14th-placed Aldershot Town’s three-game winning streak came to an end at the weekend with a 2-0 home defeat against Eastleigh. The final two games of a busy November are both away from home, with a visit to Wrexham to come at the weekend, but first, the Shots travel to a resurgent Southport on Tuesday night. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The euphoria and intensity of Wednesday night was certainly absent for the game on Saturday afternoon, as the Shots suffered just their second defeat in nine games in all competitions. However, the loss certainly didn’t come about because of a lack of effort on the pitch. The first half was a quiet affair, with the visitors scoring a scrappy goal in the 45th minute, whilst Sam Hatton’s free kick was well saved by Spitfires keeper Ross Flitney. Eastleigh doubled their lead from the penalty spot in the 65th-minute after a Jaydon Gibbs handball, but will still wonder how they came away with all three points. Aldershot Town had half-a-dozen great chances (the best two both falling to substitute Joe N’Guessan after his 76th-minute introduction), whilst a couple of strong penalty appeals were waved away by the referee.
There were certainly positives to be taken from the game; most notable was the strong finish to the game, which is something that has become familiar over the last few weeks. After opening the 2014-15 campaign with just six points from their first eight away league fixtures, the away form has also improved recently, with Aldershot Town on a three-game unbeaten run on their travels. As well as the draws against Dartford and Portsmouth, Andy Scott’s men also won 2-0 at Kidderminster Harriers in their previous away game. It’s also worth noting that an oddity of the fixture list has seen five of the Shots’ first seven midweek league games this season be played away from the Electrical Services Stadium.
Southport, have spent almost half of their 133-year history in the Football League. However, their 57-year League stay was ended in 1978, when they became the last team to be voted out by the other member clubs. The last decade has seen the Sandgrounders fluctuate between the Conference, in its various guises, and Conference North, with their most recent stay in the non-league top-flight now entering its fifth campaign. Hopes were high for a prolonged upturn in the club’s fortunes after a seventh-place finish in 2011-12 (five points from a play-off place), but the last two campaigns have seen the Merseysiders finish in 20th and 18th, and they were just two points above the relegation zone last season.
Despite a six-game unbeaten streak in the Conference, Southport are 19th in the table, with 23 points from twenty games. Nine defeats in the first fourteen games saw the departure of Martin Foyle, who had only taken over in the summer after John Coleman’s contract wasn’t extended. The statistics show that Southport have the second-worst home record in the division, but they’ve secured five points from their last three league games at Haig Avenue (beating Welling United, plus drawing with Lincoln City and Dover Athletic). Their last home tie also saw them win 2-0 against Dagenham & Redbridge in the First Round of the FA Cup, which was their first victory over a league team for twelve years.
Gary Brabin took over from Foyle on 6 October and has gone unbeaten in his ten games in charge thus far, winning four and drawing six. The new boss told the Non-League Paper last month: “We must hit the ground running, that’s not a demand from the club, it’s a demand I am making. It’s not a case of ‘see where we are after a settling-in period’, because we have to get wins on the board and soon… I just want to bring back entertaining football to Southport. If it’s good to watch and we’re winning matches, then I have every confidence I can see it through. I have inherited a squad with perhaps a different style to what I want, but we can learn together and hopefully get the club heading in the right direction.”
Andy Scott made two changes for the visit of Eastleigh, with Sam Hatton and Naby Diallo coming in for injured pair Chris Barker and Jordan Roberts, whilst Andre McCollin was on the bench after being cup-tied for the midweek game against Portsmouth. The lack of a recognised left back meant Hatton had to fill in in that position, where he endured a torrid afternoon, whilst Diallo had an impressive second start for the club. Brett Williams was unable to find the net against his former club, meaning the 26-year-old has now gone thirteen games without scoring a goal from open play. However, he has netted two penalties during that spell for the Shots.
Barker couldn’t play after injuring his calf in the home game against Portsmouth, whilst Roberts was also unavailable despite playing against Pompey. He had missed the two previous games with a hamstring problem, so Scott will be keen to protect his young winger. 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.
Martin Foyle brought in sixteen new players following the end of last season, strengthening the team in all areas. Richard Brodie, who leads Southport with seven goals so far this season, was signed permanently after a loan spell in the previous campaign, whilst fellow forwards Micah Evans (Burnley) and John Marsden (Shrewsbury Town, five goals in 2014-15) have also made regular appearances. Scott Kay (Macclesfield Town) and Stephen Brogan (Forest Green Rovers) have been first-choices in midfield in this campaign, whilst Paul Smith (Barrow) has also been an option. In the defensive third, Dominic Collins (Hereford United), Luke Foster (Lincoln City), Clayton McDonald (Tranmere Rovers), Joe Connor (Macclesfield Town), Andy Mitchell (Annan Athletic) and Jonny Lynch (Wigan Athletic) have all been good acquisitions for Southport this season. Goalkeeper Daniel Lloyd-Weston arrived from Hereford United, but the current starter between the sticks is Blackburn Rovers loanee David Raya Martin. Since his arrival, Brabin has added striker Amadou Bakayoko (Walsall, on loan until 20 December) and winger Mitchell Austin (on loan from Cambridge United) to his squad.
Unsurprisingly, a number of last season’s first-choice players also moved on over the summer, including goalkeeper Danny Hurst (Stockport County), defenders Steve Akrigg (AFC Telford United) and Aristote Nsiala (Grimsby Town); plus midfielders Scott Brown (also Grimsby Town), Yamen Osawe (German 3rd Division side Hallescher FC), Jamie Milligan (Stockport County) and Karl Ledsham (Lincoln City). However, the Sandgrounders did manage to retain a number of 2013-14’s key personnel, such as top scorer Danny Hattersley (twelve goals last season), defenders David Fitzpatrick and Matty Challoner, plus winger Paul Rutherford and outstanding young defensive midfielder Luke George.
Brabin has a largely fully-fit squad to choose from, but he will be without forward Hattersley, who broke a bone in his foot last week and will be out until the New Year. Dominic Collins has also missed the last two games and could be a doubt for the visit of the Shots.
Aldershot Town and Southport have met on six previous occasions, with the Shots triumphing on three occasions, with one draw and two Southport victories. The most recent tie was last November with the Shots securing a comfortable 5-1 home win, thanks to a Brett Williams hat-trick, an Adam Mekki screamer and a Sandgrounders’ own goal. The last game at Haig Avenue was on 31 August 2013, with Yamen Osawe scoring the only goal of the game for the hosts. The Shots did manage the double over the Sandgrounders in 2005-06. Darren Barnard scored from the penalty spot in both a 2-0 home victory, as well as a 1-0 away win in April 2006. However, the following season saw four points for Southport, thanks to a 2-2 draw in North-East Hampshire (they were only denied the victory by John Grant’s 90th-minute equaliser) on 18 November 2006, followed by a reversal of the previous campaign’s 1-0 scoreline at Haig Avenue three months later.
Southport also faced Aldershot FC in thirty Football League fixtures between 1958 and 1978, the majority of which took place in the old Fourth Division, but there were two Third Division meetings in 1973-74. Again, the Shots held the advantage, winning fourteen, drawing nine and losing seven of the thirty ties between the two sides. They only had an average record in Merseyside, however, having won four, drawn five and lost six of their fifteen trips to Haig Avenue.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Jason Whiteley from West Yorkshire, who’s in his third campaign as a Conference referee. So far this season, he’s officiated in seven Conference games, showed 21 yellow cards and one red card.
BBC Radio Manchester’s Phil Kinsella will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune into the BBC Surrey website at around 7.35pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the game via our Twitter feed: @bbcsurreysport