Aldershot Town’s foray in front of the TV cameras on Thursday night ended with a heartbreaking defeat to a 94th-minute winner at Eastleigh. The Shots’ third game of the season is also the third against a newly-promoted side as they make the trip to Conference North winners AFC Telford United on Sunday afternoon. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Andy Scott was able to take plenty of positives from the midweek game at the Silverlake Stadium despite the disappointment of the home side’s stoppage-time winner. His team certainly had the better of the first half and could have gone in front after half-an-hour when Jordan Roberts stabbed wide from close range. Eastleigh improved after the break and hit the bar through Jack Midson in the 63rd minutes, but the Shots got a second wind, with Josh Scott and Brett Williams both having chances to break the deadlock. Debutant Sam Hatton nearly got on the end of two left-wing crosses within minutes of coming off the bench, but it was Ben Wright who scored the late goal to deny the Shots a deserved point.
Unfortunately, the goal itself was symptomatic of many of Aldershot Town’s problems last season. In 2013-14 it was too often the case that one moment of poor play (at Eastleigh it was sloppy marking from a corner) undid the hard work of the rest of the team’s performance. This was especially true away from the Electrical Services Stadium, where the Shots only won five of their 23 away league outings, although they managed to pick up seven points from the last three, with wins at Alfreton Town and Woking sandwiching a draw at Macclesfield Town. Those 23 games also saw the Shots score just 21 times, with eight of those goals coming from last season’s top scorer Brett Williams.
AFC Telford United were formed in 2004 after the demise of Telford United, which was largely down to the financial collapse of the other businesses of then-owner Andy Shaw. The club’s Supporters Trust were key in starting the new club with a strong community focus and instant success. Starting in Northern Premier League Division One, the AFC Telford United got an immediate promotion, followed by one from the Premier Division two years later. A first promotion to the non-league top-flight was earned in 2010-11, but, after just two seasons, they were relegated back to Conference North. Last year, AFC Telford won their first league championship to take their place amongst the non-league elite once again.
The Bucks’ title was driven by the best home form in Conference North, which saw them gain fifty points from a possible 63. However, AFC Telford only hit the top spot in the division for the first time on New Year’s Day, and then not again until 22 February. Their late surge to the title was powered by a run of just two defeats from their last eighteen league games, and they managed to win their last eight home league games in 2013-14, scoring 23 goals and conceding just seven. Overall in Conference North last season, the Shropshire side had the fourth-best goalscoring record and the fifth-best defensive record in the division.
After a credible opening day 1-1 draw at Welling United, the Bucks went backwards in midweek with a 3-2 home loss to Macclesfield Town. Speaking to the Shropshire Star after the game, manager Liam Watson was very critical of his players, especially four – Andy Owens, Mike Grogan, Sean Clancy and Steve Akrigg – who arrived just fifteen minutes before kick-off: “If you want to play in a full-time league against professional clubs, you need to act professionally. We can’t be having players turn up at 7.30pm because there has been a crash on the M56, which has happened at about 12pm… They have got here late and the disappointing thing is that it was four of your main players. They go out on the pitch, it sets the tone, and we started off like a bag of spanners, and being brutally honest, we did well to come in (at half time) only 3-1 down.”
As with the home game against Altrincham on the opening day of the campaign, Andy Scott got a number of fine performances from his players on Thursday night. The back four again looked very solid, especially the new centre-back pairing of Glenn Wilson and Joe Oastler, whilst Damon Lathrope and Kieron Forbes had good games in the middle of the park. Striker Josh Scott had another strong ninety minutes upfront, whilst Brett Williams had more shots on target than the whole Eastleigh team. It was also good to see Sam Hatton make his Shots debut, which he did when he came on to replace Mark Molesley.
The Aldershot Town manager almost has a full squad to choose from for the trip to Shropshire, with Tristan Plummer being able to train this weekend after suffering a hamstring injury in preseason. However, Sunday’s game may well be too soon for a return to first-team action.
Liam Watson was able to keep the majority of his promotion-winning squad over the summer, although he did lose his captain Simon Grand (moved to Barrow), first-choice goalkeeper Ryan Young (Havant & Waterlooville) and midfield general Matty McGinn (Welsh Premier side Airbus UK). Those first-choice players who have remained at AFC Telford include defenders Chris Lever, Wes Baynes, Andy Owens and Neill Byrne; midfielders Mike Grogan (fifteen goals last season), Sean Clancy (twelve goals), Charlie Barnett and Mike Phenix, plus strikers Adam Farrell (seventeen goals in 2013-14 to lead the Bucks) and Tony Gray.
Nine players have arrived at New Bucks Head over the summer, with Jonathan Hedge (Grimsby Town) having the unenviable task of replacing Young in the AFC Telford goal. Rod McDonald (Hereford United), Steve Akrigg (Southport) and Andy Todd (Tamworth) add Conference Premier experience to the centre-back position, whilst Kristian Platt (Conference North club Stalybridge Celtic) has been preferred to Baynes as the first-choice right-back. Central midfielder Godfrey Poku looks a good capture from Mansfield Town, whilst Jordan Deacey (Bradford Park Avenue of Conference North), Josh Hancock (Witton Albion) and Sam Smith (four league goals on loan at Hereford United last season) add options in the attacking third of the pitch.
Watson will be able to select Poku and Phenix after both served one-match suspensions against Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night, whilst McDonald may also feature after missing a month with an ankle problem. However, Chris Lever is unlikely to face the Shots due to a hamstring injury.
Whilst Aldershot Town have never played AFC Telford United, they did have a pair of league games against Telford United in the latter’s final season. Although the Shropshire side scored first in both games, they were defeated twice by the Shots, including a 5-2 defeat at the New Bucks Head. An Aaron McLean brace, plus goals from John Challinor, Tim Sills and Fiston Manuella gave the visitors a comfortable victory on 16 August 2003. Five months later, Sills also scored in the return fixture, but two late goals from Roscoe D’Sane were the decisive strikes in a 3-1 win for Aldershot Town.
Aldershot FC also played one competitive game against the Bucks, triumphing 5-3 in North-East Hampshire in a 1st-Round FA Cup tie in November 1953.
Milestones / Birthday
If they feature against AFC Telford United, both Josh Scott and Glenn Wilson be making their 350th senior club appearances. If Kieron Forbes plays, then he’ll be doing so on his 29th birthday.
Sunday afternoon’s referee is Paul Rees from Bristol, who’s starting his third campaign as a Conference referee. Last season he took charge of a pair of Shots games: the 3-3 home draw against Luton Town last October and the vital 2-1 win at Woking on Easter Monday that confirmed Aldershot Town’s place in the non-league top flight.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Sunday 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