Pitmen bring Gladiators back to earth as they look to pull off FA Trophy upset
MATLOCK Town will head into their mouthwatering FA Trophy first round tie at Mansfield Town on the back of a reality check.
A powerful Hednesford Town side deservedly ended the Gladiators' winning run 3-2 at the Reynolds Stadium in midweek.
Matlock had won their previous four matches in the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
Including their Trophy successes against Leek Town and Stalybridge Celtic, they took on the Pitmen unbeaten in seven outings.
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A midweek defeat is hardly the preparation manager Mark Atkins had in mind as his side get ready to take on their Blue Square Bet Premier neighbours but he saw a silver lining in their beating by Hednesford.
"At least it's brought us down to earth a bit," he said. "It's made us realise where we are in the league and as a football club."
The Trophy tie is Matlock's biggest cup game in years and they go into the game hoping that history repeats itself.
On December 15, 1976, the Gladiators went to Field Mill in the second round of the FA Cup and, astonishingly, won 5-2. Matlock then led the Northern Premier League and the Stags went on to lift the old Division Three title.
Mansfield warmed up for the tie with a 2-2 home draw against Luton Town on Sunday, before winning 3-0 at Macclesfield Town on Tuesday to leave them in seventh place.
Atkins watched the game with the Hatters and saw enough to realise that his side face a tough task if they are to extend their run in the competition.
"They've got a lot of quality and are physical," he added.
"We'll certainly need to pass the ball a lot better than we did against Hednesford.
"But we'll go there and give it all we've got.
"It's nice for the lads to play against a good side on a good ground. I hope we take a lot of fans and they get behind us so we can make it an unforgettable day for the club."
Hednesford, with such an embarrassment of riches up front that they could afford to leave Barbados international Neil Harvey and former Nantwich goal machine Michael Lennon on the bench, looked a class act in the first half and Matlock were fortunate to be only two goals behind at half-time.
The visitors were bright, energetic and had strength in all areas, forcing mistakes as Matlock were unable to find any rhythm in their passing.
"There were too many errors defensively," Atkins added.
"That was frustrating, as we were excellent in defence against Ilkeston.
"Our two central defenders were magnificent against a powerful lad like Gary Ricketts and Ilkeston barely created a decent chance.
"That wasn't the case on Tuesday, as our mistakes led to all three goals, although all three were great finishes.
"We gave away too many free kicks against a very good side who deserve to be where they are, challenging at the top end. It'll take a very good side to pip them."
Matlock were good value for their 2-0 derby win at Ilkeston, with James Ashmore and Massiah McDonald finding the net in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
"Once we'd gone in front, I don't think we were in any trouble," said Atkins.
"We said at half time we needed to be sharper and crisper with our passes and we scored two good goals and took control in what was an important game for both clubs."
Matlock will be without the suspended Martin Foster at Mansfield, as the experienced midfielder has picked up five bookings. Glyn Cotton could be handed a recall in his place.
Defender Oscar Radford and their new signing, striker Anthony Griffiths-Junior, are both cup-tied.
Griffiths-Junior joined Matlock last Friday from Buxton after impressing Atkins first for Hucknall Town and then, earlier this season, for Eastwood Town against his side.
Full-back Phil Roe may need a fitness check tomorrow after coming off with a dead leg against Hednesford in midweek.
Transport for Field Mill leaves the Reynolds Stadium at 1.30pm and bookings can be made by ringing Tom Wright on 07850 065968.