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Preview: Wrexham v Aldershot Town

Aldershot Town moved into the top half of the table for the first time since the beginning of September thanks to Tuesday’s outstanding 3-1 win at Southport. Andy Scott’s and his walking wounded have just one more game in a tremendously busy November, as they visit slumping Wrexham on Saturday. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.

Form

The Aldershot Town manager described the first 35 minutes of his team’s performance at Haig Avenue on Tuesday evening as being as good as he’s seen from them this season. His charges roared out of the blocks with Andre McCollin’s close-range header and Sam Hatton’s fine free-kick giving the visitors a 2-0 lead after 24 minutes. The lead could have been greater, but equally, Southport had their opportunities to get back into the game either side of half-time. Richard Brodie halved the deficit in first half stoppage time, but, as has been commonplace in the last month, the Shots finished the stronger. Brett Williams made it 3-1 with his first goal from open play in fourteen appearances, whilst the Shots’ top scorer and Dan Holman were denied late on by home keeper David Raya Martin.

It’s incredible to think that, at the completion of the Wrexham game, the Shots will have reached the halfway point of their Conference campaign. As well as having the seventh-best defensive statistics in the division, Aldershot Town’s away form has been very good in recent weeks. After opening the 2014-15 campaign with just six points from their first eight away league fixtures, they’ve won their last two away games (at Kidderminster Harriers and Southport), whilst their previous fixtures away from the Electrical Services Stadium saw them draw with Dartford and Portsmouth. Andy Scott’s men have the Conference’s ninth-best away record, whilst only leaders Barnet have a better defensive record on their travels.

After 87 years as a Football League side, Wrexham were relegated to the Conference Premier, just as Aldershot Town were getting promoted from it in 2008. They’ve come close to promotion in recent seasons, finishing fifth in 2012-13, before losing that season’s Play-Off Final against Newport County. The North Wales club were also beaten by Luton Town at the play-off semi-final stage in the previous two campaigns, finishing runners-up in 2011-12 to Fleetwood Town. However, last season was comfortably their worst at this level since relegation, with the Dragons finishing 17th in the table, just eight points above the relegation zone.

Like the Shots, Wrexham have won eight, lost eight and drawn six of their 22 league games this season, but they sit one place below their visitors this weekend due to a marginally inferior goal difference. However, since a 1-0 win over Kidderminster Harriers on 30 September, the Dragons haven’t won any of their next nine league fixtures, picking up just five points in the process. That run also includes just one defensive clean sheet. At home, Wrexham have the 7th-worst record in the division, but in the last month they have beaten Macclesfield Town and Woking in the FA Cup at the Racecourse Ground, scoring eight goals in the process.

Kevin Wilkin, who took charge of the Dragons on 20 March, has overseen the club’s worst run of form since dropping into the non-league top-flight. When asked if he was under pressure, he told the Wrexham Leader: “I don’t know… what I do know is I will work hard and I will continue to try and drive this club forward. I am not going to shy away from it, that has never been my way. It is hard work, desire, endeavour, people still believing, and I still think we will get where we want to go. It is a test for us, it is certainly a test for me. Hopefully if I show the right attitude, desire and commitment to this job then we will be successful. I know I need a win to get us back to winning ways, I am brutally aware of that.”

Squad

Andy Scott made one change for the trip to Southport, with Andre McCollin returning to the starting line-up in place of the injured Manny Oyeleke. McCollin duly rewarded his manager and the 61 travelling fans with his first goal for the club. Naby Diallo started at left back (the fifth Shots player to start there this season), whilst Jaydon Gibbs (left back number six of 2014-15) moved there after Diallo went off injured. The Aldershot Town back four, despite its revolving cast of characters, was excellent once again and has now conceded just three goals in their last five games in all competitions. The front three worked exceptionally hard, whilst Kieron Forbes was also praise by his manager for his work rate.

