Craig Hopkins is hoping Matlock’s weather enforced two and a half weeks break will have no detrimental effect on his side as they begin a challenging and busy festive period at league leaders Altrincham on Saturday.
The Gladiators have not taken to the field since their 1-0 Derbyshire Senior Cup defeat at Alfreton on December 5 after winning their three preceding matches.
Their trip to Farsley Celtic last weekend suffered the same fate as the previous Saturday’s home meeting against Rushall Olympic , both fixtures succumbing to the freezing temperatures.
But the festive programme looks to be safe with milder temperatures forecast and Matlock’s joint boss shares the fans’ hopes that the team can maintain the performance levels which saw them beat Halesowen, Grantham and Lancaster before the narrow loss to the Reds.
“We thought we’d be okay last Saturday but the weather won again and it’s just one of those things” said Hopkins.
“The lay-off certainly doesn’t help us, two and a half weeks is a long time without a game but we’ve just got to get on with it. We were playing well before the break and looked as though we were getting back to our old selves.”
Hopkins believes Matlock will be facing the best side in the league at Moss Lane, although the Gladiators did come out on top in the reverse fixture at the DCJ Group Arena in August when a solitary Dwayne Wiley header settled the game in Matlock’s favour.
“They’re the best side in the league, they play good football, they are well coached and play the game the right way” Hopkins added.
“It’ll be tough and it’s a shame we’ve had the lay-off but the lads worked hard in training on Tuesday and will do so again on Thursday. We’ll go up there looking for the three points as we always do and give it our best shot.”
Matlock then host local rivals Buxton on Boxing Day and a repeat of the scoreline and attendance from exactly twelve months ago would go down just fine from the Gladiators’ viewpoint. A bumper 1051 crowd saw Matlock beat the Bucks 3-1 in a thrilling tussle, it was the Gladiators first home league victory over their rivals since March 2008.
“It’s the game everyone looks forward to, the one we look for on the fixture list. The attendance was amazing last year and we’re sure our supporters will get behind the lads on the day.”
In spite of not being at their best compared to last term, Matlock are currently the fifth best supported side in the division with an average of 382. Only Stourbridge, Altrincham, Stafford Rangers and Workington currently have more people through the turnstiles than Matlock.
“That says a lot about our fans, they’ve stuck with us and we thank them for their support and want them to keep on coming” said Hopkins.
Winger Ted Cribley is back in training following a shoulder injury and could be included in the squad for Altrincham.
“We’ll have to see how he goes in training on Thursday, he was okay on Tuesday and it’s possible he might be in the squad for the weekend. He’s an important player for us so we need to know the injury’s cleared up.”
Hopkins added that they have a seven day notice in on a possible new recruit, having released midfielder Callum Lloyd last week.
Lloyd was recovering from a serious knee injury when he signed for the Gladiators at the start of last season, but has only managed a handful of appearances for Matlock. He has moved to Belper Town, making his debut for the Nailers in their 1-0 loss at table toppers Basford United last Saturday.
“We’re sad to see Callum go, Matlock fans have certainly not seen the best of him. He’s worked hard but he’s not been the player he was before. When he was with Kirky and me at Mickleover he was fantastic and had he not had the injury he would have been one of the best central midfielders in the division. But it was a really bad injury, he’s that half yard slower now.”
Hopkins added that everyone at the club is wishing Luis Rose a healthier 2018 after missing the last three months of 2017 through illness.
The 19 years old forward, signed from Ilkeston during the summer, has had a recurrence of ulcerative colitis, a condition which first hit him at the age of thirteen and also led to Scottish international Darren Fletcher being absent for a year while he was with Manchester United.
“We’re all missing him, the lads are always asking after him and we’re all looking forward to the time when he can be back with us playing the game he so obviously loves” said Hopkins, “We hope 2018 is a much better year for him.”