With home games to follow against two more promotion-chasing clubs in Hednesford Town on Tuesday night and Altrincham next weekend, Kirkwood told supporters they were more than ready for the 2017-18 EVO-STIK League Premier season before hailing the arrival of a number of key signings at the DCJ Group Insurance Arena in recent days.
Kirkwood said: “We couldn’t have asked for a tougher start. Those three clubs will be right up there at the end of the season. Stourbridge are rightly one of the favourites for the league title, people shouldn’t be surprised, they reach the third round of the FA Cup every year at the moment.
"They did really well in the league last season and were unlucky not to be promoted [losing 1-0 in the play-off final at Spennymoor. But we think we’re ready and we’re sick to death now of playing friendlies and training. The lads worked really hard with the rain pelting down in training on Tuesday and me and Hoppo remarked what a strong squad we have this season. It’s what we wanted, not just the basic eleven players. We have ready made replacements if someone drops out for whatever reason.”
As Kirkwood prepared for the new season he was also quick to point to the new sides both Matlock and Stourbridge will put out from last season. Most notably, prolific striker Luke Benbow has moved to National North Solihull Moors from Stourbridge while the Gladiators have ten new additions to their ranks, having lost three - Marcus Dinanga returning to Burton Albion and Niall McManus to London following the completion of his university studies in Sheffield. Full-back Liam Marsden left the club this week.
Matlock had already signed full-backs Ryan Wilson and Rory Coleman, former Matlock Academy defender Max Hunt, defensive midfielder Todd Jordan, winger Luis Rose and striker Shaun Harrad before Kirkwood and fellow boss Craig Hopkins, pictured, made four more signings during the past week.
Mansfield Town strikers Tyler Blake and Zeyn Hakeem have arrived in separate loan deals, the former until Christmas and the latter for a month. Rhys Sharpe, who had a loan spell at Matlock at the end of last season, has also checked in with higher placed clubs interested in acquiring his services. Then on Tuesday former Rotherham United winger Darnell Bailey-King signed on the dotted line after impressing in the pre season build up.
Backing the new arrivals, Kirkwood said: “Tyler, Zeyn and Darnell should be really big players for us” said Kirkwood. “And we’re really fortunate to have Rhys Sharpe. Both Stourbridge and ourselves will be two new sides and it’s a case of whoever adapts the best. We’ve said all along, it’s all about that first game when points are at stake, results and performances in pre-season don’t mean anything.”
Matlock could be in their brand new away strip of all anthracite at Stourbridge after it was given a debut on Friday night when goals from Harrad and Dwayne Wiley saw them end their pre-season programme with a 2-1 home win over Belper Town. Captain for the night Joe Doyle-Charles collected the Caroline Melbourne Trophy, won by the Nailers in a penalty shoot-out twelve months ago.
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