Matlock Town will begin their pre-season programme in style tonight (Thurs) as Steve McClaren brings his Derby County side to the Autoworld Arena.
It will be the Rams’ first game since their Wembley heartache in the Championship play-off final in May, with McClaren expected to bring a strong side to face Mark Atkins’ men.
And having seen his troops return from their summer holidays in good shape, Atkins is looking forward to their first challenge.
He said: “Everybody came back to training in a good physical state and I’m really pleased with them.
“We’ve had a couple of tough sessions as you’d expect at this stage but that will put us in good stead moving forward and in particular for the Derby game. “Pre-season is a necessary evil and no players enjoy it, particularly if they’ve also been working all day, but it’s all about making sure we don’t pick up any injuries and building the fitness levels up.”
Atkins hopes the match with Derby will be a good spectacle for the large crowd expected at the Autoworld Arena, but was keen to point out that from a footballing perspective, there are certain boxes that will need be ticked.
He added: “You’d obviously expect Derby to have a lot of the ball so it will be a good exercise in organisation without the ball and then learning to keep it when we do get possession.
“Results aren’t important at this stage but at the same time you don’t want to get battered so we’ll have to be in the right frame of mind.
“We’ll obviously be working on two or three different formations that we can call upon when needs be over the course of the season but our main principles will remain the same in terms of trying to pass the ball and work hard.
“Everything we do in the next few weeks will be geared towards being ready for whoever it is we’ll face on the opening day of the season on August 16.”
Several trialists are likely to feature during pre-season having appeared in the early training sessions, with Atkins adding: “It’s hard to blood trialists in games like this as they’ve not had much training time, but given we don’t have the biggest squad and that I don’t want to be forced into playing too many players for 90 minutes at this stage, there will no doubt be opportunities for new faces to impress.”
Gladiators chairman Tom Wright, meanwhile, says he hopes fans will attend in numbers for the clash with Derby.
He said: “Derby will be showing off their new kit for the first time and we’ve been working hard to get our ground looking good for the new campaign, so it will be great to see as many people as possible coming along.
“The match isn’t all ticket so people can pay on the night. These games are important from a playing perspective but also in terms of being a big financial boost for the club too so we hope for a good crowd.”
Admission to the Rams match will cost £9 for adults and £5.50 for concessions (over 65s and under-14s)
Following the Derby game, Matlock will then host Chesterfield next Wednesday night (9th) for the Autoworld Cup, the match kicking off at 7.30pm.
By Mark Duffy