"The lads are raring to go" was the message from Matlock Town boss Mark Atkins after a long pre season programme of seven weeks and nine matches.
Matlock start their 2010/2011 Evo-Stik Premier League season against Stocksbridge Park Steels at the Reynolds Stadium on Saturday before on Tuesday night they are in West Lancashire to take on Burscough.
"It's been a long pre season but I feel we've got the lads as fit as we possibly can," said Atkins. "A couple of them need that extra bit of sharpness but that will come. One thing's for sure, we're in a better state this pre season than we were twelve months ago, both from a playing point of view and with the fitness of the squad. I'm very happy with how things have gone. The lads are ready for Saturday, they're raring to go."
While Atkins is confident of getting off to a good start, he knows that both opening games will be tough.
"Stocksbridge will be tough. Gary Marrow's gone back there and signed a lot of players on. I went to watch them up at Brigg the other Tuesday. I know what they're about and we'll not take them lightly."
Matlock took four points off the Steels last season, winning 4-3 at the Look Local Stadium last September when the newly promoted Steels topped the table. The return in Derbyshire last March ended all square at 2-2 as two very late strikes earned the Gladiators their point after recovering from a two goal deficit.
Burscough had a tough first season back in the then UniBond League after relegation from Blue Square North. Matlock won both games, 2-0 at Victoria Park and 1-0 at home.
"Burscough had a tough time last year but you never know with teams at this level, particularly early in the season. You don't know how teams are going to react and fare until about probably ten games or so into the season. but any time you travel to that part of the country, you get a tough game and it'll be no different this time."
Matlock's pre season programme concluded with a 2-1 defeat against Glapwell at Teversal on Sunday in a game of three penalties. Ross Hannah put Town in the lead when he knocked in the rebound after ex Matlock keeper Andy Richmond had kept out his initial shot from the spot.
"We did ok in a game where the referee took centre stage with some strange decisions" said Atkins. "To be honest he spoilt the game for both sides. But it was a good workout and ideal preparation for some of the away games we'll face this season.The good thing was that we didn't pick up any injuries from some of the tackles that were flying around. We were never in any danger of conceding from open play, the penalties were 50-50 decisions."
Summer recruit Colin Marrison had his first run out and showed enough to suggest he will be more than a useful acquisition.
"Colin linked up very well with the other players, he showed strength and some good skill and should probably have scored one or two" said Atkins who faces some tough decisions ahead of the Stocksbridge clash.
With only Nathan Benger and Darren Cartwright having left the club during the summer, last season's squad has been added to with Marrison, Kris Bowler returning to Matlock from Alfreton, former Burton Albion attacker James Knowles, winger Reuben Wiggins-Thomas back for a second spell from Hucknall plus youngsters Zeik Jenkins and Luke Marson.
"There'll always be tough decisions for there's about seventeen or eighteen players in there all capable of doing a good job for us," Atkins admitted. "My job is to ensure we select the best team for any particular game which means Saturday's side may not be the side which played against Glapwell for example. I've got to know a good deal more about the players during this last few weeks and I know which players will be more adept at doing a job against whichever team we play against."
Adam Yates (holidays) and Mark Haran (family commitments) missed the Glapwell game but will be added to the squad for the weekend. Goalkeeper Adam Sollitt, though remains a doubt, in spite of a steady improvement in his back injury, while winger Ben Algar should be fit after feeling unwell during the Glapwell game.
"Adam's been to see someone and says his back is feeling a bit better. He trained for the first time on Tuesday but we really need to have a good look at him on Thursday. He won't play unless he's 100% fit. Nick Buxton did very well for us last term and this season he's worked very hard to get himself fit and is keen on playing again. This can only be good for the club as we'll have two very good keepers vying for the goalkeeping jersey, very healthy competition." Atkins concluded.
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