Matlock boss Mark Atkins has pledged where the Gladiators’ priorities lie now they are mathematically safe from relegation-attention will now be firmly focused on the Derbyshire Senior Cup Final against league rivals Ilkeston FC at Chesterfield’s Pro-Act Stadium on Tuesday week.

The Gladiators have had injury headaches for almost the entire season and recently they have been forced to field players who have been far from one hundred per cent fit.

But with only two teams going down this season and bottom markers Eastwood Town already relegated, plus both Grantham Town and Kendal Town being unable to catch them even if they won all of their matches and Matlock lost all theirs, Atkins can now rotate his small squad and start reserve and under 19 players if necessary.

“We have to concentrate on the Derbyshire Senior Cup Final now and if players aren’t fit then I don’t want them to play” said Atkins.

“We want to win that cup and to do so we need our best players fit and available. There’s no point in risking them now and not having them available for the final, so we’ll look at things from game to game and include everyone, the reserves and under nineteen players will play if need be.”

Matlock reached safety when they beat Marine 1-0 at home last weekend through a 57th minute Joe Leesley goal and Grantham lost 3-1 at home to Witton Albion, Matlock’s opponents in Cheshire this weekend.

Unfortunately the Gladiators could not make it three home league wins on the bounce when league leaders North Ferriby beat them 2-0 on Tuesday night. Atkins fielded four players who probably should not have played as injury affected the trio of Adam Yates, Micky Harcourt and Gareth Davies, while there was a huge surprise when Oscar Radford was named as centre half in the Matlock starting line up, with Laurence Gaughan out through work commitments and both James Ashmore and Ben Algar ill.

Radford was stretchered off with two deep gashes in his leg following a late challenge by Nantwich’s Josh Lane in the Gladiators’ 1-0 win at Nantwich Town exactly two months earlier on February 16.

Speaking before the Ferriby clash Radford’s father said “When we went to the hospital in Crewe that day and they tried to clean up the injury, I saw Oscar’s shinbone and it brought it home to me what a bad injury it was. At .”least by playing tonight he’s getting straight back on the bike so to speak.”

Radford actually turned in a man of the match performance and when tiredness forced him off five minutes from time, he was given rapturous applause by the fans.

“We really wasn’t expecting him to play but with Laurence Gaughan, James Ashmore and Ben Algar all out, Oscar came to me and said he wanted to play.What a great attitude from the lad, he was outstanding and that’ll do his confidence a world of good. He only came off as he was very tired but he’s naturally a very fit lad and I expect him to be able to face Witton on Saturday” continued Atkins.

The Town chief was pleased with the effort from his side in both of this week’s fixtures.

“I was very pleased with us on Saturday when we deserved to win with everyone doing their jobs and working tremendously hard. On Tuesday we again showed tremendous spirit but we were up against a very good side with good players who have played in higher leagues. They just knew a little too much for us and we didn’t deserve to win but again gave it our all. If Lewis (McMahon) could have put that chance away at 0-0 then perhaps it might have been a different result. But lads who weren’t fully fit were willing to play and put their bodies on the line for the football club and none of them let us down. Perhaps because they were that bit short on fitness made Ferriby more dominant as the game progressed.”

Thursday night’s training session will be used for Atkins to assess who is and who isn’t going to be in the squad on Saturday.It looks increasingly likely that Martin Foster will be recalled after injury while Gaughan and Ashmore should be okay, as should Algar, an unused substitute on Tuesday. Youngsters Will Dennis and James Travis could be given starts in either the Witton game or in Kendal Town’s visit to the Reynolds Stadium on Tuesday.

Fans who attend the Kendal game will be handed special tickets which will grant them reduced admission for the remaining two home league games against Ilkeston on April 27 and Worksop Town on Thursday May 2.

“It’s our way of saying thank you to fans in what has been a hard season so we hope as many fans as possible take advantage of this offer” said Chairman Tom Wright.

Meanwhile tickets for the Derbyshire Senior Cup Final can be purchased at the Kendal and Ilkeston games or from the club shop. Admission prices have been set at £10 for adults, £5 for concessions and £2 for children under 12.Transport to the final leaves the Reynolds Stadium at 6.15pm with fares of £4 return for adults and £2 for children. Contact Tom Wright on 07850 065968 for further information.

Ian Richardson

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