Matlock Town’s joint boss Craig Hopkins says it is time for the Gladiators squad to stand up and be counted following a below par opening to their Evo-Stik League Premier campaign.
With sixteen games played, Matlock lie in a lowly eighteenth spot following their eighth league defeat of the season at Stalybridge Celtic last weekend and midweek matches which saw Stalybridge beaten on Merseyside by Marine AFC, who host the Gladiators this weekend.
The Mariners` 3-1 win meant that Stalybridge have lost every one of their seven away fixtures but have collected sixteen points from nine home outings.
This is further evidence of an unpredictable league when on the day, Stalybridge looked to be the best side Matlock had faced this season, despite the Tameside outfit being below them in the league standings.
“They were a really good side although it seems unbelievable they struggle so badly away from home,” said Hopkins. “They were better than us although 4-1 flattered them somewhat. But they scored some great goals, the first one for example being a great overhead kick from Liam Dickenson who probably won’t hit another one like that for a very long time. They got in quality balls from wide areas, their wide players showing us what we should have been doing. Their left back must have put in five or six quality balls. Stalybridge moved the ball well, we didn’t.”
It has been a struggle for Matlock to replicate their outstanding form from this time last season.
“We’re not playing anywhere near as well as we did last season, at home our form has been mixed. Away from home we’ve not been good enough and we need to turn things round.”
Hopkins pulled no punches as he discussed how to address their current plight.
“We’ve got to roll our sleeves up, work harder and show greater desire. Last season no team was fitter than us but that’s not the case at present. Our training on Tuesday centred largely around fitness and we’ll have another good session on Thursday. Four or five of our lads are not to the level of last season. Players have to look after themselves, do more for themselves away from the club, they have to be more responsible for their actions. We won’t rest if the team isn’t right. We’re working really hard to get the balance right. We’ll make no apologies for bringing more lads in.
“The players we have here must force us to change our minds.”
Marine, like Matlock, have also had an inconsistent start being one place and two points behind Town and having played a game more. The teams met at the DCJ Group Arena a month ago, Marine scoring the first and last goals in the 2-2 draw in a game Matlock dominated for long spells.
“We’re expecting the usual tough game up at Marine, we’ll be going there to win but we’ll have to go there and earn it,” Hopkins warned.
Full-back Kieran Wallace, 22, made his Gladiators debut at Stalybridge following his release by Sheffield United in August for whom he made fifteen first-team appearances having previously represented England at under-16 and under-17 level.
“Kieran’s a fantastic signing for us who played really well on his debut, we’re really pleased to have him with us. He was a bonus on what wasn’t a great day for us,” said Hopkins.
Illness ruled out winger Luis Rose and he will be missing for probably another couple of weeks but a check with the FA suspension lists has revealed that midfielder Joe Doyle-Charles will be available after all at Marine, his caution last Saturday being his fourth of the campaign.
On the disciplinary front, Matlock have been declared the Premier Division’s best-behaved team in September, having collected a meagre four cautions in eight matches. Overall, they lie in third spot behind Witton Albion in second and Lancaster City.