Two improved performances, a first win in nine league matches and missing players on their way back could be the catalyst in Matlock Town ending their season on a high, according to boss Mark Atkins.
The play-offs are an impossible dream now for the ninth-placed Gladiators following their poor run of results, but Atkins says his side must try and win their final three games, starting with the Easter double of Nantwich Town away on Saturday before Buxton visit the Autoworld Arena on Monday afternoon in Matlock’s last home match of the campaign.
Atkins was critical of his players and said they were playing for their futures at Matlock after the lacklustre home defeat to Witton Albion a fortnight ago, but he was eager to praise them after the 1-1 draw at Buxton last Wednesday and then Saturday’s 2-0 home win against Whitby Town.
He said: “They responded in exactly the right way and showed a great attitude and tremendous determination in both games.
“We did very well up at Buxton and should have won that game and then against Whitby we also played really well and although the sendings off spoiled the game, we fully deserved our three points.”
A last-gasp Martin Foster penalty earned Town their draw at the Silverlands before Cecil Nyoni in the first-half and Massiah McDonald midway through the second accounted for Whitby in a game where the big talking point was the dismissal of three players in a fiery 38th minute flare-up.
Whitby’s Steven Snaith saw red for a late challenge on Adam Yates and in the bust up which followed, Nyoni and visiting midfielder David McTiernan were also sent off.
“It was a bad tackle by their lad but I’m not really sure whether it deserved a red or just a yellow card,” said Atkins.
“There then was a bit of a coming together and the Whitby lad deserved to be sent off as he’s allegedly headbutted Oscar Radford three times.
“But we’re really disappointed with Cecil’s sending off as we can’t see what he did wrong and the referee’s explanation was different from what actually happened.
“We’ve got to take it on the chin but it’s a pity as Cecil had scored a great goal and had done well in recent games.”
A first clean sheet in six matches also pleased the Town chief, who added: “We didn’t give Whitby a chance and the clean sheet was important because we’d spoken before the game about being weak from set plays in recent matches which had cost us. We knew we’d got to cut this out and we defended quite well with what little Whitby threw at us.”
Matlock head into the Easter programme encouraged with the return of full-back Micky Harcourt last weekend and with leading scorer Danny Holland now free from suspension.
The injured Jack Broadhead and skipper Liam Needham are both expected to be fit for the Buxton game at least, if not Saturday as well, having failed fitness tests prior to the Whitby win.
Atkins said: “Getting Micky back last week was a big bonus and we have Danny available again while Liam and Jack should also feature.
“And with Massiah McDonald now back in the groove, we’ll be going all out for wins in the last three games.
“The games we’ve got left will be tough but we know with the lads we have at the club, we’re more than capable of doing well.”
On the debit side full-back Joe Leesley misses the Easter games after collecting ten bookings while Nyoni faces a three-match ban, starting with the season’s finale at Marine next weekend.