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Weekly News | 2.3.22

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Weekly News | 2.3.22

The twists and turns in the NPL Premier Division title race continue with Matlock Town still in the mix despite a winless run stretching to five matches which have yielded only three points.

Leaders South Shields went down to an 88th minute winner from Ashton United on Tameside on Tuesday night so their lead over third placed Matlock is four points with the Gladiators having a game in hand.

"It shows what a competitive, tough league this is, it's probably the toughest it's ever been" said Gladiators boss Paul Phillips.

Matlock would probably have been further out of contention in a normal season given their recent run, and they are well aware that they must return to winning ways as a matter of urgency. But there were encouraging signs in their 1-1 draw at FC United of Manchester on Saturday that the worm may be starting to turn their way.

The Gladiators fought hard to secure a point after going behind in only seven minutes, then being reduced to ten men on 71 minutes when Jamie Sharman was shown a second yellow card. But outstanding goalkeeping by Joe Young and a never say die attitude saw them level when Alex Byrne levelled from the penalty spot after substitute Marcus Marshall was brought down.

"In the end it was a good point, it was a strange game with FC United having a lot of first half possession without really troubling Joe Young apart from the goal. We had the better opportunities and I say again, we've got to hit the target, something we've worked on in training on Tuesday. In the second half we kept going and a plus point was the way we finished with ten men. Joe had been outstanding in goal for us with some good saved in the second half, we had one or two out, Ryan Qualter's been a big miss, but we stuck in the game and probably did better with ten. We kept it at 1-0 and got our reward late on."

Phillips was unhappy that the hosts still had eleven men on the pitch after United left back Adam Dodd shoved his hands into Byrne's face.

"The referee didn't deal with that properly and it might have been a different outcome had one of our lads did that and some of what followed might not have happened."

Now Matlock head to Gainsborough Trinity on Saturday before returning to the Proctor Cars Stadium on Tuesday hoping to do better than South Shields did against the Robins this week.

In spite of being down in 17th spot, Trinity have a good home league record with only Scarborough Athletic returning home with maximum points so far this season.

"Gainsborough are on a decent little run, I like going there, it's a nice ground and a decent pitch. It'll be a tough game so we'll have to ensure we prepare right and assert ourselves on the day."

Qualter is expected to return to the side after serving his three game ban although the Gladiators will be without Sharman and Reece Kendall through suspension, both starting two match bans.

Adam Yates, who made a surprise appearance at FC United may again be drafted in. Yates managed 66 minutes before coming off looking understandably tired.

"Yatesy was up against a very good opponent and did very well. He was blowing a bit which isn't surprising so we needed to make the change. We might need him again. He's a brilliant lad who loves this club and it just shows how much as he answered our call to him when we needed him."

Midfielder Luke Daly and Phillips have spoken after Daly told his manager he would not be available to face FC United late in the day.

"He sent me a text at 1:40 and that's not good enough " said Phillips.

"He was in the side so we had to change things at the last minute. His name's been circulated to other clubs but we spoke at training on Tuesday and the ball's in Luke's court. He can knuckle down and stay here or he can go. Discipline's the big be all and end all as far as we're concerned . That's the way we operate.Luke's apologised to the lads and also to me and says he wants to stay."

Phillips has called on the Matlock public to get behind his team in the remaining matches of the season.

"We've had a blip but Buxton had one and South Shields would probably have not expected to lose against Mickleover and Ashton. If we'd have got six points instead of one against Lancaster and Grantham like a lot of people would have expected, we'd obviously be better off. But there's all to play for. We need to get the feel good factor again. We've had lots of good support away and we need everyone in the area to get behind this side and cheer the lads on. With success, expectation levels rise, we perhaps need to take a reality check for we're well in there alongside the so called bigger clubs in the hardest NPL I've known. We're going to get disappointments, but let's have good crowds and everyone getting behind the lads. We're still very much in the hunt. There's pressure and the side that handles it best will probably come out on top."

Ian Richardson.