Gladiators must hit the road running

Craig Hopkins is hoping Matlock’s weather enforced break won’t harm his side’s hopes when they kick off a challenging and busy festive programme at EVO-STIK League leaders Altrincham on Saturday, writes Ian Richardson.

After last weekend’s trip to Farsley and a visit from Rushall Olympic on the previous Saturday both succumbed to the freezing weather, the Gladiators will be kicking off for the first time in nearly three weeks since taking to the field in a 1-0 Derbyshire Senior Cup defeat at Alfreton on December 5.

With milder temperatures forecast and the festive fixtures looking safe, Hopkins and joint boss Glenn Kirkwood are hoping their side can recapture the performance levels that saw them beat Halesowen, Grantham and Lancaster before the narrow loss to the Reds.

“We thought we’d be okay last Saturday but the weather won again and it’s just one of those things,” said Hopkins. “The lay-off certainly doesn’t help us, two and a half weeks is a long time without a game but we’ve just got to get on with it. We were playing well before the break and looked as though we were getting back to our old selves.”

Dynamic duo: Glenn Kirkwood and Craig Hopkins

Dynamic duo: Glenn Kirkwood and Craig Hopkins

Hopkins believes Matlock will be facing the best side in the league at Moss Lane, although the Gladiators did come out on top in the reverse fixture at the DCJ Group Arena in August when a solitary Dwayne Wiley header settled the game in Matlock’s favour.

He insisted: “They’re the best side in the league, they play good football, they are well coached and play the game the right way. It’ll be tough and it’s a shame we’ve had the lay-off but the lads worked hard in training on Tuesday and will do so again on Thursday. We’ll go up there looking for the three points as we always do and give it our best shot.”

Matlock then host local rivals Buxton on Boxing Day and a repeat of the scoreline and attendance from exactly twelve months ago would be just fine for Hopkins after a bumper Christmas crowd 1051 saw Matlock beat the Bucks 3-1 in a thrilling tussle to secure a first home league victory over their Derbyshire rivals since March 2008.

“It’s the game everyone looks forward to, the one we look for on the fixture list,” said the joint boss. “The attendance was amazing last year and we’re sure our supporters will get behind the lads on the day.”

In spite of not being at their best compared to last term, Matlock are currently the fifth best supported side in the division with an average of 382. Only Stourbridge, Altrincham, Stafford Rangers and Workington currently have more people through the turnstiles than Matlock.

“That says a lot about our fans, they’ve stuck with us and we thank them for their support and want them to keep on coming,” added Hopkins who is hoping supporters will fill the coach the club is laying on for Saturday's trip to Cheshire.

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