Aldershot Town made it four wins from six on Tuesday night thanks to a 1-0 win over Welling United. Barry Smith’s side should take as many home comforts as possible from that victory with trips to Barrow and Tranmere Rovers in the next week. The 600-mile round trip to Cumbria comes first on Saturday afternoon. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Tuesday’s wasn’t the most fluent display, and the Shots have certainly played better this season and lost, but the three points moved them back to 12th in the table. The opening 45 minutes was eminently forgettable apart from the Wings’ best chance – a first-minute Kevin Lokko header that was straight at Dan Thomas – and two opportunities for Jim Stevenson. The game’s crucial moment came four minutes after half-time, when Richard Brodie’s long range effort deflected into the opposition net. It was the 28-year-old’s fifth goal in six starts for Aldershot Town. With twenty minutes to go, Rhys Browne’s thunderous effort was denied by a stunning save, whilst the defence remained comfortable all evening.
The win made it two victories on the bounce at the EBB Stadium and was an excellent response to the 4-1 defeat at Grimsby Town three days earlier. The clean sheet was also their first in seven home games, a run that had stretched back to Easter Monday. It gives the Shots seven points at home this season, which is the same total as they’ve garnered on their travels so far in this campaign. That’s good for the fifth-best away record in the National League, and is only bettered by Forest Green Rovers, Gateshead, Braintree Town and Eastleigh. Barry Smith’s men have also managed seven goals in their last three fixtures on the road and they’ll be confident of a positive result on Saturday afternoon.
Barrow AFC were formed in 1901 and were founder members of Division 3 North twenty years later. Before being voted out of the league in 1972 (to be replaced by Hereford United), they did manage three seasons in the Football League’s third tier between 1967 and 1970. The Bluebirds were also part of the original line-up for the Alliance Premier League (now the National League) for the 1979-80 campaign. They’ve actually been promoted to this level on five occasions, the most recent of which came with last season’s Conference North title. The two-time FA Trophy winner’s 87-point haul was two points clear of 2nd-placed AFC Fylde and saw the Cumbrians return to this level after two years away.
Last season, the Bluebirds had the best home record and the best defensive statistics in Conference North, and they’ve continued in that vein in this campaign. Barrow have secured thirteen points out of fifteen at Holker Street so far in 2015-16, which includes three consecutive home wins. Southport, Eastleigh and Lincoln City on Saturday have all been beaten 1-0, whilst Dover Athletic were defeated there on the opening day. Their two home goals conceded is also the best record in the National League. However, the fact that they’ve only picked up one point on their travels leaves the Cumbrians in thirteenth place in the table, and below the Shots on goal difference.
Barrow are certainly confident of making an impression on the National League, with owner Paul Casson telling the North-West Evening Mail on the eve of the season: “I mean nobody is getting fired if we’re eighth from the bottom… I just can’t see that happening (AFC struggling in the bottom half of the table), and if it does then we’ll make the appropriate changes we’ll do whatever we have to do. Wanting to be in the top half is not a minimum expectation, it’s an expectation… And so my thought is always – get the pieces in place to be in a position so that when the run-in comes you are thereabouts or you can make changes… if it looks like we’re in with a shout – eighth or ninth – and there are a couple of changes that really would give us that kick over the finish line, then that’s really what we will do”.
Barry Smith made four changes for the visit of Welling United; two of which were enforced, whilst two were tactical. Goalkeeper Dan Thomas got a first start of 2015 in place of Phil Smith, whilst Jack Saville started at centre-back for the first time for the Shots, with Luke Oliver missing out through injury. Both made key contributions to their side’s first home clean sheet of the campaign. Midfielders Sam Hatton and Rhys Browne also returned to the midfield after injury and a trip away on international duty respectively. Left-back Nick Anderton will hope to feature against the side for whom he played nine times on loan last season, before a broken leg ended his campaign in February.
