Matlock return to league action on Saturday with the visit of FC United of Manchester with both clubs eyeing a play off place.

The Gladiators involvement in the FA Trophy last weekend and results in league games played saw them slip down to eighth, and with the Rebels just three places below them and three points adrift with two games in hand, Matlock need to return to winning ways.

While a tough match is expected in front of what will be Matlock’s biggest crowd of the season so far, there was enough to suggest in the 2-0 cup defeat at Chorley that Mark Atkins’ men are well capable of earning all three points.

The Gladiators outplayed the current league leaders and title favourites in the second half at Victory Park and if they had taken their chances, they would have returned to Derbyshire with a fine victory. But Chorley took two late opportunities on 84 minutes and in stoppage time to break Matlock hearts.

“It was a very good performance and I’m really pleased with the way we performed, the levels that everyone played at and we didn’t deserve just a replay, we deserved to win it” said boss Atkins. “The only thing that let us down was not finishing those chances and being more clinical in that final third, then one mistake with four or five minutes to go cost us as well but I have to give the players full credit for the way they approached the task in hand. I wanted a reaction after Mickleover and we were able to put out probably the best side we could play. All of the lads knew their jobs and when we can do that we’re a match for anyone in this division.”

Atkins added that his strikers, must not dwell too much on those missed chances.

“We had two or three very good opportunities which we couldn’t take but they need to keep believing for they’ve gone in earlier in the season. Also two big decisions went against us, a disallowed goal and a certain penalty. Their skipper said that he couldn’t believe the referee hadn’t given it but referees make mistakes and we’ve just got to take what the chin however painful and expensive it is for us. We must remember that we went to a team who are top of the league and will probably win it and we put in an excellent performance, earning praise from not only our fans but from the Chorley fans and management team as well.”

Now the secret is to continue the good form against United.

“It’s always a great game when FC United come down, they’re always a good side and we know we’ll have to be at our best against them” Atkins continued. “We’ve not had a midweek game this week so the rest should do the lads good.”

Ten goal top scorer Daryl Thomas returned to the starting line up on Saturday after a five game absence but lasted just thirty five minutes as his thigh injury returned.

“We got him off as soon as he felt it so hopefully it’s not as bad as last time and we’ll have a check on him at training on Thursday, but as Saturday showed when some players couldn’t maker it into the sixteen, we’ve got a strong squad and people know that when they’re on the bench, they need to perform if they get on. I hope we can keep everyone happy and together.”

Thomas apart, there are no other doubts ahead of the United clash when supporters are advised to arrive at the ground earlier than usual to avoid congestion at the turnstiles.

Matlock’s sole chance of cup success this term now lies with the Derbyshire Senior Cup. The Gladiators travel to North West Counties League Glossop North End in the 3rd Round on Tuesday December 10.

IAN RICHARDSON

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