Matlock Town will be hoping to spring an unwanted surprise on FA Trophy holders FC Halifax Town who begin the defence of their title at the DCJ Group Arena on Saturday.
The Shaymen’s Wembley triumph over Grimsby Town, who went up to the Football League, proved to be a consolation prize as they had been relegated to National League North on the season’s final day.
A management change saw former Matlock skipper Billy Heath leave North Ferriby United, who he had just guided to promotion via the play-offs to non league football’s top flight, and move in at The Shay. Another former Matlock favourite then followed him from Humberside in Liam King, so there will be plenty of spice in a clash that should comfortably attract the Gladiators’ best crowd of the season.
Joint boss Craig Hopkins admits that he and fellow manager Glenn Kirkwood have not given the Trophy tie much thought yet.
“Tonight was our main focus” he said looking disappointed after a rare Matlock off night had resulted in a 1-0 defeat at Barwell on Tuesday. This came just four days after most probably the Gladiators; best display of the season, given the calibre of the opposition, as fabulous goals from Marcus Dinanga and Niall McManus saw off Hednesford Town by a 2-0 margin.
“We’ll train on Thursday and get tonight out of the lads, have a bit of fun and have a big go on Saturday” added Hopkins who believes that Halifax will be treating the game seriously despite the attraction of an FA Cup 2nd Round visit to Eastleigh on the following weekend.
“They’ll be treating it seriously” Hopkins insisted, “for after all they’re the holders and they won’t want to relinquish their hold on the Trophy easily. They’re a very good side, a typical Billy Heath side, I’ve spoken with him a couple of times this season, he’s doing a great job up there. Liam ‘s there as well, he’s a great player and a good lad, Everyone in their side knows their jobs , they’re fit and strong and Billy knows what he’s going to get from his players.”
The Hednesford game contained potentially both the save of the season from Matlock’s Phil Barnes and the goal of the season with McManus doubling the Gladiators’ lead.
Barnes somehow fingertipped a viciously hit George Carline volley on to the bar in the 6th minute with Matlock breaking immediately for Dinanga to fire the in front. Then McManus twisted and turned a clutch of Hednesford defenders inside out before calmly finding the net.
“It was a brilliant save” reflected Hopkins, “made all the better by going upfield and Marcus getting that lovely first goal which was so massively important. Niall then scores a brilliant goal, he’s got great balance and excellent ball control . He did “the Rocastle roll” so to speak and then showed fantastic vision seeing the goalkeeper was going to his right and flicking his shot to the goalkeeper’s left.”
“It was our most hardworking performance, we were still grafting in those last ten minutes, we never allowed Hednesford to play, we got our reward with the win.”
On the back of the Hednesford performance and victory, defeat at Barwell was hard to take.
“They’ve done to us what we did to Hednesford, they worked very hard, were organised and made it very difficult for us so they deserved the three points” Hopkins conceded.
“They knew our strengths from the recent game at our place and for whatever reason we looked a little flat and that hasn’t happened for a while. In many ganes we’ve created seven or eight chances, tonight just possibly two.”
So now Matlock will be looking to bounce back and Hopkins says a large vocal home crowd can play a major role.
“426 were there last Saturday, to players and staff it felt more like 1000 with the noise and support from our crowd which was fantastic. The lads say the fans at Matlock are brilliant, we all want to thank them for their tremendous backing, the lads keep on running and still running late on and that’s down to our crowd who can make a massive difference. We want a big crowd to do the same on Saturday”