Matlock Town would no doubt have liked to be going into this weekend’s mouth watering FA Trophy tie at neighbouring Mansfield with their recent unbeaten run still intact.

But a strong and powerful Hednesford Town side deservedly beat them 3-2 at the Reynolds Stadium to halt the Gladiators winning run in the league at the fifth match. Taking their recent FA Trophy successes against Leek Town and Stalybridge Celtic into account, Matlock took on the Pitmen unbeaten in seven outings.

Manager Mark Atkins acknowledged the quality in the visitors’ side and saw a silver lining in the defeat.

“At least it’s brought us down to earth a bit ahead of Saturday” he explained. “It’s made us realise where we are in the league and as a football club.”

Certainly Hednesford, with an embarrassment of riches,especially in the striking department where they could afford to leave Barbadian international Neil Harvey and former Nantwich prolific scorer Michael Lennon on the bench, looked a class act in the first half and Matlock were pleased to be only two goals behind at the half way mark. The visitors were bright, energetic and had strength in all areas, forcing Matlock into mistakes with the Blues unable to find any rhythm in their passing.

“There were too many errors defensively” Atkins conceded. “That was frustrating as we were excellent in defence against Ilkeston last Saturday. Our two central defenders were magnificent against a powerful lad like Gary Ricketts and Ilkeston barely created a decent chance. But that wasn’t the case on Tuesday as our mistakes led to all three goals although all three were great finishes. We gave away too many free kicks for my liking against a very good side who deserve to be where they are, challenging at the top end of the league. It’ll take a very good side to pip them.”

Matlock rallied well in the second half although the result was rarely in doubt. Massiah McDonald halved the deficit on 54 minutes but another poor goal from the Matlock viewpoint saw them two goals adrift again within four minutes. Joe Leesley’s 90th minute strike came too late and was just a consolation effort.

“Hednesford have good quality, know what they are doing and are strong so our second half performance wasn’t too bad” Atkins continued.

That defeat came after Matlock were good value for their 2-0 derby win at Ilkeston with James Ashmore and McDonald finding the net in the opening fifteen minutes of the second half.

“Once we’d gone in front I don’t think we were in any trouble. We said at half time we needed to be sharper and crisper with our passes and we scored two good goals and took control in what was an important game for both clubs.”

So now Matlock’s biggest cup game in years is upon them and as was the case on 15 December 1976 when the Gladiators went to Field Mill in the 2nd Round of the FA Cup and astonishingly won 5-2, they are firm underdogs. Then Matlock led the Northern Premier League and the Stags went on to lift the old 3rd Division title. Now Mansfield are in the Blue Square Conference Premier.

Mansfield warmed up for the derby with a 2-2 home draw against Luton Town on Sunday before winning 3-0 at Macclesfield Town on Tuesday to leave them in seventh place, four points off a play off place. Atkins watched the game with the Hatters and saw enough to realise that his side face a tough ask if they are to extend their run in the competition.

“They’ve got a lot of quality and are physical so we need to stand up against them and be counted. We’ll certainly need to pass the ball a lot better than we did against Hednesford. But we’ll go there and give it all we’ve got, it’s nice for the lads to play against a good side on a good ground. I hope we take a lot of fans and they get behind us so we can make it an unforgettable day for the football club.”

Transport departs the Reynolds Stadium at 1.30 pm and bookings can be made by ringing Tom Wright on 07850 065968.

Matlock will be without the suspended Martin Foster as the experienced midfielder has picked up five bookings. Glyn Cotton could be handed a recall in his place. Defender Oscar Radford and new signing, striker Anthony Griffiths-Junior are both cup tied.

Griffiths-Junior joined Matlock last Friday from Buxton after impressing Atkins playing first for Hucknall Town and then earlier this season for Eastwood Town against his side. Full back Phil Roe may need a fitness check on Saturday after coming off with a dead leg in midweek.

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