Matlock Town boss Mark Atkins praised his side as performances and results against two title challengers in the last ten days offered him, Town fans, and leaders North Ferriby United some justified encouragement.

The Gladiators held both FC United of Manchester and then Hednesford Town to 2-2 draws and were good value for their point in both fixtures.

The draw at Keys Park was against the odds, especially after they had been reduced to ten men in the 64th minute when captain James Lukic was harshly sent off with the match still scoreless.

But Atkins gambled by introducing top scorer Lewis McMahon for his first taste of action since injuring ankle ligaments against Borrowash Victoria on January 29, and it worked a treat.

McMahon scored both Matlock goals, the second one a last gasp spot kick, to take his tally to 21 for the season.

“He played a lot longer than ideally we’d have wished but at 1-0 down and down to ten men we knew we’d need someone who can put a chance away should one come our way. Lewis is quality in that situation and it was a brilliant finish for his first just after he came on. It was a great chip and then he took a great penalty at the end. Hopefully he’ll have had no adverse reaction and we’ll continue to improve as our players come back.”

Atkins though was pleased with everyone and it was a great point against a side that the manager had rated as the best visiting side at Matlock this season.

“I’m very pleased with both the result and the performance given the circumstances. The lads all played very well and matched a top side on their own ground and fully deserved at least a point. In some games there’s been a lack of quality in the final third but we’ve scored four goals against FC United and Hednesford which is really encouraging.”

Lukic’s dismissal did not go down well with Atkins.

“If the referee’s going to give a penalty well then okay, but he should have understood it was a collision and while penalties do get given for collisions and 50-50 situations, to send James off was the wrong decision. He couldn’t have been 100% sure it was a goalscoring chance, their attacker had his back to goal in any case. To have the penalty given against us was disappointing as it was to go 1-0 down. It was a big ask for the lads but they rallied and showed great positivity. Lewis got a great goal but then we went 2-1 down which was a downer but we still showed great spirit to come back and score from a penalty of our own.”

It has been a tough run of games for the Gladiators who had faced Witton Albion and Chorley (who won 3-1 at FC United last Saturday) prior to their last two matches.

“We might not have won any of those games but we’ve been in contention to win every one of them” Atkins maintained. “The quality’s been there and even though we’ve had some lads missing, nobody can fault them for their effort.”

Wednesday night’s visit to Ashton United was called off. so fifteen goal striker Massiah McDonald’s return to the line up against Whitby at the Reynolds Stadium on Saturday will not now happen as he completes his three match ban. Atkins will check on the fitness of full back Micky Harcourt (tight hamstring), midfielder James Ashmore (ankle) and emergency striker and defender Laurence Gaughan (achilles) in the run up to the Whitby clash. Had Town got a full squad available, Ashmore and Gaughan would probably not have featured at Keys Park.

Whitby have taken twenty six out of the last thirty nine points on offer, a run which began with a 1-0 home win against the Gladiators back in December, to rise to a comfortable mid table slot.

“It’ll be another tough game and we’ll need to maintain that workrate and desire that can win you points in difficult games” said Atkins who will be wanting his side to repeat the FC United and Hednesford performances and turn draws into a win which would be only their fourth at home in the league this season.

Matlock will be bidding for a place in the Doodson Sport League Cup semi finals on Tuesday when they entertain First Division North Farsley FC . Admission prices have been reduced to £7 for adults, £5 for seniors and concessions with under 12’s paying £2.

IAN RICHARDSON

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