The struggles of the last two seasons may seem like an age ago as Matlock Town’s fourth successive league win against Barwell on Wednesday saw them sit in fourth place ahead of a break from league action for all Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division clubs this weekend.
But Gladiators chief Mark Atkins is remaining level headed and insists that nobody in the club should get carried away by their recent success.
His side may be only three points behind leaders Skelmersdale United who they are due to visit on Tuesday night, but the former Premiership title winner with Blackburn Rovers in 1994/95 is advising some caution.
“There’s still a very long way to go, we haven’t won anything yet” he said. “They’re all tough games in this league, Saturday’s at Stafford was tough despite their league position and the Barwell game was what we’ were expecting. We’d had them watched and were told that they’re a big physical side so we knew what was coming. It just goes to prove that you’ve got to be bang on in every game you play else you could be punished.”
Matlock got off to a terrible start at second bottom Stafford, going behind in only thirteen seconds but recovered to earn a comfortable win as Darryl Thomas levelled from the penalty spot before a quickfire brace from the ever improving Lavelle White saw them come home over the border with maximum points.
“To concede early was disappointing as we set our stall out to be strong and tight early on. The error from Lee Featherstone was punished but I thought the lads showed tremendous character to fight their way back and in the end we won handsomely. We had a chat at half time, we’d done okay in the first half but we saw a few things we thought we could exploit. We pushed on a bit and scored two great goals, the second being a great team goal.”
Winger White drew praise from Atkins, particularly after a struggling start to his Matlock career following a move from Eastwood Town in February.
“It was a difficult time for him and the club was having a difficult time” Atkins recalls. “But he got a good pre season under his belt and he’s been outstanding for us and provides us with a big outlet with his pace and quality plus he’s got a goal or two and we knew he had it in his locker.”
While in midweek Barwell prevented Matlock from showing the quality displayed in their second half performance at Marston Road, Atkins was still pleased with his team.
“It wasn’t a pretty game but I thought we always looked in control without having too many chances, while we defended comfortably to earn a great win. Sometimes you need to win ugly and we did that. We stuck to our task even though some of the challenges were a little naughty, and they could easily have finished the game with nine men. But I’m delighted because after the FA Cup loss I said to the lads that their task was to get nine points from three games, all of which were winnable and they’ve come good.”
In fact Town have taken sixteen points from their last six matches and Atkins believes the current lofty league position is due to some astute wheeling and dealing in the summer.
“We got the players in we wanted. In order to generate some funds we needed to free some players but the ones we’ve brought in have been magnificent so far and have shown a great desire to play for this football club. We’ve been consistent and those players that have come in have added experience and quality.”
Matlock will not be in action this weekend as scheduled FA Trophy opponents Hinckley United were wound up in the High Court last week, giving the Gladiators a bye into the Qualifying Round.
Skipper Liam Needham will see this as a blessing in disguise from a personal viewpoint after picking up a foot injury against Barwell. Atkins will be hoping Needham recovers in time for the visit to the table toppers, although this game could be postponed, Skem are at Blyth in the Trophy on Saturday and a draw would mean they would meet again on Tuesday.
“Skelmersdale’s a tough place to go especially at night after the lads have been at work all day but we’ll get on with it. Skelmersdale have had a great three or four years and are doing very well again this year so we know it’ll be tough but also it’s a game to look forward to.”
The Gladiators are awaiting international clearance to allow striker Bradley Grayson to make a return after leaving in March to play in Sweden. The pacy former Frickley striker would be a welcome addition to the Gladiators ranks having impressed at Matlock prior to going abroad. He played a leading part in helping his club Ange IF, a full time professional club lift the Swedish 3rd Division title and was one goal away from claiming the Golden Boot .