Eastleigh v The Shots match preview – 28 February 2017
Aldershot Town stretched their unbeaten run to nine games – their longest for six years – with Saturday’s 4-0 thumping of Bromley at the EBB Stadium. As a result, the Shots have moved up to 6th in the table, still two points from the Play-Off places, as they travel to Eastleigh on Tuesday evening. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The home side were good value for their comprehensive victory on Saturday, with Idris Kanu being denied twice (inadvertently by teammate Shamir Fenelon, then goalkeeper Billy Granger) in the opening 20 minutes, before Nick Arnold’s cross floated into the top corner in the 37th minute. Seven minutes later, Fenelon fired in from the edge of the area to finish off a fine passing move to make it 2-0, before he won the ball in Bromley’s defensive third to cross for Jake Gallagher to head in Aldershot Town’s third goal four minutes into the second half. In between those, Scott Rendell had had a shot cleared off the line by Jack Holland. As the hosts took their foot off the gas, Jake Cole denied Tobi Sho-Silva and Bradley Goldberg, before Matt McClure made it 4-0 to Aldershot Town with a 30-yard drive in the 83rd minute.
The win took Gary Waddock’s side to 57 points for the 2016-17 campaign, beating last season’s total of 56 with twelve games still to go. 31 of last season’s points came on the road, so the Shots, who have 21 away from the EBB Stadium thus far, still have a way to go to surpass that total. However, they have managed ten points from their last four away games, conceding just two goals in the process. Aldershot Town should pass last season’s tally of 54 league goals (they’re seven short at the moment) and they already have four players with six or more goals (Rendell, Fenelon, McClure, Bernard Mensah) for this campaign. That’s compared to only two – Charlie Walker and Rhys Browne – in the 2015-16 campaign.
Eastleigh were formed in 1946 as Swaythling Athletic, and then played as just Swaythling, before settling on their current moniker in 1980. The club first rose to prominence with three successive promotions (Wessex League Premier Division to Southern League Eastern to Ryman Premier Division) between 2002 and 2005, which started a nine-year stint in Conference South. A total of 86 points was enough to give them a resounding championship title in 2013-14. The Spitfires finished 4th in their maiden campaign in the non-league top flight, before a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Grimsby Town in the Play-Off semi-finals. However, last season saw them under-achieve to finish 7th in the final league standings.
This campaign, though, has been a disaster as Eastleigh sit 15th in the table with 42 points from 34 games, seventeen points from the Play-Off places. Three managers – Chris Todd, Ronnie Moore and Martin Allen – have been dismissed since the start of the season, with Richard Hill (who was previously in charge of the club from September 2012 to September 2015) returning to take the reins last week. The Spitfires are winless in eight league outings, losing their last four without scoring, but their home form is even worse. They’ve gone ten without a win in all competitions at the Silverlake Stadium since they beat Torquay United 2-0 on 25 October, with their last four home games all ending in a goalless defeat.
Speaking last week, Eastleigh Chief Executive Mark Jewell told the Southern Daily Echo: “In any other season with this run of results and the nature of the performances, there would have been no hesitation relieving the manager of his duties. But this season, where we’ve already lost Chris and Ronnie, it’s deemed crazy and a circus down here. But a relegation battle is something we’ve never considered since we’ve been at this club and it’s becoming a real threat. There are so many positives here – new facilities, cheap season-tickets, community work etc. – we cannot be linked with a downward spiral. Fans have been leaving early, reflecting the general feeling of the support base, and that for me is more concerning.”
Gary Waddock made one change at the weekend, with Shamir Fenelon preferred to Bernard Mensah on the right of the front three. He rewarded his manager with a goal (his third in five home games) and an assist either side of half time. Once again, Aldershot Town played with a midfield three and the trio of Jim Kellermann, Jake Gallagher (who scored his fourth goal in eight games) and Kundai Benyu dominated the afternoon for the hosts. Nick Arnold, who made his second straight start after almost three months out with an ankle injury scored his first goal for the Shots, but may fall victim to the inevitable squad rotation. With three games in a week, Waddock could hand recalls to Anthony Straker, Callum Buckley, Bernard Mensah or Matt McClure.
The only absentee for Saturday’s win against Bromley was central midfielder Liam Bellamy, who had an operation earlier this month on the knee ligament injury he suffered during the game at Forest Green Rovers on 5 November. He’s not expected to return until mid-April at the earliest.
