the npl

Weekly News | 16.2.22

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Weekly News | 16.2.22

In form Mickleover handed their Derbyshire NPL rivals Buxton and Matlock Town a major boost with a 1-0 home win over South Shields on Tuesday evening to make it skin tight at the top of the league.

Mickleover’s fifth successive victory eased them further away from the relegation zone and also ensured that the Gladiators remained as league leaders going into this weekend’s fixtures. For Shields, they failed to make the most of their game in hand over Matlock who have a one point advantage over the Mariners with both sides now having thirteen games left. Buxton sit in third two points behind their A6 neighbours, having played a game more.

Matlock face Radcliffe at home on Saturday before travelling for a crucial clash at South Shields on Tuesday. Shields visit Lancaster on Saturday, while the Bucks host Gainsborough Trinity.

Matlock boss Paul Phillips says it is now important that the Gladiators do something for themselves after a three game winless run which has yielded only two points. Fortunately results elsewhere recently have worked in their favour to retain their top dog status when it looked as if they would be knocked off their perch.

“It’ll be a boost if we win the next game, the next game and the one after that. We must also remember there’s not just South Shields to worry about, other sides are putting in a strong challenge so it’s important that we do what we need to so we can stay in front. Recent results show the competitiveness of the league, obviously Mickleover beating South Shields being a prime example, but on Saturday Hyde beat Warrington, Grantham have come from behind to beat Ashton, Nantwich have hit five at Stalybridge. There’s no easy games.”

Last weekend, Matlock’s advantage had been cut to only one point as South Shields beat Atherton Colleries 2-1 at home while the Gladiators were being held to a 2-2 draw at windswept Whitby. Buxton came from behind at Nantwich to win 3-1.

The Gladiators were twice behind in North Yorkshire, Whitby having the advantage of a gale force wind in the opening half to lead 2-1 at the half way stage. After going behind to a scrappy effort inside 7 minutes, Matlock replied when Liam Hughes was tripped and Alex Byrne stroked in the spot kick, this being only Matlock’s second penalty award of the campaign. Another soft goal two minutes before the break restored the Seasiders’ advantage before Hughes grabbed a deserved equaliser seven minutes from the end.

“Their second goal was a killer coming so close to half time, Joe Young’s goal kick swirling back in the wind, we didn’t deal with the next phase and they scored a sloppy goal. For me, if we hadn’t conceded that, we’d have gone on to win it. We were totally ion top, we had five strikers on the pitch at the end and it would have been an injustice had we not got anything from the game. If anything we probably played better against the wind in the first half but everyone put in a good shift. Reece Kendall was outstanding, as was Liam Hughes. With Hughesy no-one beats himself up more than Liam when things don’t go right but he’s getting in the right areas, he’s a big old unit and we’ve got to make sure people work off him, getting runners in off him and beyond. At times I thought we were a bit stagnant when getting balls into the box, that’s my only concern and something we’ve got to work on. But we must also remember that the conditions on Saturday were horrendous, the wind was atrocious and the pitch nearly as bad.”

This Saturday’s opponents Radcliffe are having an up and down season but Phillips reckons they will come to Matlock to express themselves.

“I’ve seen Radcliffe a few times and they’re a good team, they had a good unbeaten run a bit back, they’re no mugs and the pressure is off them and they’ll come wanting to express themselves. But it’s down to us to get pour show back on the road.”

On the pressure at the top, Phillips said Matlock are in a position they want to be in.

“We want this pressure, if anything we’ve created this ourselves by not beating Lancaster and Grantham, but it’s better to be in this position than struggling near the bottom.”

While admitting that making the long trip to South Shields in midweek is a “massive ask”, Phillips says that Matlock’s full attention must be focussed on Radcliffe first.

“Going up there in midweek’s unfortunate but it’s Saturday first. Their loss on Tuesday is obviously good for us, it keeps us in front and we’ll have to see what Saturday brings. It’s important that we get the right result ourselves first.”

Midfielder Alex Wiles came off at Whitby with a hamstring injury which kept him out of training on Tuesday so he will need to be assessed ahead of the weekend. Defender Ioan Evans also took a whack on the leg at Whitby while striker Jack Hindle was left out of the sixteen with Phillips saying he needs to build up his fitness more.

“We’ve got a good squad, Shaun Rowley’s knocking on the door and we’ve got seventeen, eighteen lads looking for a start. If someone’s out it’s up to the others to come in and earn their place in the eleven or on the bench.

Goalkeeper Paul Cooper has been turning out for Longridge Town but remains part of Phillips’ plans.

Ian Richardson