Glenn Kirkwood and Craig Hopkins’ “worst week” in football management was compounded last weekend when goalkeeper Phil Barnes told them he was hanging up his boots.
Barnes, a fans favourite, was named as both fans and players’ player of the season last term after signing from local rivals Buxton in the summer of 2016 and leaves a big void for the Gladiators’ management duo to fill.
The former Sheffield United stopper will be fondly remembered by Matlock fans for a string of fantastic saves during a season when Matlock had excellent FA Cup and FA Trophy runs, challenged for the end of season play-offs and won the Derbyshire Senior Cup.
It was news Matlock could well have done without, particularly after a first home loss of the season to Grantham being followed by FA Cup humiliation at Midland Premier League Haughmond who won 3-2 with a stoppage time decider.
“It happened really quickly so we didn’t want to shout it from the rooftops” said Kirkwood. “Phil’s had to call it a day, physically it’s been getting a harder challenge for him at 38. He’s also been asked to do more hours at work, he’s got increased family commitments with a lad at an age when he wants to play and family must come first. He’s been unbelievable both on and off the pitch, he’s been brilliant for us and will take some replacing. He’s a fans favourite, so popular with the lads, we’ll really have our work cut out to find a suitable replacement.”
Time was short to find another goalkeeper ahead of Tuesday night’s trip to Coalville which ended with another defeat but a vastly improved display as the Gladiators dominated only to lose by the odd goal in three.
Seventeen years old Callum Hawkins was brought in on loan from Burton Albion, joining fellow seventeen year old full back Jeyden Cotterill, also on loan from the Brewers and who made his Town debut at Haughmond.
“We must give a huge thank you to Burton Albion, particularly with Callum for we had to sort it at very short notice, they’ve been fantastic” Hopkins added. “Both lads have come in and done really well, they’re only seventeen but have a great attitude and will be big players for Burton Albion.”
Kirkwood was fuming at the Haughmond cup exit.
“It’s inexcusable and we have to take full responsibility. Haughmond flew out of the blocks and we took thirty five minutes to get going conceding two terrible goals. The players cannot say we didn’t warn them, it wasn’t complacency, we just didn’t work hard enough and got found out. In the second half we had enough chances to win three games but if you keep missing chances then eventually it’ll cost you. It’s been our worst week in ten years and we know just how the fans must be feeling, we took a good following there. At 2-2 we should have made sure we didn’t lose it, we’d have snapped your hand off for a replay at our place from 2-0 down and to be beaten like that was a real kick in the teeth. Me and Hoppo take it personally we’re in charge.”
Kirkwood admitted he had trouble sleeping on Saturday and Sunday night, so he and Hopkins would have felt a lot happier after the Coalville game on Tuesday despite the 2-1 setback, Matlock scoring from a penalty by Shaun Harrad, the game’s outstanding player.
“Shaun was outstanding, a real handful and he deserved far more” Kirkwood went on. “We were the better side and deserved far more than we got. Our luck was out, when things don’t go for you they don’t go but you roll your sleeves up, get your chest out and keep fighting which is just what the lads mdid. We played at a tempo we were looking for, we just needed a bit more luck in both boxes but if we play like that it will come.”
Now Matlock have back to back home matches against Whitby Town on Saturday and Mickleover Sports on Tuesday.
“The Whitby game’s the one we’re focusing on as it’s our next game” said Hopkins. “It’s a very big game and we must work hard again and show the same intensity as we did at Coalville, if we do that we’ll not be far wrong.
Matlock will make fitness checks on Ted Cribley(back) and Jake Green (knee) who both did not feature in midweek and Marc Newsham who damaged an ankle at Coalville.
“We’re looking to bring in a couple or so players in the next seven to ten days as with injuries we need to strengthen” said Hopkins.