A Matlock Town school report for the end of term 2015/2016 would probably read “could do a lot better” accompanied by a C minus grading following their below-par 17th final position in the Evo-Stik Npl Premier Division table.
While the more pessimistic of Matlock fans feared a relegation battle during a late season slump, which saw them win only twice in their final sixteen league matches since a 2-0 home win against Mickleover Sports on February 16, the Gladiators eventually finished seven points ahead of fourth bottom Stamford, despite losing 22 of their 46 league games.
Perhaps a turning point for the worse came just three days before the Mickleover clash when Matlock led 1-0 at Marine going into the 91st minute, only for the visitors to literally chuck the points away as two last gasp goals led to a 2-1 win for the Mariners.
Then two weeks later a 2-0 loss and a poor performance at Stamford began an eight game losing streak, albeit with five of Matlock’s conquerors finishing in the top six spots.
Those two wins came against bottom side Ramsbottom United when their top flight status was confirmed in a four game unbeaten run which also saw them draw at Sutton Coldfield and at home to Stourbridge.
So Matlock were glad to see the back of 2015/2016 which ended with three more defeats on the trot and conceding four goals in each of their last two away trips to Workington and Barwell.
This after manager Mark Hume’s first full season in charge which got off to an encouraging start which saw only big spending Salford City, thanks to a last gasp decider, defeat his side in their opening six matches which also brought four wins.
Remarkably only Blyth Spartans’ better goal difference stopped Matlock from leading the table at the end of August.
But September proved to be an anti-climax, capped by an embarrassing FA Cup penalty shoot out defeat at nine men Whitley Bay, Matlock buckling under self induced pressure from the Northern Leaguers who equalised with the last kick of extra time and had the momentum to keep their nerve in the shoot out.
Successive home wins against Ashton United and Rushall Olympic in October lifted spirits, as did a great draw at Nantwich, but an inconsistent Matlock lost to struggling Stamford and Whitby Town before claiming another fine away point at Salford.
Matlock’s best cup form was in the FA Trophy, a Joel Purkiss special from the half way line being the opening Matlock goal in a 2-0 home win over Gresley before they returned home with a highly impressive 2-1 win from Shaw Lane Aquaforce in the following round.
Further progress and prize money came in a thrilling 4-2 home win against Blyth Spartans labelled by many as the best game at the Autoworld Arena for a good many years.
The run ended in the First Round Proper when an injury hit squad lost 2-0 at Nantwich, a poor draw on reflection given that Conference National sides had by now entered the competition. Nantwich, by the way, reached the semi finals.
Daventry Town beat an experimental Matlock line up in the Doodson NPL Cup after a penalty shoot out victory at Spalding in the previous round while their defence of the Derbyshire Senior Cup was over at the opening hurdle at Belper as Hume fielded the only fit eleven players he had available just four days before the Nantwich tie.
Still, Matlock ought to have made progress, a combination of squandering a glut of golden chances plus questionable defending leading to a 4-2 win for the Nailers.
Missed chances and poor defending would haunt Matlock in 2016 as they slid down the table after looking like a comfortable top half outfit.
Mark Hume has plenty of hard work and some tough decisions to make this summer.
Clearly he has to strengthen the squad in a number of areas which he has highlighted to us if they are to compete towards the top end of the division next term. He maintains his side has under achieved and given their good start, the poor form of 2016 underlines this.