What a difference a week has made to Matlock Town’s fortunes in the EVO-STIK League after the Gladiators missed out on the chance to go top, writes Ian Richardson.
Had they not conceded a late equaliser at Sutton Coldfield on Tuesday week, Craig Hopkins and joint boss Glen Kirkwood would have reached the summit of the EVO-STIK League’s top flight. Instead, they went into their August Bank Holiday programme in fourth spot but ended it down in 16th after a 2-0 defeat at Warrington Town on Saturday before suffering a 3-2 reverse at home to Grantham Town on Monday.
Hopkins isn’t too despondent despite the blows but acknowledged that a return to winning ways is vital this weekend when they travel to Shropshire to meet Haughmond from the Midland Football League Premier Division in the First Qualifying Round of the Emirates FA Cup.
Hopkins said: “It’s still early days, we’re six games in and there’s still nothing in it. We’ve had a really tough start and over the weekend played the two teams who are now in the top two. Up until Monday we’ve been pretty good, even at Warrington we were on top during the first half before being hit by those two quick goals before half time.
“At Sutton Coldfield we were guilty of not putting the game to bed and also conceding two very poor goals in the first half. And if you look at the Warrington twitter feed, they wanted half time to come as quickly as possible at forty minutes in but then out of nowhere came two soft goals.”
Hopkins conceded that it was a below par display for the opening third of the contest against Grantham but insisted they quickly improved.
“For the first half hour nobody played well, everyone had a bad time of it but for the last fifty or sixty minutes we were the better side,” declared Hopkins. “The damage had been done but we feel we should still have got something from our second half chances. Everyone was very disappointed afterwards, the lads were told about it but didn’t need to be told. We take it as a group, players, staff, Kirky and me, Coxy [Danny Cox], Soll [Adam Sollitt] and Mugga [Mark Mullins], we stand together as a group.”
Hopkins was also complimentary about Grantham, adding: “We played against a very good side, probably the hardest working side in the league. We did that in the first five games but Grantham outworked us, their decision making was good and their finishing spot on.”
Hopkins told fans on Thursday that they will be striving to go one round further on Saturday than last season’s final qualifying round exit at Altrincham.
“We’ve spoken to a couple of managers who’ve played them and they’ve said that a neutral could mistake them for a step three side,” said the joint manager. “The match reports we’ve had are detailed. In the last round they went to Bedworth, a NPL First Division South side and beat them well on their artificial surface.
“Every game is important for us whether it be in the league or the cup. It’s another massive game for us and Saturday can’t come quickly enough for us for we want to get Monday’s game out of our system. We need full concentration on Saturday, all our attention now is on this game.”
Meanwhile, Hopkins thanked the fans who turned up in numbers to the Grantham game which attracted a healthy 529 attendance.
“Having a good crowd in made the performance and result all the more frustrating,” Hopkins admitted. “We’d made a good start and played really well in the two home games. Monday wasn’t us, we’re better than that, hopefully those coming down for the first time will give us another chance, we thank them for coming and next time they’ll see the real Matlock Town.”
* Mansfield loan strikers Tyler Blake and Zeyn Hakeem do not consent to play on Saturday but Hopkins believes everyone else should be available with the possible exception of midfielder Michael Williams who is edging closer to a return to fitness. There may be a new addition to the squad ahead of the tie. If drawn, it will mean a replay at the DCJ Group Arena on Tuesday night and the postponement of the scheduled league trip to Coalville Town.