When Hednesford Town won 3-2 at the Reynolds Stadium in November, Gladiators boss Mark Atkins said the Pitmen were the best side his team had faced this season.

So it looks to be a tall order for Matlock to upset he odds and return home from Keys Park with any reward on Saturday, especially as their two top scorers are expected to be missing from their line up.

But that was the case on Wednesday when a good battling performance earned them a point from a 2-2 home draw with third placed FC United of Manchester when Bradley Grayson stood up to be counted, grabbing both of the Gladiators’ goals.

In the striking department Massiah McDonald is definitely out, serving the second of a three match suspension after collecting an astonishing fifteen bookings this season. McDonald has hit fifteen goals in twenty seven Matlock appearances since moving from Worksop Town.

Lewis McMahon could feature, but it will probably be only a bit part. McMahon is Town’s top scorer with nineteen goals but has been out since injuring ankle ligaments in the 4-1 Derbyshire Senior Cup win over Borrowash Victoria on January 29, although he was an unused substitute on Wednesday night.

Good news prior to kick off was the return of skipper James Lukic after a knee sprain and Micky Harcourt following a three match ban to give Matlock a stronger looking back four. But Oscar Radford, despite his leg wound healing well, and Anthony Griffiths-Junior with a groin problem are still some way from fitness.

Staying on the injury theme, winger Ben Algar has been a surprise inclusion on the Gladiators substitutes bench in the last two matches, so given their unavailability problems, manager Mark Atkins had every reason to be satisfied with the efforts of his depleted squad.

Matlock gave as good as they received only to lose to an 88th minute wonder goal at Chorley last Saturday before on Wednesday they led at half time only for United to score two quick goals in the opening fourteen minutes of the second half before deservedly levelling from the penalty spot in the 66th minute.

“I’m very pleased with the lads’efforts in recent matches” said Atkins. “We did well up at Chorley, showed determination and to lose was hard on the players. Then on Wednesday it was important for us to get on the front foot and pressurise them all over the pitch, the effort and control we showed was excellent. Both of their goals came from set pieceswhichwas disappointing but on the other side of the coin they couldn’t open us up from open play. We played very well and itwas a pity we switched off for the first twenty minutes of the second half but we got the equaliser and looked dangerous. We deserved the point, possibly all three.”

Grayson was partnered in attack by centre half Laurence Gaughan for the first hour before the latter was forced off with an achilles injury.

“Brad played very well up front, he’s played there before, the big question was would he be strong enough coming off players? But we planned to get him in behind defenders and the first goal was a great finish. Laurence helped us out by playing there and I thought it would have been difficult to have Brad and Joe (Leesley) up there for ninety minutes.Laurence did a job, he put himself about, showing a lot of effort and determination which to be fair, Joe did when he came on.”

Atkins felt frustrated up at Chorley, not only by the result, but he felt that his side failed to get the rub of the green with some refereeing decisions.

“Overall we were let down by two big decisions” he rapped. “The two footed tackle on Massiah in the first half was a definite red card, the referee wasn’t big enough to give the decision, and then the player who was booked for his part in the melee afterwards handled a through ball later on which would have given Massiah a good scoring chance and should have received a second card.”

Losing McDonald for his third ban of the season is something Atkins and Matlock could clearly have done without. In total he will have missed six matches this season when this latest ban is up.

“To have fifteen bookings is very disappointing and is something that shouldn’t happen” Atkins continued. “When he reached ten bookings and was banned he was told that he had to settle himself down and to lose a player for six games through suspension isn’t good enough. It’s a personal thing with Massiah and he’s got to learn not to give referees the opportunity to show him a card. In general we’ve had too many silly sending offs as well which hits you hard with only a small squad.”

At least Matlock could name five substitutes on Wednesday after being able to only have three on the bench at Chorley.

Matlock remain in seventeenth spot and because the bottom four have extremely poor records in comparison to the Gladiators, plus only two teams go down this year, Matlock’s position is relatively comfortable.

“But we still want to get as many points as we can” Atkins countered.”It’ll be tough at Hednesford, they’re not second in the table for nothing and look a good bet for the title. We need to show the commitment and desire levels shown against Witton, Chorley and FC United.If we can do that then you never know.”

Matlock are also on the road on Wednesday when they visit Ashton United before Whitby are the visitors to the Reynolds Stadium next weekend.

Admission prices for Matlock’s Doodson Sports League Cup home quarter final tie with Farsley on Tuesday February 19 have been reduced. Adults will get in for £7, OAP’s and juniors £5 and children under 12 will pay £2.

IAN RICHARDSON

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