The Proctor Cars Stadium stages one of the BetVictor NPL Premier Division match of the day on Saturday as high riding Matlock Town face one of the pre season favourites for the title in South Shields.
A healthy contingent of visiting fans from the north east should travel to Matlock. Add that to what should be another good turnout from home supporters with Derby County playing on Friday night, the Gladiators should have their highest attendance of the season so far.
Steve Kittrick’s men are unbeaten in seven league and cup outings so far, the division’s only unbeaten team, while Shields lie in sixth place, four points behind Matlock but with a game in hand.
Last season the Mariners were convincing winners in both games, winning 3-0 in Derbyshire on the corresponding Saturday before hammering Matlock 5-0 on Tyneside in December.
Matlock lost the league leadership on Tuesday night, Hyde United taking over, a point ahead and having played one more match after their home win against Nantwich Town.
While the Gladiators were left kicking their heels, their scheduled trip to Kittrick’s old club Scarborough Athletic being called off due to the Seadogs having an FA Cup replay at Marske. Shields meanwhile also had an FA Cup replay in midweek which saw them lose at Colne.
It all points to being Matlock’s sternest test so far but Kittrick is looking forward to the challenge.
“On paper it’s our hardest game, they have some full timers and looking at how they play and have come through the leagues and are continuing to progress it’ll be a difficult game,” said Kittrick.
“We’ll give them respect like we give everybody but we’ve had some strong tests already this season.
“It’ll be another different test, South Shields play some very good football, they have good football people at the club and there’ll be there or thereabouts again at the end of the season.”
The Mariners were expected to gain promotion last season being in many peoples’ eyes the best side in the division, but Farsley Celtic won the title and Shields lost out in the NPL Premier Division play off final to Warrington Town who were subsequently defeated by King’s Lynn Town in the super play off final.
Kittrick and Matlock officials will be hoping their fans turn out in force, the manager praising the Gladiators fans for their backing so far.
“The supporters have been fantastic, the way they’ve backed us and got behind us has been great and has been noted not only Luke(Potter) and myself but the players as well. Keep it up and come down in good numbers on Saturday to give us your support,” added Kittrick.
Matlock Town were rewarded for their progress in the FA Cup with a home tie against Kidsgrove Athletic in the second qualifying round tie draw.
The Gladiators made progress in the competition last weekend with a 2-1 victory against fellow NPL Premier Division outfit Basford United.
The victory boosted the club’s coffers with the £4,500 prize money.
They will now face BetVictor NPL South East Division side Kidsgrove on 21 September and boss Kittrick insists Matlock must not take anything for granted.
“Sometimes you can get shot down when you’re expected to win, we’ve seen that many times in the competition haven’t we? It’ll be a tough game, the FA Cup fetches the best out of people,” he said.
Saturday’s win was their second victory over Basford this season, having won in the league at Greenwich Avenue in August.
Matlock had the boost of a second-minute goal from the penalty spot by Spencer Harris after Dan Bramall had been fouled and deservedly doubled their lead just after the hour when Jordan Sinnott fired home, both players scoring their first goals for the club.
The Gladiators were good value for their win, the scoreline being closer than the play suggested.
“We played well and dealt with a good side very well, our game plan worked,” said Kittrick.
“Basford didn’t have many chances although we made it difficult for ourselves when we gave the penalty away, the last ten minutes was a bit tally-ho, Basford had four strikers on which made it tough for us at the back end.
“I think it was a little too comfortable for us half way through the second half, but if we hadn’t given the penalty away, we’d have got a deserved clean sheet.”
Matlock’s early spot kick was their first of the season.
“We hadn’t made any arrangements about who’d take it, the players sort that out themselves. Spencer stepped up, took the responsibility and slotted it away nicely,” said the manager.
Kittrick believes there is a lot more to come from Sinnott who kept his cool to fire decisively home following great work from Marcus Marshall on the right.
“Jordan played really well and once he’s one hundred per cent fit and up to speed he’ll be a massive asset for us,” he added.
On the playing front, Dwayne Wiley, Luke Dean and Scott Smith all missed the Basford clash.
“Wiley broke a hand in the previous match versus Grantham, Luke Dean’s hamstring trouble reoccurred and Smith, on loan from Guiseley, did not have the Lion’s consent to play in the FA Cup.
“Dwayne’s going to the fracture clinic to try and get some support so he can be playing again, he did some hard work in training and on Saturday so we’re keen to get him back.
“Luke’s hamstring is causing him discomfort, he’ll probably miss out this weekend although we’ll assess him on Thursday and with regards to Scott, we’ll be talking to Guiseley this week to try and extend the loan deal,” said Kittrick.
While, Matlock Town’s scheduled Integro NPL Cup game at Belper on Tuesday night has been postponed.
The decision was taken by the NPL Management Committee and will allow clubs with FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round ties on the following Saturday to delay their Integro Cup matches.
A new date for the derby with the Nailers is still to be confirmed.
Matlock and Belper both have home FA Cup ties at the next stage, the Gladiators taking on Kidsgrove Athletic while Belper entertain Witton Albion.