MIDFIELDER Matt Richards returned to the New Manor Ground this week as Ilkeston FC prepare to try and consolidate their position at the top of the league.
Former Derby County trainee Richards, 21, is expected to make his debut at Rainworth Miners Welfare on Saturday, having most recently been part of the Glenn Hoddle Academy.
He spent time with Ilkeston Town before its liquidation last year, appearing in pre-season matches before opting to head to Spain where Hoddle’s academy is based.
Manager Kevin Wilson believes Richards will be a key part of his squad.
He said: “I’m really excited about bringing him on board.
“I’ve kept a close eye on his career and as soon as I learned he was back in this country, we set about trying to sign him.
“It has been a long and complicated business but Matt made it clear that he wanted to join us and I’m sure it will be worth all the effort.
“Initially we were looking to bring him here on loan but he has now been released from his contract and is our player.
“Matt’s a natural left-footer but plays in the centre. He’s tenacious, an excellent passer of the ball and in my opinion, is more than capable of playing in the Football League.”
Richards’ arrival is all the more welcome given the injury problems facing Wilson ahead of this weekend’s game, with Russell Cooke, Will McCall and long-term absentee Darren Caskey among those set to be missing. Josh Hill is also a concern.
Rainworth have a poor goalscoring record and are bottom-of-the-table but Wilson knows it is not a game that can be taken lightly.
He said: “We’ve already learned the hard way this season against sides like Quorn that if we turn up expecting to win we’ll be found out.
“But I maintain that our away performances are much better than those we’re producing at home and that means I’ll be expecting us to get a result on Saturday.
“The injury situation isn’t ideal but it’s a chance for some of the younger members of the squad to realise their potential and stake a claim for a place in the team.”
Ilkeston go into the encounter in good form following an FA Trophy win over Woodley Sports last weekend which was followed by a 3-0 success at New Mills on Monday night.
Despite beating Woodley Sports and setting up a clash at Evo-Stik Premier Division leaders Northwich Victoria in the process, Wilson was disappointed with the performance but enthused by the response he got in Monday night’s game.
He said: “I actually thought Saturday was our worst performance of the season but it was a typical cup tie with both sides throwing caution to the wind and ultimately we’re delighted to get through.
“Monday was a much more solid performance where everyone in the team did what they had to do and did it well. Now we have to carry that through to Rainworth on Saturday.”