Joint boss Craig Hopkins says Matlock, along with Grantham and Whitby were surprise packages last season in the Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division.
All three clubs were involved in the play off race until virtually the climax of the campaign after some barren years towards the bottom end of the league. Matlock eventually finished ninth behind the Gingerbreads and the Seasiders, but the Gladiators campaign was enhanced by outstanding runs in both the FA Cup and FA Trophy before their reward in terms of silverware came with the 5-0 thumping of Gresley in the Derbyshire Senior Cup Final at the Proact Stadium.
“In many ways we all over performed when you look at our budgets compared with some clubs in our league. It’s difficult when you come up against the likes of Spennymoor who with a massive budget had eleven big strong players and others in reserve. Having said that though Corby had a bigger budget than us but went down so it’s a case of making the most of what you have. We have a good budget, don’t get me wrong, everyone at the club works tremendously hard and it’s up to me and Kirky to spend that money wisely.”
Hopkins says it is likely that most of last season’s squad will be staying at the DCJ Group Arena.
“Talks have been positive, we want to keep most of the lads from last year and maybe find three or four gems. For instance few people at Matlock knew much about the likes of Dwayne Wiley, Joe Doyle-Charles, Michael Williams, Liam Marsden, Jake Green and others but they’ve come through and done really well for us. It’s a matter of doing that this season and we’ve been meeting quite a few players during the last week. We’re quite happy where we are at this stage.”
The provisional make-up of the NPL Premier Division was announced last week and there are no major surprises. Altrincham and Stalybridge Celtic come down from the National League North with champions Blyth Spartans and play off winners Spennymoor Town going upwards. Corby and Ilkeston will play in the First Division South to be replaced by champions Shaw Lane and play off winners Witton Albion, with Skelmersdale United and Frickley Athletic moving down to First Division North as champions Lancaster City will come up with Farsley Celtic.
“It’ll again be a difficult league” said Hopkins. “Altrincham get good crowds and if they do well should attract 1200 people while Stalybridge improved towards the end of the season and have a very good manager. Both will have good budgets as will Shaw Lane who have had the money to attract good players for the last few years now. But we learned loads last year, you never stop learning and we’ll be looking to have another decent season next year.”
Meanwhile Matlock have announced their first pre season friendly which will see the likely return of last season’s top scorer Marcus Dinanga to the DCJ Group Arena. But it will be in a Burton Albion shirt when the Gladiators and the Brewers meet for the second successive year on Saturday July 22.
Fellow joint boss Glenn Kirkwood is a former Albion player who is good friends with Burton boss Nigel Clough. The Brewers won 2-1 last July and it’s a game that Hopkins is looking forward to.
“It’ll be nice to see Nangs again after he did so well for us and there’s a great relationship between our two clubs which we hope will continue for a long time to come” Hopkins added.