The excellent recent results have been achieved despite a ludicrously lengthy injury list, which could see up to nine players unavailable for the trip to North Wales. Going into Tuesday’s game, Manny Oyeleke was added to the absentees with a calf problem, whilst Diallo and Joe N’Guessan (both ankle) picked up knocks during the game itself. Chris Barker hasn’t played since injuring his calf in the home game against Portsmouth, whilst Jordan Roberts has missed four of the last five games with a hamstring problem. Fellow left-sided defender Anthony Tonkin has been out for six weeks with a calf problem, whilst midfielder Damon Lathrope has been out for a similar length of time with a groin injury. Mark Phillips hasn’t featured since injuring a quadriceps muscle at Portsmouth, whilst Josh Scott will be out for the foreseeable future after scans revealed a broken metatarsal suffered in the home defeat against Gateshead earlier this month.

Most of Wrexham’s summer transfer dealing took players out of the Racecourse Ground, with twelve players leaving the Dragons’ bloated 2013-14 squad. Amongst those first-choice players to leave were top scorer Johnny Hunt (twelve goals last season, to Cambridge United), fellow midfielders Kevin Thornton (Tamworth) and Joe Anyinsah (Hayes and Yeading), defenders Stephen Wright (Aberystwyth Town) and Dave Artell (Bala Town), goalkeeper Joslain Mayebi (recently joined Kidderminster Harriers) and striker Rob Ogleby (Livingston). Amongst those who have remained at the club include goalkeeper Andy Coughlin, left-back Neil Ashton, midfielders Joe Clarke, Jay Harris, Elliott Durrell, Dean Keates and Mark Carrington, plus forwards Andy Bishop (five goals in this campaign) and Theo Bailey-Jones.

Kevin Wilkin’s two main summer captures were both from his former club with striker Louis Moult (eighteen goals last season, nine goals so far in 2014-15 to lead the Dragons) and midfielder Wes York arriving from Nuneaton Town. Another prolific Conference striker from last season, Connor Jennings (nineteen goals loan spells with Macclesfield Town and Grimsby Town) was snapped up from Scunthorpe United, whilst centre-backs Blaine Hudson (Cambridge United) and Manny Smith (Notts County) have been first-choices this season. Wilkin also managed to bring Hunt back to the Racecourse Ground on loan until January, whilst Stoke City goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann arrived on a similar deal. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Jon Flatt (Wolves), midfielder Joe Thompson (Bury), plus defenders Scott Tancock (Swansea City) and James Pearson (Leicester City) are currently at Wrexham on one-month loan deals.

Flatt has been brought in as both Coughlin (broken hand) and Bachmann (knee) are injured at the moment, whilst Pearson (thigh), midfielder Dean Keates and Theo Bailey-Jones (broken foot) have also been unavailable in recent weeks. However, the Wrexham boss will be able to add Andy Bishop to his squad, with the striker having served a one-game suspension.

Head-to-Head

Saturday afternoon will see the third meeting between Aldershot Town and Wrexham, with the Shots winning 2-0 at the Electrical Services Stadium last September. Mark Molesley got the opening goal of the game, whilst Jordan Roberts came off the bench to net his first senior goal. The Dragons got a measure of revenge on 4 January of this year, winning 2-1 in North Wales. Joe Clarke got the opener after fifteen minutes, with Brett Williams equalising five minutes later. However, Jay Harris thumped in a superb winner three minutes from time to secure all three points.

The Welsh side did face Aldershot FC on 34 occasions between 1961 and 1991, and the Dragons had the edge with sixteen wins to Aldershot’s eleven, plus seven further draws. Most of those fixtures occurred in the old Fourth Division, but six games took place in the old Third Division between 1973 and 1976. It’s also worth noting that the Shots had a terrible record at the Racecourse Ground, failing to win on any of their seventeen visits, drawing on only four occasions and conceding 42 goals in the process.

Referee

Saturday afternoon’s referee is Karl Evans from Greater Manchester, who took charge of the Shots’ 4-1 win at Alfreton Town in April. So far this season, he’s officiated in seven Conference games, showed 22 yellow cards and no red cards.

Coverage

BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary on the radio and via the BBC Surrey website from 2.55pm.

We also want your thoughts on how you think the Shots will get on in this game. Let us know on the day via the following methods:

Twitter: @bbcsurreysport
Text: 81333 (please start your text with the word ‘Radio’)
Email: surreysport@bbc.co.uk

Plus, we want your reaction to the game between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday in ‘The Final Whistle’. Win, lose or draw, we want to hear from you throughout this season. Call us on 03459 57 00 57 and let your voice be heard.

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