The Eastleigh squad has seen a massive overhaul in the last ten months with over 20 players signing permanently since the end of last season, fifteen others leaving the Silverlake Stadium last summer and a large number of key players leaving after Martin Allen arrived on 1 December. Fifteen-goal top scorer Mikael Mandron has joined Championship side Wigan Athletic on loan, captain (and former Aldershot Town loanee) Joe Partington signed for Bristol Rovers, wingers Luke Coulson and Jake Howells joined Barnet and Dagenham & Redbridge respectively, striker Ryan Bird moved to Newport County, midfielder Andy Drury joined Ebbsfleet United, whilst another midfielder, Jai Reason, signed for National League rivals Boreham Wood. Maybe most extraordinarily, defender Bondz N’Gala signed from Barnet for a club record fee on 22 November, before being released at the end of January and ending up at Dover Athletic, whilst summer signings Connor Essam and David Pipe are currently on loan at Dover Athletic and Newport County respectively.
Only two of the summer departures moved into the Football League, with ex-Shots midfielder Josh Payne joining Crawley Town and defender Jamie Turley moving to Newport County. Defenders Dan Harding and Paul Reid, plus goalkeeper Ross Flitney, joined National League South outfit Whitehawk, whilst strikers Ross Lafayette (Dover Athletic), Yemi Odubade (Maidstone United) and Jack Midson (Braintree Town) left for fellow National League clubs, as did centre back Will Evans who, of course, signed for Aldershot Town after four goals in 103 games for the Spitfires. Only last season’s seventeen-goal top scorer James Constable and left back Michael Green are still at the club, but even the latter was released by Allen earlier this month, before re-signing thirteen days later.
However, Eastleigh have recently re-acquired striker Craig McAllister (from Sutton United) and midfielder Ben Strevens (Whitehawk) to add experience to the squad. Unsurprisingly, Martin Allen had raided his former club Barnet during his time at the Silverlake Stadium, with midfielder Sam Togwell and defenders Gavin Hoyte and Sam Muggleton joining him on the south coast. The former Barnet goalkeeper Graham Stack also joined (after a short spell in India with Kerala Blasters) to provide back-up to Ryan Clarke, who arrived from AFC Wimbledon earlier this season. As you’d expect, a number of Eastleigh’s summer captures arrived with significant Football League experience, especially in the defensive third. Reda Johnson (Coventry City), Ryan Cresswell (Northampton Town) and Adam Dugdale (Morecambe) were all high-profile signings at this level, whilst full back Ayo Obileye (Charlton Athletic) has also featured this season. In the attacking third, wingers Ross Stearn (six goals for Sutton United this season) and Mekhi Leacock-McLeod (Isthmian League Division One North side VCD Athletic), midfielder Ben Close (on loan from Portsmouth) and striker Scott Wilson (Weston-super-Mare) should be in the squad on Tuesday. Aldershot Town could also line up against loanee defenders Tyler Garratt (Doncaster Rovers) and Hakeem Odoffin (Wolverhampton Wanderers) in midweek.
However, Richard Hill will be without a number of long-term absentees on Tuesday evening, including Cresswell (knee), Johnson (hamstring) and midfielder Jason Taylor (hip), whilst striker Darius Henderson (a recent arrival from Mansfield Town) has missed recent games with a neck problem.
Whilst the first five fixtures between Aldershot Town and Eastleigh took place in the Hampshire Senior Cup, they’ve also met six times since the latter’s most recent promotion. The Spitfires won the first four, plus they defeated the Shots 1-0 at the EBB Stadium in November thanks to a goal on the stroke of half-time from Mikael Mandron. The Spitfires managed two victories in North-East Hampshire last season. In August 2015’s league game, Lee Cook’s late goal secured a 2-1 win for Eastleigh, whilst in the First Round of the FA Trophy three months later, another close affair was won by Ross Lafayette for the visitors with ten minutes to go. Sixteen days after that game, penalties from Josh Payne and Sam Hatton ensured a point apiece following a 1-1 draw at the Silverlake Stadium. In August 2013, in front of the TV cameras, the two clubs played out a dour encounter decided by a 90th-minute goal from home striker Ben Wright, with the Spitfires completing the double three months later, as goals from Craig McAllister and Stuart Fleetwood secured a 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium.
Of those five Hampshire Senior Cup ties, Aldershot Town won four and lost one, with the Shots winning all three at the Silverlake Stadium. In January 1996, a Mark Anderson brace and one from Jamie Horton gave the visitors a 3-2 win in a Second Round tie, whilst goals from Roy Young and Darren Brodrick gave them a 2-1 victory at the quarter-final stage two years later. The most recent Hampshire Senior Cup tie in March 2007 saw Kirk Hudson get the only goal in another quarter-final match. Meanwhile, the two ties at the EBB Stadium saw a win for either club. A Lee Charles brace in January 2003 gave the home side a 2-1 victory in a quarter-final match-up, whilst Eastleigh got a measure of revenge twelve months later, triumphing 1-0 in a 4th Round game in North East Hampshire.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Adam Bromley from Plymouth, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-0 home win against Gateshead in September. So far this season, he’s officiated in twelve National League fixtures, showing 26 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 Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Sport website from 7.35pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison