Aldershot Town got back to winning ways on Sunday afternoon with an excellent 2-0 win at AFC Telford United. The players return home from their first away win of the campaign to face arguably their toughest challenge of the season so far, as promotion-chasing Forest Green Rovers visit the Electrical Services Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After the disappointment of conceding a 94th-minute winner at Eastleigh in their previous fixture, Andy Scott was delighted with his players’ response in Shropshire at the weekend. It was almost the archetypal away win, with the visitors taking an early lead (centre-back Joe Oastler hammering home from the edge of the area after just five minutes), then doubling their lead through Brett Williams’ 26th-minute penalty when they were firmly on top. A solid team effort from the Shots then closed the game out in the second half to ensure a comfortable three points. It’s fair to say that the opening period saw Aldershot Town play their best football of the season so far, and it gives them a good base from which to build.
The Shots’ home form last season (eleven wins, six draws and 48 goals) was their best since the campaign in which they reached the League Two play-offs in 2009-10. The 3-1 win over Altrincham on the opening day certainly saw the team continue in that vein and, factoring in the end of 2013-14, Aldershot Town have actually won three of their last four home outings, scoring eight goals in the process. On a defensive note, the Shots’ efforts have seen them concede just two goals this season, and neither of those has come in the opening 58 minutes. If they can continue that sort of record, then a comfortable season should lie ahead for Aldershot Town.
Forest Green Rovers are the longest-serving members of the Conference, with their promotion in 1998 starting a run of seventeen consecutive campaigns in the top-flight of non-league football. Their best finish came in 2007-08, when they finished eighth, while the Gloucestershire side actually finished in the relegation zone in 2004-05 and 2009-10 but were saved by the financial failings of others. Green energy tycoon Dale Vince took over the club and became its chairman in October 2010, with Rovers finishing 20th in that season, before three consecutive 10th-placed finishes. Despite a number of high-profile signings, the Gloucestershire side ended the 2013-14 campaign ten points from the play-off places.
Along with Barnet, Forest Green Rovers are one of only two clubs to have a 100% record in the Conference so far this season. The opening weekend’s 1-0 victory at Southport was followed by a pair of home wins over Chester (2-1) and Alfreton Town (2-0), but it’s worth noting that those three teams’ combined record so far this season is Played 9, Won 1, Drawn 1, Lost 7. Whilst Rovers were the third-highest scorers in the non-league top-flight last season (only Luton Town and FC Halifax Town bettered their 80 league goals), they’ll need to improve their away form if they’re going to challenge for promotion. Their 22 points from 23 games on their travels was only the 17th-best record in the Conference Premier in 2013-14.
Rovers are managed by former Stoke City coach Ady Pennock, who took over in November 2013 after the departure of Dave Hockaday. Unsurprisingly, he’s been very pleased with his team’s start to the season, telling the Gloucester Citizen after the weekend victory over Alfreton Town: “I don’t think the people watching realised how windy it was, so to pick up another three points and a clean sheet was very pleasing. I know we can play better. We’ve got some new signings and everyone is getting used to one another. There is a long way to go and there is a lot of building to be done, on and off the pitch. We’ve only just started.”
For the first time this season, Andy Scott made a change to his starting line-up on Sunday, with Stevenage loanee Joseph N’Guessan making his full debut in place of the injured Mark Molesley. The 19-year-old offered a pacey option down the right wing and could keep his place for the visit of Forest Green Rovers. After two excellent defensive displays, Aldershot Town thoroughly deserved their first clean sheet of the campaign on Sunday afternoon and, whilst the back four got most of the plaudits, Scott described it as a ‘team clean sheet’, with Williams and Scott leading from the front by harrying the home goalkeeper and defenders for the duration of the game.
One player definitely unavailable for the Shots boss on Friday evening is Kieron Forbes, who’s on loan from Forest Green Rovers, so can’t feature against the club for whom he has made 107 league appearances, scoring five goals, since joining from Wealdstone in December 2010. Molesley missed the game against AFC Telford United with tendinitis, but could play against Rovers, but the game could come too soon for Tristan Plummer, who’s back in training after suffering a hamstring injury in preseason.
