As the Gladiators prepare for the chance of reaching the FA Cup First Round Proper for the first time in twenty seven years at Altrincham on Saturday, their joint boss Glenn Kirkwood believes that the good results from their last three matches show “just how far we’ve come as a side in the last couple of months.”

A 3-1 replay win at Workington in the third qualifying round saw them qualify to meet the National League North Robins at Moss Lane and a league visit to the same Borough Park venue just four days later remarkably saw them beat the Reds again by the exact same scoreline. Then on Tuesday, Matlock dominated the home clash with Blyth Spartans to such an extent that if it had been a boxing match, the contest would surely have been stopped. Spartans goalkeeper Adam McHugh denied the hosts time and time again, and also saved a Michael Williams penalty as the North Easterners held on grimly and by the skin of their teeth for an underserved scoreless draw.

“We’re disappointed to be honest not to get the three points against Blyth” said Kirkwood. “But on the flip side our good run continues against a really good side and it shows just how far we’ve come. To get two excellent wins from two very long trips to Workington is fantastic and I can’t speak highly enough of the players for the way they played in the cup tie and then again on Saturday when we thought we were in for a tough afternoon for the lads looked on their knees going into the game. Workington went into it with a point to prove but our lads dug in and showed what we’re all about. Marcus (Dinanga) was superb so it was disappointing he had to miss out against Blyth. He got a brilliant goal and caused them all sorts of problems but everyone played their part in a brilliant team performance, capped by Ted’s (Cribley) unbelievable wonder goal at the end where it seemed as if he beat twelve players if that’s possible.”

Matlock had enough chances to have made it a hat-trick of victories against Blyth but it wasn;t to be.

“It was just one of those nights when it wouldn’t go in, their goalkeeper was exceptional, it was an excellent performance and hopefully we’re saving the goals we deserved but didn’t get for Saturday. We had to make three changes (Alex Pursehouse and Curtis Morrison replacing Jake Green and Marcus Dinanga who were victims of a sickness bug, and Nico de Girolamo replacing tLiamMarsden with a tight hamstring) and all the lads who came in did brilliantly to stake claim for playing on Saturday.”

Kirkwood says the cup game will “be an unbelievably tough tie” despite Alty’s poor start to the season which has seen them win just once in the league, 2-0 at Stalybridge Celtic last weekend.

“They’re in the league above but league positions go out of the window in the FA Cup. We’ve not seen them play but we’ve got a good few friends who manage in that league so there’ll be a few phone calls and we’ll find out as much as we can about them. The FA Cup is so special and if we can catch Altrincham on a bad day then who knows? We’re going to go there confident and give it a good go and if we can get through then it’s brilliant for the club, It would be an unbelievable achievement to reach the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, something we didn’t really consider at the start of the season. We’re all really excited and we look forward to a large travelling support behind us,”

Marsden remains a doubt for the weekend but Dinanga and Green should recover in time as Kirkwood and co-manager Hopkins may have some difficult selection posers ahead of the tie,

If the game ends in a draw, the replay will be at Matlock on Wednesday night and not the usual Tuesday as with Matlock scheduled to be visiting Halesowen in the league, there is a long standing function on in the Social Club. A result will m mean Matlock travel to The Grove aiming to improve on a dismal league record against Halesowen which reads P4 W 0 D 0 L 4 Goals For 5 Goals Against 14.

For Matlock Town’s physio Mark Mullins, the FA Cup evokes a cloudy distant memory of the last time the Gladiators reached the Fourth Qualifying Round in 1989/90.

Then Mullins was a speedy industrious winger in the side managed by Dave Wilton that had beaten Rushall Olympic, Willenhall Town and most notably won a Third Qualifying Round replay at Boston United by the only goal of the game.

That win at te home of the Pilgrims saw Matlock handed a home tie with Enfield and the similarities of their 1989/90 run with this year’s keep on popping up.

After comfortable wins in the opening two rounds, on each occasion Matlock were possibly second favourites going into away replays with Boston and then this season, Workington.

But Matlock produced the goods and as they did all those years ago, they will be trying to get the better of renowned FA Cup giantkillers,

In 1986 Alty won a Third Round replay at then top flight Birmingham City and only last year beat Barnsley at home prior to the Tykes great run to promotion to the Championship via the play offs.

Despite Alty’s cup pedigree, Mullins rates Matlock’s chances of progression.

“Confidence is increasing all the time and if we can play as well as we know we can then I rate our chances highly. A lot of our players are playing very well at the moment and this team is a parallel to the one I played in all those years ago.”

Mullins scored Matlock’s opener in their 3-1 win over Enfield who equalised early in the second period before a screamer from John Sheppard and an overhead bicycle kick finish from Kevin Gee saw Matlock home and get an away tie at Scunthorpe United in Round One where they lost 4-1.

“My advice to the lads is to go and enjoy the day, it’s such an experience, go and give it your all and if all goes well you might get a good draw in the First Round Proper. We had no nerves back then, we were quietly confident as we had a good side, we knew we were capable of beating anyone, just as these lads are. I enjoyed my goal and Shep’s goal for the second was brilliant, my, he could strike a ball! They were good times and I still see the likes of Stuart Franklin and Shep now.”

Asked if he felt he could have got into the present Matlock side had he still been playing, Mullins nodded his head with a smile “I wish I was still playing but I wouldn’t get in as I’d be injured!”

1989/90 was the only time the former Matlock Town favourite played in the First Round of the FA Cup.

“Chances to do that are few and far between so the lads need to take that opportunity in case it doesn’t happen again.”

Ian Richardson

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