming our way,
“Otis, Jamie and Julian now have probably got to go to a higher level, say the Conference or League Two - they are good enough that’s for sure.”
Hume though was keen to praise all of his squad and the Matlock fans.
“I need to congratulate all of the players for they’ve been magnificent,” he said.
“This cup win has capped off a perfect reign for me so far. But although the lads will have time off in the summer, I’ll be working on next season’s squad and I can tell you that’s already started.
“I don’t want us in the position we were in during January. When I came everyone started with a clean slate and the lads here now have all stepped up to the plate and winning the cup is a good reward for them.
“The fans also have been fantastic, even when we had that dodgy spell in March when results didn’t go our way, so I’m delighted for them as well that we’ve stayed up and won some silverware.”.
Chairman Tom Wright was quick to acknowledge Hume’s contribution in not only turning Matlock’s season around in terms of results but also their playing style.
He said: “Mark’s come in and has done a fantastic job and has remained within the budget we’d set.
“It wasn’t the easiest of situations for him to inherit, so to escape relegation with relative comfort after looking down and out at Christmas and then to lift the Derbyshire Senior Cup with a swagger has done wonders not only for the club but for the town. He’s definitely put smiles back on peoples’ faces and given us a team for us all to be proud of.”
The Senior Cup will be on view at the Gladiators Presentation Evening on Friday week (8 May) at the Autoworld Lounge. Admission to the event (7.30pm for 8pm start), which includes disco and buffet, is free.