Ady Pennock used his first pre-season as Forest Green Rovers manager to good effect, signing ten players and letting go twelve of last season’s squad. Like the Shots, Rovers used Salisbury City’s expulsion from the Conference to bolster their ranks, picking up midfielders Clovis Kamdjo, ex-Shot Rob Sinclair (eleven scoreless games in two loan spells with Aldershot Town) and Elliott Frear. The club snapped up midfielder Sam Wedgbury and goalkeeper Steve Arnold from Stevenage, whilst the defensive corps was strengthened by the arrivals of David Pipe (Newport County), James Jennings (Mansfield Town) and Danny Coles (Exeter City). In the attacking third, Jon Parkin arrived after scoring ten goals for Fleetwood Town last season, whilst Kurtis Guthrie was signed from Welling United.
Amongst those deemed surplus to requirements at the New Lawn were four strikers: Yan Klukowski (thirteen goals in 2013-14, to Newport County), Andy Mangan (Shrewsbury Town), Reece Styche (Kidderminster Harriers) and Matty Taylor (Bristol Rovers). Pennock also allowed defenders Jared Hodgkiss (Kidderminster Harriers), Jamie Turley, Ed Asafu-Adjaye (Hemel Hempstead Town), Paul Green and Stephen Brogan (Southport) to leave for pastures new. However, amongst those who stayed with the Gloucestershire side were strikers James Norwood (the club’s top scorer with nineteen goals in the 2013-14 campaign) and Lee Hughes, midfielders Marcus Kelly, Al Bangura and Anthony Barry, defenders Luke Oliver, Eddie Oshodi and Chris Stokes, plus last season’s ever-present goalkeeper Sam Russell.
Pennock will have a largely full-strength squad to choose from on Friday evening, but he will be unable to select James Jennings, Steve Arnold and defender Aarran Racine, who are all suffering from long-term knee injuries.
Friday sees the seventeenth meeting between the two clubs with the Shots winning five, drawing three and losing eight of the previous sixteen games. Aldershot Town have won one, drawn one and lost three of the last five clashes, including a 3-1 defeat on Boxing Day 2013 at The New Lawn. Marcus Kelly put the hosts ahead 1-0 and 2-1, sandwiching a Jordan Roberts’ header just before half-time, with James Norwood netting in the 90th minute to seal the victory. The other game last season ended in 2-2 draw in North-East Hampshire on 18 February 2014, with all four goals coming in an eight-minute burst. Norwood notched first, before Adam Mekki and Bradley Bubb gave the Shots the lead. However, Lee Hughes struck from a tight angle in the 64th-minute to ensure both sides finished with a point.
Aldershot Town don’t have a particularly good home record against the Gloucestershire side, having won three and lost three of their six home games against Rovers prior to the 2013-14 campaign. The Shots’ most recent victory occurred on Boxing Day 2006, with Darren Barnard’s late winner gave the home side a 2-1 victory, whilst the home side won by the same score in November 2005. On that occasion, it was Tobi Jinadu who netted the winner. Forest Green’s most recent win at what is now the Electrical Services Stadium came in January 2008, when Rovers inflicted Aldershot Town’s last home defeat of their promotion-winning season. Mark Beesley scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
The game with Forest Green Rivers takes place on the 22nd anniversary of Aldershot Town playing their first-ever competitive match, an Isthmian League Division 3 fixture at home to Clapton. Mark Butler and Steve Stairs both scored twice to secure a 4-2 victory after the Shots had trailed 2-0.
Friday evening’s referee is Nick Kinseley from Essex, He took charge of two Shots’ home games last season – the 3-0 victory over Dartford last August and the following month’s 3-3 draw with Barnet. Kinseley also oversaw two Shots’ games in the 2007-08 promotion season – the first home game (a 3-0 defeat by Torquay United), as well as the 1-0 home win over Burton Albion in April. Last year, he officiated in thirteen league games, showing 31 yellow cards and five red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Friday 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