Matlock Town’s Evo-Stik NPL Premier Division status became all the more precarious this week with a third successive league defeat, 2-0 at home to Grantham last Saturday, coupled with fellow strugglers Frickley Athletic’s 2-1 home win against FA Cup heroes Blyth Spartans on Tuesday night.

Now the Gladiators find themselves cut adrift in fourth bottom spot, six points behind fifth bottom Witton Albion with two games in hand.

But gaining all six points from the spare games seems to be a tough call for a Matlock side who have collected a miserly single point from the last twenty one on offer and labelled by joint boss Dave Rushbury as being “soft”.

Fans who booed them off at the final whistle on Saturday are calling for new blood in a squad which results indicate is plainly not up to scratch, but Rushbury this week pleaded for a degree of patience while at the same time acknowledging the frustration of the support.

“People need to be patient although Martin and me can fully understand why they are angry and upset” he conceded.

“At the moment though we can only play people on our books including those we cannot get off our books. At present it’s the non contract players who are playing the best football for us, losing these won’t correct what’s wrong. We’re working hard to strengthen the squad but we’re frustrated because clubs at present don’t appear to be prepared to release the players and also we’re unable to make players an offer they can’t refuse to prize them away. We knew we had budget constraints when we took over and we hoped the players we had would see things through. Initially they did but now we’re most disappointed that they haven’t pushed on.”

The Grantham defeat continued a recurring theme of some neat attractive play at times but with no end product. Also prevalent again was the self destructing habit of conceding sloppy goals.

“We should have got something from each of the Trafford, Buxton and Grantham games but didn’t and we had to tell the players a few home truths” Rushbury continued. “It’s no good at all playing pretty football and giving away soft goals. We’re a soft touch at the moment, we know what we need but it’s a matter of sorting it out budget wise.Our hands are tied so bringing in the people we need will have to be a gradual process. But whoever we put out, we can set the team up but no-one can compensate for individual errors. we know we can play and pass, but we also need to be strong.”

Rushbury refused to be drawn as to whether there would be any player movement prior to Saturday’s league trip to mid table Halesowen Town for the fourth meeting of the season with the Yeltz. Halesowen have won twice by 4-0 margins at Matlock in the league and in an FA Trophy replay, the latter result following an initial 1-1 draw at The Grove.

Liam Needham played his first full game for three months at the weekend after injury and a fit Needham may add strength to the Gladiators midfield.

“He’s just got back into the squad and is striving for full fitness, it remains to be seen whether he’ll be effective as the tough tackling hardworking midfielder we need” said Rushbury who should be able to recall fellow midfielder Niall McManus.

“We missed Niall on Saturday and it’ll be good to have him back in the squad at Halesowen. We’ve played them three times, at their place in the Trophy we did well and was unlucky not to win but at home we’ve capitulated both times and that can’t happen anymore. We get effort and ability but not the toughness and that’s what we’re trying to address, It’ll take time to resolve and we know and fully appreciate time is now of the essence but we’re working as fast as people allow us to.”

On Tuesday night Rushbury takes Matlock to one of his former clubs, Conference Premier Alfreton Town in the Derbyshire Senior Cup quarter finals. He was Director Of Football at the Impact Arena a decade ago. Striker Massiah McDonald who has had two spells at Matlock could be in line to face his old companions for the Reds. Alfreton have reduced admission charges for the game with adults paying eight pounds, concessions four pounds and juniors two pounds. If Alfreton draw their FA Trophy tie at FC Halifax Town on Saturday, the Trophy replay will take precedence on Tuesday.

IAN RICHARDSON

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