Oliver was unavailable on Tuesday night with a calf injury, so joined Phil Smith, Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty on the sidelines. Smith’s groin injury isn’t thought to be too serious, however, and he may be back within the next week. Defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty, however, are long-term absentees. The former’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until late-October, whilst McGinty should return in early-October after suffering a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town.
With the club switching to full-time status after last season’s promotion, Darren Edmondson oversaw a major reshaping of the side’s playing staff. Thirteen players moved to Holker Street on a permanent basis, whilst eleven players moved on from the Cumbrian side. However, the majority of last season’s title-winning key players have remained with the Bluebirds, including defenders Danny Livesey (who scored the winning penalty for Carlisle United against the Shots in the 2004-05 Conference Play-Off semi-final), Simon Grand (who played six times for Aldershot Town in February 2011) and Niall Cowperthwaite; midfielders Paddy Lacey, Danny Pilkington (six goals last season) and Alex-Ray Harvey, plus strikers Andy Cook (last season’s 23-goal top scorer, five goals already in this campaign), Jason Walker (16 goals in 2014-15) and Anthony Wilson. Amongst those who did move on were last season’s first-choice goalkeeper Tony McMillan (who joined Stalybridge Celtic), midfielders Izak Reid and Johnny Gorman (both AFC Telford United), Sam Sheridan (Chorley) and Karl Ledsham (Stockport County), plus defender Andy Burns (Tamworth).
The Barrow boss was able to bring in a number of Football League players over the summer. Former Sunderland goalkeeper Joel Dixon looks to be a fine capture, whilst striker Ashley Grimes moved from Walsall hoping to recapture the form that saw him score 33 Football League goals between 2010 and 2013. In defence, Steve Williams (FC Halifax Town) and Neil Ashton (Wrexham) add National League nous, whilst Brad Carroll arrived from Huddersfield Town. The Bluebirds bolstered their midfield ranks with Andy Haworth (after a loan spell from Cheltenham Town in 2014-15), David Mellor (Oldham Athletic), Mamadou Fofana (Oxford City), Elliot Newby (Bolton Wanderers) and Benjamin van den Broek (Romanian side FC Universitatea Cluj). Three players also arrived from Cumbrian neighbours Carlisle United – goalkeeper Danny Eccles, defender Matt Young and midfielder Dave Symington – whilst Barnsley defensive midfielder George Williams is with the club on a three-month loan deal.
However, Grimes will be unavailable for this weekend’s fixture due to a hamstring injury, whilst Alex-Ray Harvey (ankle) is also a doubt for the visit of the Shots. Anthony Wilson hasn’t yet played for Barrow this season after a knee operation, but he’s scheduled to make his season debut on Saturday.
Whilst Aldershot Town and Barrow have never previously met, the Bluebirds did face Aldershot FC on 23 occasions. The first, a 2nd-Round FA Cup tie in December 1934, resulted in a 2-0 win for the visitors at Holker Street, but the other 22 all took place in the Football League’s Fourth Division. Those games saw ten wins for the Shots, five for Barrow with seven draws. The three meetings between 6 March 1971 and 13 March 1972 all finished 1-1, with the Cumbrians last win coming by a 1-0 margin at North-East Hampshire in November 1996.
The Shots did manage a 8-2 victory at what is now the EBB Stadium in November 1963, but their results in Cumbria were less impressive. Of the eleven league meetings at Holker Street, six were draws, including the last four. Aldershot FC did manage two wins – 4-3 in January 1959 and 2-0 in April 1964 – whilst Barrow won on three other occasions. The last four fixtures all ended in ties, with a triumvirate of 1-1 results and a 2-2 scoreline in September 1965.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Robert Jones from the Wirral, who is in his second season on the National Referees List. So far this season, he’s overseen three National League games, showing ten yellow cards and no red cards.
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 2.15pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Sport website from 2.50pm.
You can also contact us throughout the afternoon via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison