After another home defeat and three goals conceded in front of their own fans for the fourth successive match, Matlock Town boss Glenn Kirkwood has called on his team to show “more mental toughness”.
Witton Albion were the latest visitors to inflict more pain on the Gladiators, albeit needing a rebound from a last gasp controversial penalty to gain all three points after Matlock had recovered from a two goal deficit to level, with goals from Lee Bennett and Shaun Harrad in four minutes midway through the second half.
“It turned out to be same old, same old,” said Kirkwood, his disappointment being magnified as he was confident of the Gladiators earning a good result.
“Hoppo (Craig Hopkins, joint manager) and me were confident, we thought we were in for a big performance after three great training sessions on Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday.
“Instead we were as flat as a pancake in that first half, despite us telling the lads of the need to be flying out of the traps. It was unbelievable really. 1-0 down at half time and then we gifted them the second goal.
“But we got back into it, Benno’s header sprung us into life and Hazza’s great strike has got us level. Then you think there’s only going to be one winner.”
The dismissal of their striker Will Jones with 20 minutes to go steadied the Witton ship.
“It gave them a foothold and fair play to Witton, they’re a good side and deserved the three points,” said Kirkwood.
“But at 2-2 that should have been it, we should have come off with a minimum of 2-2 and it would have given us something to work with having got a point despite not playing well.
“It’s really frustrating for us, we’ve brought in fresh players to try and turn things around.”
The late penalty was the last of a series of refereeing decisions that went against Matlock, coming after Albion probably should have been down to nine men following a deliberate pull back by visiting defender Michael Wilson on Harrad who had broken clear.
Then Joe Doyle-Charles was given a second yellow card for a challenge which looked to be fair resulting in him missing Saturday’s crucial visit to Halesowen Town.
“We can moan about the referee but at the end of the day we had that flat 45 minutes, the referee’s job is the hardest on the field. It’s up to us all on the bench and on the field to take collective responsibility, fight our way out of the situation we’re in, to play for the shirt and each other, show a real team ethic.
“We looked like strangers for 45 minutes last Saturday and it took me back after the training sessions. They go and churn out that. There’s pressure but it’s from ourselves as a management team from the high standards we’ve set in 10 years of management.
“It’s tough but we carry on fighting, we can’t feel sorry for ourselves as one thing’s for sure. Halesowen are fighting for their lives and won’t feel sorry for us on Saturday so we’ve got to go out and get the job done.”
Kirkwood believes there are still some positives to take from recent performances.
“Our two central strikers are scoring (Bennett and Harrad have scored three times in three games), and are doing really well.
“Then on Saturday we brought on Curtis Morrison and Ricky German (signed for a second loan spell from Chesterfield last Friday) with about half an hour to go, both played really well and we know their pace will cause defenders problems.
“But at the end of the day, results are the be all and end all, we’ve got to be better defensively as a team and start winning games again. No-one gifts us goals as we seem to be doing to the opposition.”
Matlock beat Halesowen 2-0 at the DCJ Group Arena back on November, this being their last clean sheet.
Since then the Gladiators have played fourteen league and cup games and leaked 31goals. There would be no better time than Saturday at The Grove to baton down the hatches.