Matlock Town manager Mark Atkins was visibly much happier than seven days ago after two battling, much-improved displays from his team.
The Gladiators collected two successive goalless draws against Ilkeston at home last Saturday and then in their visit to Stalybridge on Tuesday night to take on highly fancied FC United of Manchester.
And despite having now gone three games without scoring, the displays since the defeat to Frickley Athletic last week have given Atkins much more heart.
He said: “They’ve been two good performances. The lads have given everything after the Frickley game which we made a great deal about saying it wasn’t good enough.
“Both games have been very competitive, we’ve stood up to be counted and with a bit of luck we might have won both, though I’m not saying we’d have deserved to.
“But they’ve been proper football games, good for this level of football.”
The Ilkeston clash was a dress rehearsal for Saturday’s FA Cup tie, also at the Autoworld Arena, and both Atkins and his Ilkeston counterpart Kevin Wilson will be having their thinking caps on this week to devise a plan to unlock what were two water tight defences.
“It wasn’t different to what I expected last Saturday,” said Atkins. “Ilkeston are a good side and obviously very dangerous going forward so to keep a clean sheet was very satisfying, but I think we’ve more to give in the final third and if we can get that right then I think we could be in business.”
On Matlock having now gone three games without finding the net, Atkins added: “In big games you need to put your chances away and if you can then there’s obviously a better chance of winning but I’m sure it will come if we continue to play like we did on Tuesday. Our work rate was first class and we just need that little bit of luck in front of goal.
“Jon Kennedy made some fantastic saves and our two centre halves defended fantastically well. We were good apart from in their box but the effort and determination was top class in both matches especially taking into account we used two different formations in the matches.”
If Saturday’s game is drawn, the two sides will do battle again on Monday night at the New Manor Ground.
Meanwhile, Atkins was left frustrated last week as he tried to bring in fresh blood to boost his squad and address a patchy start to the season. The Matlock chief drew a blank with all three of his targets, although one of them could yet become a Matlock player.
He said: “I thought I’d got two definites and one possible as far as new players coming to the club but all three fell through for different reasons.
“Two are now dead in the water but one may be resurrected.”
There was a further blow before last weekend’s visit of Ilkeston. Full-back Micky Harcourt is ruled out indefinitely with a knee injury.
“Micky hurt it in pre season and had a scan three weeks ago,” said Atkins.
“His knee wasn’t comfortable but he still felt fit to play but the scan’s revealed a micro fracture so now he’s got to stop playing altogether and see a specialist and at this moment in time we have no idea how long he’ll be out for.
“It’s a tremendous blow for the lad and also the club with him being a key member of our squad. All we can do is hope it can be sorted quickly but the lad’s well being is the main concern.”
Former Derby midfielder Niall Dawkins has been released to join First Division South Mickleover Sports and young defender Deano Freeman made his debut for Rainworth Miners Welfare in the same division against Chasetown last weekend.
“Niall hasn’t featured that much and wanted first team football which I can’t guarantee him so he’s moved to Mickleover while Deano has gone to Rainworth to get some games in and we’ll bring him back here if we need to,” said Atkins.