Smith heads back to Pool ahead of Matlock clash

Matlock Town v Whitby Town preview, by Andrew Snaith
Matlock Town v Whitby Town preview, by Andrew Snaith

The Blues’ last outing of 2016 sees them visit Causeway Lane on Saturday, home of fellow promotion-chasers Matlock Town, a ground they’ve enjoyed just two wins at in 16 attempts.

The Blues remain third but could close the gap on leaders Rushall to a single point depending on other results.

The Derbyshire outfit sit 10th, seven places and seven points behind the Seasiders in a closely-contested table.

The two sides’ first meeting of the season, at the Turnbull Ground, last month, was settled by a sole Dale Hopson strike.

The 17-goal midfielder proved the difference in stormy conditions as the Blues defended for their lives against a Matlock side that have seen off FA Trophy holders Halifax and Conference National side Solihull in the same competition, and reached the last qualifying round of the FA Cup, before losing out at National League North Altrincham.

The return of management duo Glenn Kirkwood and Craig Hopkins has coincided with a change in fortunes for the Gladiators who, like the Blues, have struggled to make an impact in recent years.

Since their visit to the Turnbull, on November 5, fireworks have followed with just two defeats in 10.

Marcus Dinanga is their leading marksman with 11.

Midfielder-turned-right-wing-back Connor Smith (pictured) has returned to his parent club Hartlepool United after his four-week loan with the Blues ended with Saturday’s loss to Nantwich Town.

Defender Ben Askins remains injured, otherwise Hardy should have a full squad to choose from.