Aldershot Town started their season in fine style at the weekend, securing a 3-1 home victory over Altrincham. Both the result and the performance should give Andy Scott and his players plenty of confidence going into a pair of away games against newly-promoted teams, starting with the televised trip to Eastleigh on Thursday evening. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
For the first time in five years, the Shots started the league season at home and, like the game against Darlington in August 2009, the hosts ran out 3-1 winners. With seven players in the starting line-up returning from last season, Scott’s team benefitted from a strong degree of continuity, whilst the new signings made an immediate impact. Early goals in each half from Brett Williams and Josh Scott set the tone for the performance, whilst Jordan Roberts’ first goal since the end of January signalled a welcome return to form for the 20-year-old. Altrincham’s goal just before the hour mark caused a slight wobble in the Shots’ demeanour, but in the end, the three points were very well deserved and secured with a combination of attacking verve and defensive solidity.
The fact that Aldershot Town were 2-0 up at half-time was a welcome change from last season’s norm, when the Shots only led eleven times at the interval. It would also benefit this year’s campaign greatly if they could also turn around their away form. In 2013-14, they 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.
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. Play-off semi-final defeats in 2009 and 2013 preceded last season’s league title, which resulted in the club’s first-ever campaign in non-league’s top flight. The Spitfires also had a run to the last eight of the FA Trophy, beating Gateshead along the way, before they were defeated by Cambridge United.
The Spitfires had an outstanding home record last season, securing 53 (from a possible 63) of their 86 points at the Silverlake Stadium, winning eleven league games in a row there between 28 December and 18 April. They also had the third-best goals scored (71) and goals conceded (40) records in Conference South in 2013-14, showing proficiency at both ends of the field. That confidence continued into this season, with Eastleigh securing a highly impressive 3-0 victory at Nuneaton Town on the opening day of the campaign.
Eastleigh’s recent rise has coincided with the arrival of Stewart Donald in late 2011, with the club’s owner telling the Non-League Paper last month that he’s put “Easily seven figures into the team and easily seven figures into the stadium”. However, he has defended his club’s spending policy: “I totally respect that fans will worry that a club that, I suppose, can’t afford the players that we have signed… If say tomorrow something happened and I could no longer continue; not only would we not owe anyone, but they would have me continue to fund the playing budget for as long as the contracts have to expire…I have made a commitment. I have sold players a vision of this football club – so if I have had enough, I have to accept for, say, two years I have extended the football club potentially beyond its means so it’s down to me to fulfil that obligation”.
Andy Scott got a number of excellent performances from his charges on Saturday, but especially so through the spine of the team. Brett Williams and Josh Scott showed the benefits of a full pre-season playing alongside each other, with both strikers getting on the scoresheet, whilst Joe Oastler and new captain Glenn Wilson both had strong games in the heart of the Shots defence. Two other debutants, Damon Lathrope and Kieron Forbes, had the better of the central midfield area, whilst goalkeeper Phil Smith looked comfortable on his Shots debut and made one outstanding save from Altrincham’s Steven Gillespie in the first half to keep the score at 2-0. Scott also got lively cameos from substitutes Joseph N’Guessan and Dan Fitchett on their first appearances in Shots colours.
The Aldershot Town manager will be able to welcome new signing Sam Hatton into his matchday squad for the game at Eastleigh after the former Grimsby Town player served a one-match suspension. Unlike Fitchett, Tristan Plummer failed to recover from a pre-season hamstring injury quickly enough to feature against Altrincham, but is expected to return in the near future.
Eastleigh have been able to keep the vast majority of their promotion-winning squad intact, including their six top scorers from 2013-14 – strikers Craig McAllister (fifteen), Ben Wright (thirteen whilst on loan from Salisbury City), Ben Strevens (eleven) and Stuart Fleetwood (ten), plus attacking midfielders Jai Reason (fifteen) and Yemi Odubade (seven). Manager Richard Hill, who’s been in charge since September 2012, was able to turn Wright’s move into a permanent deal over the summer, but also managed to add two proven Football League goalscorers. James Constable arrived from Oxford United after notching ten goals in League Two last season, whilst Jack Midson arrived from AFC Wimbledon after scoring seven times for the Dons in 2013-14.
At the other end of the pitch, Ross Flitney is the Spitfires’ first-choice goalkeeper, with defenders Daniel Spence, Michael Green, Dean Beckwith and Chris Todd all returning for the club’s first season at this level. Hill has added to their ranks with centre-back Paul Reid joining the team after his release from Northampton Town. The only regular first-teamer to leave the Silverlake Stadium over the summer was midfielder Glenn Southam, who moved to Chelmsford City, but he was replaced by last season’s Aldershot Town captain Craig Stanley. Stanley, who scored on his debut at the weekend, scored three goals in 58 games for Aldershot Town over the last two seasons, and joins another former Shot, Jamie Collins, who made 33 scoreless appearances between June 2011 and January 2012, at the Spitfires.
Whilst these two sides have never previously met in a league fixture, Aldershot Town and Eastleigh have played each other five times in the Hampshire Senior Cup. Three of those have been at the Silverlake Stadium, with the Shots winning all of them, including the most recent tie in March 2007. Kirk Hudson got the only goal in a quarter-final match, with Aldershot Town also winning away at the same stage in January 1998 with Roy Young and Darren Brodrick scoring on that occasion. The third away victory came in a 2nd Round game in January 1996 by a 3-2 scoreline, with two goals from Mark Anderson and one from Jamie Horton.
A Lee Charles brace in January 2003 also gave the home side a 2-1 win in a quarter-final match-up at what is now the Electrical Services Stadium, whilst Eastleigh got their only win over the Shots twelve months later, triumphing 1-0 in a 4th Round game in North-East Hampshire.
If he features on Thursday evening, Chris Barker will be making his 50th appearance for Aldershot Town, whilst Jordan Roberts will play in his 50th league game for the Shots if he features against Eastleigh.
Thursday evening’s referee is Lee Swabey from Devon, who took charge of five Aldershot Town games last season, including their only televised game – the goalless draw at Kidderminster Harriers last September. He also officiated the home victories over Southport (5-1, November 2013), Worcester City (4-1, December 2013) and Chester (2-0, March of this year), plus the 1-0 loss at Salisbury City last August.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town’s record goalscorer, and current Commercial Manager, Mark Butler will be covering the game on Thursday 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