Mark Atkins hailed a fantastic three days for Matlock Town and praised his players and the club’s fans in the process.

If ever a team showed “bouncebackability” then the Gladiators did after they returned from Rushall Olympic with their tails between their legs after a 6-1 humbling.

Last Saturday, Matlock dented second in the table Skelmersdale United’s title challenge with a 2-1 victory, despite playing for a little over two thirds of the contest with just ten men following Shaun Tuton’s controversial red card in the 26th minute.

Then the Gladiators secured their best home win of the season, and also secured a fifth win on the trot on home territory with a 4-1 win against Grantham Town at the Autoworld Arena.

The six goals scored were shared equally between twin strikers Danny Holland and Tuton.

“It’s been fantastic, we said we needed to get six points from the two games and this was stressed to the players but the way they went about it was first class, they showed tremendous fitness levels” said a delighted Atkins.

The Town supremo agreed that the Skelmersdale result will live long in the memory.

“It was a once a season game, we started really well, creating two or three really good opportunities before Shaun scored a very good goal to deservedly put us in the lead. His sending off was very very harsh, he had no intention of hurting the lad and was just trying to block the ball but we’ll have to live with it.”

But Atkins insisted he was confident that even with a man less, his side could still beat Skelmersdale, and so it proved.

“Our reaction up to half time was okay even though they equalized and had another chance, but at half time I felt we had a good chance of winning, so we went two up front and played three in midfield to take the game to them and the players executed it brilliantly, so a big well done to them. And as for Danny’s winning goal, it was fantastic.”

Ironically the game against la lower placed Grantham proved to be more challenging.

“They’re a big strong side who battled hard. We cleared two off the line in the first half so you could say overall a 4-1 win flattered us somewhat, even though we deserved all three points” Atkins continued. Shaun and Danny were again magnificent, we’ve been a bit short of goals this season but the pair have been doing really well recently, so to lose Shaun suspended for three games is a big pity.”

The harshness of Tuton’s dismissal on Saturday ironically ended up working in Matlock’s favour as Skelmersdale created virtually nothing in the second half and the home crowd found its voice.

“Everyone in the dressing room commented about how the crowd had got behind the players so we’d all like to thank the fans for their tremendous backing and hope it continues” said Atkins. “and to be fair the support was really good against Grantham and that probably comes from them seeing the players showing great skill and responsibility with everyone putting a shift in.”

It’s derby day for the Gladiators on Saturday with a trip to local rivals Ilkeston FC and a third league double of the campaign.

Both sides were in the play off picture last October when a late Danny Holland goal earned Matlock all three points at the Autoworld Arena, and while Matlock have fared rather better in league action since then, manager Mark Atkins says there can be no room for complacency.

Tuesday night’s 4-1 win against Grantham saw Matlock rise to ninth, seven points behind fifth placed FC United of Manchester, who surprisingly won 1-0 at table topping Chorley in midweek.

So Matlock will be looking for three more points to maintain their play off challenge against their twelfth placed hosts who are six points adrift of the Gladiators having played four more games.

“We’ve got a way of playing that suits us, five home wins on the trot says that, but we must be really wary that complacency doesn’t set in as it did in the second half at Rushall” warned Gladiators chief Mark Atkins.

“We want to go there, play well and win the game but Ilkeston have some good players and if we perform poorly we’ll come unstuck. If we play to our capabilities, then we can go there and win. Our attitude and preparation must be right again, we’ll be looking to edge nearer to that top five.”

The Gladiators are likely to name an unchanged squad from the last two games, with Atkins’ big decision being whether to recall veteran Martin Foster in midfield after James Ashmore came in for him against Grantham. Under 19’s striker Alex Bradshaw, who nearly made a dream scoring debut after replacing Shaun Tuton late on, is again likely to be on the bench.

Tuton is likely to face a three match ban starting at home to Stafford Rangers on Saturday week and continuing in the away games at Stamford and Barwell

IAN RICHARDSON

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