Most probably the closest A6 derby for years is in prospect at the DCJ Group Arena on Boxing Day when Matlock take on local rivals Buxton.
Last weekend’s 2-1 home win over Whitby Town saw the Gladiators jump two places to eighth while the Bucks come to town in second spot, six points ahead of Matlock but having played three more matches. So the clash is clearly important for both clubs, a point that Matlock joint bosses Craig Hopkins and Glenn Kirkwood have been emphasising to their players this week.
“Our lads work really hard and we think it’s important that we focus on one game at a time and that the lads know what this game means to the supporters and everyone involved with the club, we’ve been impressing that on them. There’ll be a good crowd there and if we want to be involved at the top end of the table, we need to be picking up points against clubs that are up there.”
Recent results in these derbies have favoured the Bucks who have not tasted defeat at Matlock in league action since Good Friday 2008 when they were beaten 3-0.
“Now it’s a different set of players and a different mentality” Hopkins retorted. “We’d never beaten Halesowen yet we went there and won quite comfortably and also we won twice in four days at Workington having not done that well up there in recent trips so what’s gone is gone, records are there to be broken.”
Extra spice to the Boxing Day meeting comes with the return of two former Gladiators in strikers Jamie Jackson and Bradley Grayson while Matlock defender Dwayne Wiley and goalkeeper Phil Barnes are ex Bucks. Barnes’ last appearance for the Bucks was ironically at Matlock last Boxing Day when he had to come off with a shoulder injury during the first half of Buxton’s 2-1 win.
Hopkins admitted that his side had to “dig in” to come out on top against Whitby. Goals in the final fourteen minutes from substitute Alex Pursehouse and top scorer Marcus Dinanga saw them home after the Seasiders led through Adam Gell’s 27th minute effort.
“For the first sixty minutes I didn’t think we were in the game, Whitby played some very good football but we made a tactical change which saw us press higher up to win te ball back in the final third and it worked for us” Hopkins explained.
“It was important to win and wehad a fantastic crowd considering it was the final Saturday before Christmas. We actually got a few more than we expected and I’m sure those that came could see the endeavour and effort shown by the lads. We hope they come back and tell their friends about it as we’d like to see that crowd figure building and building.”
Hopkins also pointed to the importance of Nico Degirolamo’s headed clearance off the line from Dave McTiernan just before the hour.
“2-0 would have been difficult for us, Nico’s positioning was fantastic and definitely kept usd in it. I’m not sure we deserved the win but having said that for all of their good football, Whitby didn’t hurt us all that much. In the last half hour we battered them, the crowd got behind us and overall we had most of the chances.”
There was praise for Pursehouse whose chances of first team action have been limited so far this season.
“Alex did a very good job for us and he took his goal really well. All the lads were really pleased for him, he’s not played that much having been unlucky with his injury in pre season and the other lads having performed so well, but he’s been there every week and every time we’ve called on him he’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”
Pursehouse replaced Joe Doyle-Charles who was forced off shortly before half time from knocks sustained in two separate challenges which mean he will require a fitness check ahead of the game. Striker Cameron Johnson could return to the squad after injury while club captain Adam Yates should also be included after missing the last three games through domestic commitments following the birth of his first daughter.
Matlock added nineteen years old Mason Warren to their ranks last Friday on loan from Rotherham United.
“We’re hoping he can push for one of the midfield places” said Hopkins. “He can play at left back but central midfield is his position. He was with Harrogate Town in Conference North last season and was their player of the month last February so we know he’s got the potential to do well here”.