Aldershot Town continued their excellent start to the campaign with an exhilarating point against Forest Green Rovers, which gives the Shots seven points from their first four games. It was a good start to the Bank Holiday weekend with Andy Scott and his team making the long trip to Torquay United on Monday afternoon. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Friday night’s game was arguably the most entertaining game seen at the Electrical Services Stadium since the Shots’ relegation back to non-league, with both sides attacking from the off and dominating the game in spells. To go one step further, Aldershot Town’s play in the first half, at the end of which they led 1-0 against the Gloucestershire side thanks to Brett Williams’ 37th- minute penalty, was their most outstanding for a good few seasons. The passing and tempo was highly impressive, as was the second-half goalkeeping display by Phil Smith. The summer arrival from Portsmouth made three superb one-on-one saves, but could do nothing to deny Rovers’ Lee Hughes the 58th-minute equaliser that ensured both clubs received a share of the spoils.
One slight concern is that two of the three goals Aldershot Town have conceded this season have come from corners. Shots fans will be hoping this is just an early-season blip, but it gives Scott and his players something on which to focus in training. To be fair, that’s probably the only cause for concern from a quartet of very good performances in the opening fortnight of 2014-15. This season’s win at AFC Telford United and late loss at Eastleigh mean Aldershot Town have picked up ten points from the last five league games on their travels. That’s especially remarkable when you consider that the Shots’ first twenty away league fixtures last season saw them earn just fifteen points.
Formed in 1899, it took Torquay United 28 years to reach the Football League, and that’s where they stayed until their first relegation from League Two in 2007. The Gulls were promoted two years later (one year after the Shots) and managed to reach the League Two play-offs in consecutive seasons. In 2011, they lost 1-0 to Stevenage in the final at Wembley, whilst twelve months later, they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Cheltenham Town in a play-off semi-final. Last year, they finished bottom of the Football League again, five points from safety, despite a valiant late surge that saw them win three of their last five league games.
Former Gulls midfielder Chris Hargreaves took over as manager from Alan Knill on 6 January 2014, but couldn’t save the South Devon club from a second relegation in seven years. There are a number of areas where improvement is obviously necessary, including the goals for (42) and against (66) tallies, both of which were the worst in League Two last year. Torquay United also finished bottom of the pile when it came to their home form, picking up just four wins and twenty points from their 23 home league fixtures. Five points from their first four games this year, including three consecutive clean sheets, means the Gulls are 13th in the embryonic Conference table.
Torquay United’s home form has certainly improved this season with a 3-0 win over Welling United and a goalless draw with Southport, despite having Ryan Bowman sent off after just 22 minutes. Speaking to the Torquay Herald Express after that game, Hargreaves said: “We got it pretty spot on in the second half. There was only one team that looked like they were going to go on and win it. I was just disappointed because we couldn’t follow our game plan – we couldn’t play out from the back. When you have got one number less, it makes playing out from the back almost impossible. It just ended up being ‘lump it’, which isn’t us. With Ryan still on, it would have been a glass of red and three points.”
Andy Scott made two changes to his starting line-up on Friday evening with Sam Hatton and Mark Molesley replacing Kieron Forbes and Joe N’Guessan. It was both a full and home Shots debut for Hatton and he had a fine game in central midfield alongside Damon Lathrope. There was also a first appearance of the season for Anthony Tonkin, who was an unused substitute in the first three games of the season despite his strong finish to the 2013-14 campaign, where he started ten of the last thirteen league outings. He replaced fellow 34-year-old Chris Barker at left-back, with little detriment to the side’s defensive stability, and may get his first start of 2014-15 on Bank Holiday Monday.
One player who must be a doubt for the trip to South Devon is Barker, who aggravated a long-standing calf injury towards the end of the first half against Forest Green Rovers. Kieron Forbes, however, is available for selection, having missed the fixture against his parent club on Friday, whilst Joe Oastler (122 games, one goal for the Gulls from October 2010 to May 2013) and Lathrope (124 goalless appearances for Torquay United between 2010 and 2014) will both be desperate to play and do well against their former club on Monday.
Chris Hargreaves used his first preseason as Torquay United manager to rebuild his squad, although maybe not as much as he would have wished. Eight new permanent signings have arrived in South Devon, most of whom will most directly impact the attacking third of the pitch. The most eye-catching was striker Ryan Bowman (nineteen goals for Hereford United in 2012-13, eight for York City in League Two last season), but Toby Ajala (Bristol City) and Duane Ofori-Acheampong (Southend United) also provide pace upfront. The midfield has been rebuilt with Luke Young (Plymouth Argyle), Louis Briscoe (Mansfield Town) and Courtney Richards (Brighton), whilst Josh Wakefield joined on a month-long loan from Bournemouth last week. Centre-back Angus MacDonald arrived after Salisbury City’s expulsion from the non-league top-flight, whilst Jordan Seabright (Dagenham & Redbridge) is the new back-up goalkeeper.
Nine players left Plainmoor in the summer, including captain Lee Mansell (Bristol Rovers), left-back Kevin Nicholson (Kidderminster Harriers), forward Billy Bodin, goalkeeper Michael Poke (Portsmouth), plus midfielders Danny Stevens, Joss Labadie, Nathan Craig and, of course, Damon Lathrope, who made the trip up the A303 to join the Shots. However, five players that were transfer-listed in the summer – former Shots midfielder Ben Harding, defenders Aaron Downes and Dale Tonge, plus strikers Elliot Benyon and Karl Hawley – are still at the club, but last season’s five-goal top scorer, Jordan Chappell, is due to be removed from that group in the near future.
Ryan Bowman, however, will be unavailable for this game.as he serves the second game of a three-match suspension, whilst Hawley will miss out because of a broken arm. Ben Harding won’t be able to face his former side after injuring a hamstring in the home draw with Southport earlier this month.
Aldershot Town and Torquay United have faced each other ten times, with the Gulls having the edge by five wins to four. In the Shots’ relegation campaign, it was the South Devon side who won an extraordinary first encounter. A Craig Reid hat-trick gave the visitors a 3-0 lead in Torquay, before second half goals from Billy Bodin, Ryan Jarvis, Ashley Yeoman and Rene Howe, in the 89th-minute, gave Torquay United the victory. Aldershot Town responded with a 1-0 victory in February 2013, with Troy Brown’s goal proving the difference. The season before that saw a pair of 1-0 wins for the Gulls. Lee Mansell, at Aldershot in August 2011, and Rene Howe, in March 2012 at Plainmoor, netted the respective winners.
Aldershot Town have picked up seven points from their quintet of trips to Plainmoor. Of course, their first game there, a Blue Square Premier tie in March 2008, saw Scott Davies’ famous winner, while a Marvin Morgan goal saw the Shots repeat the trick in September 2010. Morgan also scored in a 1-1 draw between the two sides in September 2009 in South Devon. Aldershot FC had many largely forgettable trips to Plainmoor, with ten victories, 23 defeats and seven draws in 40 visits.
Monday afternoon’s referee is Justin Amey from Dorset, who took charge of two Shots’ away games last season – the 3-1 victory at Barnet in January and March’s 1-0 defeat at Braintree Town. Last year, he officiated in twenty Conference Premier games, showing 58 yellow cards and one red card.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town’s Commercial Manager and record goalscorer, Mark Butler, will be covering the game on Monday afternoon. Tune into the BBC Surrey website at around 2.50pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the game via our Twitter feed: @bbcsurreysport