....a 5-0 defeat, but success in the Derbyshire Senior Cup as they edged through to a home semi-final against either Alfreton Town or Buxton with a 2-1 victory against Belper on Tuesday at the Proctor Cars Stadium.
Boss Dave Frecklington agreed with the suggestion that his team was “100 per cent in the wrong place at the wrong time” at South Shields.
The South Tyneside outfit were just one place above the Gladiators prior to the kick-off, but there looked to be a gulf between them in what proved to be a chastening ninety minutes for Frecklington’s men.
“We got beat by the better team, simple as,” he said. “We were 100 per cent in the wrong place at the wrong time. We came up against a South Shields side who have been on a journey for a few years now and have recruited fantastically well along the way. They played a team that has been put together over ten weeks.”
It was a long trip back down the A1 for Matlock and it gave Frecklington time to reflect on the events at Mariners Park.
“I don’t like making excuses but our preparation in the lead up to the game was far from ideal with the weather spoiling our training plans on both the Tuesday and Thursday on top of having no game on the previous Saturday. The break we had did us no favours. We didn’t defend well and were lucky it was only 5-0, our team needs to be working Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday. We’d lost our momentum, our edge and we came up against a team geared to get to the Football League, backed by a big crowd and it was Jak Fada day there, with them obviously keen to make it a day to remember for the family, all fully fit and raring to go. We had an off day and the unbeaten run was going to come to an end sooner or later at some time, I’d have rather it not happened in the way it did, but that’s football. You couldn’t fail to admire their football though.”
There was a crumb of comfort for the Gladiators management team.
“I was so proud of our work ethic, the boys never stopped running and you can sleep better knowing that although your team’s been well-beaten they’ve not thrown in the towel. We got shifted about all the game but the togetherness within the group was never going to be broken and that was a massive positive for me to take out of the game. I’d say that’s the hardest we’ve worked in my tenure here and we got beat 5-0. That shows how good South Shields were on the day.”
Northern Premier League Division One East neighbours Belper provided Matlock with a tough Senior Cup test that the Gladiators passed but with a few scares along the way.
The hosts fell behind to a George Milner strike on 64 minutes before goals from Luke Hinsley and Marcus Marshall turned the game in their favour, but only after their second-string goalkeeper Jordan Pierrepont had made two crucial fine saves with the score at 1-1.
“It’s a squad game,” said Frecklington as injuries bit into his squad and he had to make four changes from Saturday.
“When you’ve got to make changes, you hope that those who haven’t been playing stake a claim. For long periods the lads were four, five or six out of ten when we were looking for eights and nines. Confidence had taken a hit, some looked leggy after the hard work of Saturday, it can be quite demoralising when you’ve put in the effort and been heavily beaten. Defensively on Tuesday we were much better, Dwayne Wiley and Brad Beatson took the brunt of the criticism on Saturday but were both excellent. It was Lee Beevers and Tom Davie’s first starts for a long while and Jordan Pierrepont came into the goal, so three of the back five hadn’t played recently or together. Jordan was man of the match, he won us the tie with those excellent saves.”
In spite of the fragmented performance, Matlock kept on battling and were rewarded with their semi-final spot.
“Belper came here with nothing to fear, they’d everything to gain and nothing to lose. They’re an up and at you team and having gone 1-0 down I was delighted that the lads showed massive character to win through. Luke Hinsley was excellent when he came off the bench, he scored a cracking goal and Marshy got us the winner. Cup football is all about getting through, we did it and have a semi-final to look forward to. The crowd were unhappy at half time which in a way pleases me because expectations have gone through the roof, it shows the progress we’ve made, weeks ago that would have been accepted. To get the win was really important. Since the home game against South Shields our home record is very good, we haven’t lost and won all but two. We want to make Causeway Lane a fortress.”
Matlock will be hoping to begin another long unbeaten run in the league against Workington at the Proctor Cars Stadium on Saturday.
But Frecklington warned fans that the Reds are in a false position in second-bottom spot, having watched them when Matlock had a Saturday off a couple of weekends ago.
On that day they won 2-1 at Stalybridge Celtic in the Buildbase FA Trophy and followed this up with three precious points in beating Hednesford Town 4-2 at Borough Park.
“They’re a very strong side, their front four are really dangerous. They’re scrapping and fighting for every point, really, they should be well above where they actually are. If we’re on our A game then we’ll win, if not we lose.”
Frecklington hopes to include a new signing in his squad against Workington.
His plan to revise his playing squad has already began with full-back Jordan Lemon and striker Shaun Harrad out on loan and winger Jordan Chapell transfer-listed, despite coming on as a substitute against Belper.
Lemon’s was the first move as he made his debut for Stocksbridge P8ark Steels in their 1-1 home draw with Spalding United last Saturday.
“Jordan wanted to play so he’s gone out to Stocksbridge, but we have a 24-hour recall on him. Shaun signed his papers at Grantham Town and will be there for a month. He’s a big part of our plans going forward and hopefully he’ll come back much fitter and there’ll be healthy competition for places in the striking department. Jordan Chapell’s on the transfer list but we haven’t received any offers as of yet.”
Meanwhile, full-back Jake Green has left the Gladiators but Frecklington says Matlock will be retaining his NPL registration.
“I had a good chat with Jake on Monday night and he told me that due to his increased work commitments he can’t commit the time needed to the football club with training and games, but we’ll be retaining his registration in case his circumstances change.”
Green joined Matlock from Mickleover Sports in the summer of 2016 and has made 117 appearances, scoring 8 times, including a free-kick in the 5-0 Derbyshire Senior Cup final win over Gresley FC in 2017.