Four points from two difficult away trips cheered Gladiators joint boss Craig Hopkins ahead to this weekend’s home meeting with Marine and a trip to relegation haunted Skelmersdale United on Tuesday night.

Matlock have moved up two slots to eighth and still handily placed for a top five play-off spot, but they know they must be looking to collect maximum points from their next two matches to maintain the pressure on their rivals.

The Gladiators again notched a last gasp winner for the second successive Saturday, Marcus Dinanga’s 25th goal of the season earning them all three points after they had twice trailed at Rushall Olympic. Captain Adam Yates’ first goal of the campaign saw them on level terms at the interval and Ted Cribley then equalised for a second time. There were no goals to shout about at Grantham on Tuesday, but a valuable point was gained from a scoreless draw against a side whose last defeat was against Matlock seventeen games beforehand in the FA Trophy last November.

“We’re pleased with those four points, four very good points from two very tough games” said Hopkins. “It ws plain to see why Grantham have done so well this last three months, they’re relentless, they work so hard, their decision making’s superb, they’re very well drilled so for us it was a very good draw. We did well, we always battle and we worked really hard so there’s plenty to take from the game. We had two, maybe thre good chances in the first half, Marcus (Dinanga) had a good chance that he blasted over the bar, Niall (McManus) could maybe have shot when he got the opportunity and the goalkeeper’s made a great save from Paul Ennis. But twenty two players all worked their socks off out there. Paul Ennis has again done very well, he’s sharp and a clever footballer whose sharpness will increase with each game, and our two centre backs were absolutely outstanding, Yatesy and Dwayne (Wiley) defended brilliantly.”

Hopkins reckons Matlock deserved to win at Rushall.

“After we’d looked at the pitch and the weather we told the lads it was a game for men out there and again they worked really hard , were the better side and deserved the three points. We never settle for a point, we’re always thinking as to what we can do to get that chance of victory and the lads have that same mentality. In the last four games everyone’s worked really hard and if we can continue to do that we’ll have a great chance of being successful, don’t forget there’s plenty of time left yet, we’ve a third of our season left. We can’t always control the result, but the lads are doing what’s been asked of them.”

The return of popular goalkeeper Jon Kennedy at Grantham was a total surprise to many Matlock fans. Kennedy was named as fans player of the year in 2014/15 but left in the summer to rejoin Worksop Town which fitted in better with his work commitments. Matlock’s current Goalkeeper Phil Barnes has been playing on despite a leg injury which seemed to be getting worse, hence the Gladiators seeking a replacement, Kennedy coming back on a joint registration deal with Worksop where he is part of the management team..

“Phil’s got a niggle which needs rest to stop it from getting worse.We managed to persuade Kendo to play at Grantham and he was absolutely superb, he talked all the way through and his experience was there for everyone to see.”

Kennedy himself was delighted to help his old club out having spent four “great” years with the Gladiators.

“I loved my time at Matlock and made a lot of good friends there, if anyone else had come and asked I’d have said no” said Kennedy.

The Gladiators will be seeking their second league double of the season against Marine, having won at Crosby back in October thanks to a Michael Williams free kick. Marine may be in the bottom half of the table, but Hopkins warned of the pitfalls that may lie ahead.

“It’s always, without fail, a tough game against Marine, in this league you have to earn every point, and it’ll be the same on Saturday.”

The draw at Grantham saw Matlock reach 50 points for the season as they strive for their largest points haul for several seasons. They have no new injury concerns for the Marine clash and will welcome back Cleveland Taylor for the trip to Skelmersdale, Taylor having completed a three match ban after the sending off on his debut against Halesowen.

Meanwhile Hopkins paid tribute to Alex Pursehouse, who has joined Sheffield FC, plus the Gladiators fans.

Pursehouse was a summer signing by Hopkins and Glenn Kirkwood and would probably have found a regular place had he not been injured in the pre season build up.

“Alex goes with our blessing, he’s done really well for us and has been a pleasure to have at the club, but he wants to play more games which is completely understandable. And again we want to give our fans a big pat on the back for their support. At Rushall in particular, we saw people and semed to know most of them so it was a great turn out there and also at Grantham on a cold midweek night. We’d like our fans to again turn out in force at home on Saturday, and be vocal, the players notice it and comment on it, it certainly makes a difference.”

Ian Richardson

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