Joint Matlock boss Craig Hopkins says he had a good feeling about the Gladiators’ prospects ahead of last Saturday’s 3-0 home win against Stafford Rangers which reignited their play-off hopes after a run of four games without a victory.
In an explosive opening the Gladiators went ahead inside 32 seconds through Michael Williams before new signing Rhys Sharpe made a dream start to his time at the DCJ Group Arena, netting with a cracking 20-yard volley in the seventh minute.
A quality goal from Dwayne Wiley completed the scoring with only 20 minutes on the clock.
Hopkins said: “We played well and we could see the lads had a bee in their bonnets before kick-off after the frustration of the 0-0 with Coalville on the Tuesday night.
“They’d had a few days off and they were raring to go which is great to see.
“We’d started well enough against Coalville but unfortunately we couldn’t score, the difference on Saturday was taking those early chances which came our way. Getting a good start in games in this league is so important, I reckon that very few teams in this league come back to win after a poor start.”
Hopkins said the objective at half-time was to try to add to the healthy lead.
“It wasn’t a case of stick or twist, we wanted them to keep on playing but to be fair the lads had put in a right shift in that first half and had probably blown themselves out a bit,” he said.
“You can’t keep that up for ninety minutes so the lads looked after what they had and it was good to see they had the nouse to say we’re not going to let them (Stafford) back into it.”
Saturday’s win saw Matlock rise a couple of spots to sixth only for Whitby to beat Halesowen Town in midweek to jump into the play off places and in turn, push the Gladiators back down to seventh.
But it is still incredibly tight in the race for a top five spot and an extension to the playing season. Only five points separate Whitby in fourth place from tenth in the table Grantham Town, with Buxton, Matlock and Workington all locked on 61 points, two short of Whitby.
It is important now for Matlock to try and put an unbeaten run together, starting at Ashton United on Saturday and continuing at Spennymoor Town on Tuesday.
Hopkins though repeated the need to take one game at a time.
“We’ve got some tough games coming up but we’re not looking beyond Saturday and trying to get the three points up at Ashton. There’s no point in talking about going on runs, we need to concentrate on one game at a time, we’ll start thinking about Spennymoor after Saturday.
“Ashton have been on a decent run lately so we’re expecting a hard game. People say Matlock haven’t got a good record there but this is a different set of lads now, we’ve beaten Halesowen this season and also won at Workington and against Buxton having not done so for a while .”
New signing Rhys Sharpe , comfortable at left back or on the left side of midfield,was named as star man on his debut. Having begun his career at Derby County and later having spells at Notts County, Shrewsbury Town and then Swindon from whom he joined Matlock, the 22-year-old, a Northern Ireland under 21 international, was praised by Hopkins.
“Rhys did very well, we’d had him when Kirky and me were at Mickleover and he’s got great technique, a lovely left foot. Some of his balls into the box were brilliant, hit at pace and it’s a pity we couldn’t get on the end of more of them. He’s got great quality, he just needs games now to get him up to full speed.”
Now Hopkins and Kirkwood have what could be described as a nice headache with Niall McManus available again after serying a one match ban against Stafford. Meanwhile Jamie Yates and Callum Lloyd have ben turning out for AFC Mansfield to gain match fitness, Lloyd having made the Matlock squad just once as an unused substitute against Frickley last month following a serious knee injury.
The NPL transfer deadline is at 5pm next Thursday (March 23) and it appears unlikely that there will be major additions to the Gladiators squad.
“There may be one and possibly some goalkeeping cover,” said Hopkins.
“Jon Kennedy has indicated he could turn out if needed when Worksop haven’t got a game but goalkeeping cover is something we could well look at.”
Hopkins again praised the Matlock supporters following the Stafford win.
He said: “To be fair we didn’t give them a lot to shout about against Coalville but they were there again on Saturday and must have really enjoyed that first half when they really got behind us.
“It’s nice to be getting crowds of around 500 at Matlock, long may that continue and if we can increase that figure, all the better. All the lads really appreciate the backing they get.”