Matlock Town play their first competitive game in 249 days on Saturday as they travel to face Ashton United on the opening day of the long-awaited NPL Premier Division season. The Gladiators come into this game after an excellent pre-season campaign where the North Derbyshire outfit won eight out of their nine games which included victories over the likes of Mansfield Town, Boston United and Derby County's academy side.

The Opposition

Ashton United are known as the Robins and were formed back in 1878. The Robins play their home games at the Hurst Cross Stadium which is based in Ashton-under-Lyne within Greater Manchester. The ground can hold up to 4,500 people and has a seated capacity of up to 250. The most recent trophy that the Robins lifted was back in 2011 when they won the Northern Premier League Challenge Cup. Ashton's manager is former Manchester United, Oldham Athletic and England U21 player Michael Clegg. The Hurst Cross Stadium will be a very familiar setting for some of the Gladiators contingent. Matlock's gaffer Paul Phillips used to play for and manage the Robins, whilst Mark Lees and John Pritchard have also played for the club previously. In their most recent pre-season game, Ashton United lost to local rivals Trafford 4-2.The club can claim to have a celebrity supporter. The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner, is the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne and recently said in a press gathering at the Hurst Cross Stadium that she was a huge fan of the Robins. One to Watch Tom Bentham will be a key player to look out for in Saturday's game. The striker joined the Robins in the summer of 2020 and has previously played for Hyde United, Stalybridge Celtic and Atherton Collieries. Bentham had an excellent spell under Michael Clegg's leadership previously during his excellent spell at Atherton Collieries. Bentham is a strong, powerful presence up front and will be a constant threat in the final third. Team News A host of players could make their competitive debuts for Matlock Town on this opening day of the 2021/22 league campaign. Alex Wiles, Jesurun Uchegbulam, Jamie Sharman, Paul Cooper and Lirak Hasani could all make their Gladiators introductions while Jonathan Wafula could well make his second debut for the Derbyshire outfit. Matlock's skipper Liam Hughes is suspended for the first three league games of this season so will be unavailable for Saturday's match. John Pritchard is injured and is not expected to feature in the squad. Previous Meeting The last time these two sides met technically didn't happen at all (I feel like I'm going to be saying that a lot over the next few months). On October 10 last year in the ill-fated 2020/2021 campaign, Matlock comfortably beat Ashton United 4-1 at the Proctor Cars Stadium in the league. Goals from Declan Walker, Alex Byrne, Liam Hughes and a hilarious own goal from Ashton's Michael Raynes gave the Gladiators the three points in front of a Covid-restricted crowd of 532.

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