Atkins: Promotion battle continues

Their play-off hopes might be fading but Matlock Town boss Mark Atkins insists the fight must go on.

A must-win game at home to Whitby Town last weekend saw Matlock drop two valuable points as they surrendered a two-goal advantage in a 2-2 draw. Results elsewhere saw the Gladiators slip down to seventh place.

Atkins said: “We’ve definitely made things a lot harder for ourselves than was the case three weeks ago, but there’s still seven games left, 21 points to play for and we need to get as many points as we can.”

Whitby was a case in point. Matlock looked to be cruising as half-time approached. Nathan Joynes and Lee Morris scored within the opening half hour to open up a two-goal lead, but by half-time, two soft goals had got Whitby back on level terms.

Atkins does not believe in the curse of the manager of the month which has seen his side pick up just five points out of a possible twenty one, straight after a perfect February had earned him the accolade.

“That’s all in people’s heads, the truth of the matter is that we’ve not shown the mental toughness, we’ve crumbled, we’ve not stood up to be counted.”

Matlock could not have a more difficult task on Saturday when they travel to runaway league leaders and champions-elect FC Halifax.

But Atkins feels that Matlock should go to The Shay with a positive attitude.

“We’ve nothing to lose and people will be saying that Halifax will beat us, but I feel we’ve got the chance to express ourselves and play without fear.”

Monday night sees Matlock visit Ashton United in the Evo-Stik League Cup semi-final. Atkins says that this competition has always been high on his agenda and they will be going all out to earn a place in the final against either Northwich Victoria or Bradford Park Avenue.

“This game was always important. It might look as if we’ve fallen out of play-off contention but we would still have been treating this game seriously if we’d have been better off in the league. At the end of the day there’s a chance of getting into the final and picking up some silverware.”

Atkins will be hoping that the hamstring injury which has seen top scorer Ross Hannah miss the last two games clears up ahead of the weekend.

“He had a fitness test and wasn’t close enough on Saturday but we have a full week ahead of the Halifax game so hopefully we’ll see some improvement. We’ll assess him on Thursday at training to see how he responds to various situations.”

Gareth Davies could also be a doubt with him being substituted as a substitute against Whitby and leaving with his arm in a sling. but there is a chance of a debut for defender Paul Sykes who joined the Gladiators on Friday from Ossett Town.

“Paul’s a big tough lad who I knew from my time at Stalybridge, he’s been around the non league scene at this level and the one above for a long time. He asked if he could come to us for the rest of the season and really it was a no brainer for he can play in a number of positions.’’