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Let Battle Commence!

3 years ago By Steve Hobson

James Burch on Gladiators visit to Hurst Cross.

After late capitulations ending in back-to-back draws against two of the league’s mid-table sides in recent weeks Ashton United will be looking to make it third time lucky this weekend, as they welcome Matlock Town to Hurst Cross.

Despite throwing away winning positions against Frickley Athletic and Kings Lynn Town, the Robins still find themselves in a strong position in the current promotion shake-up.

Sitting two points away from second placed Ilkeston with a game in hand and with a three points cushion on sixth placed Curzon Ashton, the team will be looking to continue their strong 2015 with their twelfth home win of the campaign.

Since the turn of the year, the men from Hurst Cross have lost just twice in fifteen matches, with both defeats coming home and away against league leaders FC United of Manchester. The Robins are also unbeaten in their last fourteen matches in front of their own supporters (apart from the FC defeat). With the last loss before the 3d January 2015, coming against Ilkeston FC back on the 25th October 2014.

During this time, Phillo and Ackers' men have built Hurst Cross into a fortress. With eleven wins, five draws and only three defeats to their name all season the club has the fourth best home record in the league. With only FC United, Curzon Ashton and Barwell picking up more points in front of their fans this campaign. This statistic has somewhat gone under the radar, but only the division’s top two have scored more goals this season. With the Robins scoring sixty-three times in thirty seven league matches this season.

The side are headlined by the strike-force of Martin Pilkington and Dale Johnson, who have fired fourteen of the side’s twenty six goals in 2015 so far (Pilkington eight and Johnson six.)

With three games left of March, Ashton United will be looking to keep their unbeaten month going after two wins and two draws so far. After Saturday’s game against Matlock Town, the Robins welcome Witton Albion to Hurst Cross before making the mammoth journey to Blyth Spartans on Tuesday 31st.

Saturday’s game will mark nearly a month since the Robins last kept a clean-sheet. With the last shut-out coming six games ago on the 23rd February away at the New Manor Ground against Ilkeston FC.

This weekend’s key-man for the home side is defender Sam Wilson. Alongside centre back partner Jack Higgins, Wilson will need to be on top of his game to keep Matlock’s main threat Danny Holland quiet. With Holland scoring well into double figures this campaign, it will be crucial that Wilson uses his pace and footballing brain to counter act the attacking threat the Gladiators bring to Hurst Cross.

It is also a good omen that Wilson is Ashton United’s ‘lucky charm’ having made eighteen appearances for the club so far and losing just twice (both against FC United.) The 23 year old defender has also chipped in with three goals since joining in November and will be looking to hit the net again before the end of the season.

Our opponents Matlock Town sit thirteen places (16th) and twenty three points (45) behind the Robins going into Saturday’s game.
Managed by Mark Hume, the Gladiators have gone from relegation candidates with two wins in twelve under Mark Atkins, to a side safely in mid-table with Hume, after just three defeats in thirteen matches.
Ironically Hume’s first game in the managerial hot-seat for Matlock Town came against the Robins back on the 17th January 2015, a game in which a late Dale Johnson goal gave Ashton United all three points.

This run of positive results also saw the Derbyshire based side win five in a row during February making them at one point the form side in the division.
A big factor in Matlock Town’s up-turn in results has been their newly found defensive stability. In Mark Atkins' final four matches as Gladiators boss, his team lost four on the bounce, conceding a staggering thirteen goals in the process. In comparison, the side have now conceded just ten times in Hume’s first twelve matches since his managerial reign began at Causeway Lane.

Having conceded a respectable fifty three in thirty nine matches, Matlock Town have the ninth best defensive record in the league, having shipped just six more than Ashton United.

Away from Causeway Lane, the side captained by former Halifax Town player Liam Needham have been incredibly impressive recently. Winning three of their last six away games.

This weekend’s game will be Matlock Town’s second away fixture on the bounce, after the Derbyshire based side made the two hundred and fifty six mile round trip to Whitby town, only to concede a last minute equaliser.

The Gladiators danger man is the aforementioned Danny Holland. The former Bradford Park Avenue front man finished is Matlock Town’s top scorer during the 2013/14 season and is currently the division’s fifth leading marksmen with sixteen goals to his name, one more than our very own Martin Pilkington.

Combining experience, guile and an eye for goal, Holland will need to be watched closely by the Robins back four if Phillo and Ackers' men want to keep a clean sheet on Saturday.

The sides last met at Hurst Cross on the 4th September 2014, a game that ended 0-0, keeping the Robins early season unbeaten run going. The last time Ashton United tasted victory against the Gladiators in Tameside, a Moore penalty and a Frost header gave the side all three points during the 2012/13 season.

A win for Ashton United could see them move up to second in the table, depending on Ilkeston FC’s result, in the process creating more breathing space between themselves and the final play-off spot. However three points for Matlock Town could see them climb as high as fourteenth in the table, depending on how Whitby Town and Kings Lynn Town get on.

Where next?

Harrop Becomes A Robin! James Burch talks to Max Harrop, the latest edition to the Ashton United squad.

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