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Weekly News - 4/8/20

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Weekly News - 4/8/20

Matlock Town return to action at New Mills tonight (Thursday) after an extended close season due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Gladiators last played on Tuesday 10 March in a 3-2 defeat at Warrington Town and after a summer of intense transfer activity, manager Paul Phillips has brought in thirteen new players with probably two more to come.

All of Matlock’s friendlies until 1 September at least are due to take place behind closed doors, so it will be a longer wait for Matlock’s fans to see their new team. But Phillips says after four strenuous training sessions on top of the more informal social distanced training get togethers held during the summer, his players are desperate to have some game time.

“Everything’s gone well apart from a setback tonight when Jon Stewart picked up a knee injury which we’ll need to assess. If need be we’ll bring someone in, that’s no problem. The lads have trained hard and now they’re crying out for a game of football.”

Hot on the heels of their visit to Church Lane is another trip to Wythenshawe Town on Saturday, so Phillips expects to utilise all of his squad over the thirty six hours period.

“Having two games in quick succession will mean we’ll probably use all of our squad. We’ll be focusing on getting ready for that first competitive game. A winning habit’s a good habit but results aren’t the main priority in pre-season, it’s getting people minutes under their belt. Both New Mills and Wythenshawe will be decent tests, both did well last season. I’d say Wythenshawe will be the bigger test as they’ve got players who’ve played at a higher level. But for me, it’s not about the teams we’re playing against, it’s about our lads getting the game time in to bring on their fitness levels”

Phillips’ transfer business continued last weekend when former Farsley and Chester full back Lewis Turner signed on the dotted line, while the Gladiators also announced the permanent acquisition of midfielder Nathan Valentine who joined Matlock on loan from Stalybridge Celtic in January. Valentine scored three goals in his nine appearances, and became a hit with the Matlock support who voted him as their player of the month for February.

So with a large number of incoming players, will there need to be a settling in period?

“I think there’s always a settling in period, a lot of teams will face this especially with the long time gap in playing” Phillips explained.

“But I’m hoping we can have some advantage with the sessions we’ve had in the summer and by the fact that we’ve signed players who’ve played together before and also know each other. I’m hoping it doesn’t take a long time for them to gell together. I’ve seen a togetherness at training, everyone’s pushing one another and the players are setting their own standards.”

Phillips revealed he had agreed terms with a midfielder who has captained Manchester City under 21’s and he is looking to sign a goalkeeper on a dual registration basis to challenge Stewart for the number one shirt.

“We’ll about be done then although we’ve got to be mindful that Spencer Harris and Braulio Maieco are suspended when the competitive games start.”

Matlock’s season will begin seven days earlier than most of the other NPL Premier League clubs. The Gladiators, Ashton United and Stalybridge Celtic are the three NPL top tier sides who will feature in the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup on Saturday 12 September. Matlock will find out their opponents when the draws for the opening two rounds are announced by the FA on Tuesday 18 August.

“We’ll use it as a positive in that we’ll have had a competitive game before the league games get under way” said Phillips.

“Hopefully it’ll give us an edge over whoever we play unless we play Ashton or Stalybridge in the opening league game.”

Changes in the FA Cup format this season see ties decided on the day with penalties if needed and no extra time or replays, a cut in the prize fund and some midweek dates for subsequent qualifying rounds.

Should Matlock win their Preliminary Round tie, their first qualifying round match will take place on Tuesday 22 September with the third qualifying round set for Tuesday 13 October. The second and fourth qualifying rounds will still be played at weekends,( Saturday 3 and 24 October respectively). Prize money reverts to its level of 2017/18, an approximate 50% cut, the FA stating this being due to the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.. A win in the Preliminary Round would earn Matlock £1125 and a further £1444 if they were successful in the following round.

The Gladiators will enter the FA Trophy on Saturday 31 October at the third qualifying round stage, keen to emulate their successful runs of 2012/13, 2016/17 and last season, when they reached the last thirty two, only to be beaten by National League opposition.

Ian Richardson