Shots v Chester match preview – 17 December 2016
For the second time this season, Aldershot Town crashed out of a major cup competition at the hands of National League South opposition on Monday night, going down to a 4-3 extra time defeat to East Thurrock United in the FA Trophy. They’ll be hoping to bounce back as they visit in-form Chester this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After Matt McClure and Charlie Walker had missed early headed chances, the former gave Aldershot Town a 28th-minute lead. Three minutes later, however, Sam Higgins equalised with a fine finish. Two minutes before half-time, Jack Saville was sent off, with Tommy Wraight firing in the resulting free kick from 25 yards. Eight minutes after the break, Walker made it 2-2 before missing another headed chance two minutes later. The Essex side took the lead again as Joe Ellul headed a 74th-minute free kick past Mark Smith, but Bernard Mensah made it 3-3 in the 90th minute after Shamir Fenelon’s shot was saved. Kane Ferdinand got the eventual winner in the 107th minute, whilst Anthony Straker was denied another equaliser by an outstanding 118th-minute save from Rocks goalkeeper Lukas Lidakevičius.
The theme of the Aldershot Town post-match interviews was one of embarrassment and anger, with Gary Waddock very much at the end of his tether with his players. Since they went 5th in the National League table after a victory over Solihull Moors on 8 October, the Shots have only won two of their twelve games in all competitions. During that run, they’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup and FA Trophy and managed just eight points from a possible 27 in the league. Defensively the standards have slipped as well. The first nineteen games saw Waddock’s side keep nine clean sheets and concede just sixteen goals. Since then, the Shots have let in fifteen goals in their last eight fixtures, keeping just one clean sheet.
The story of Chester FC has been a brief and, mostly, very successful one. The supporters-run club was founded in 2010 following the demise of their precursors Chester City, who were wound-up in March of that year after a string of financial problems, points deductions and on-pitch struggles. Continuing to play at the Deva Stadium, the Blues secured three straight promotions, winning the Northern League Division One North, the Northern League Premier Division, and then the Conference North in 2012-13. Their first season at this level saw them finishing in the relegation zone before a reprieve due to Hereford United’s expulsion. There was a 12th-place finish in 2014-15, whilst they ended last season 17th in the table.
Under interim manager Jon McCarthy (he was given the role permanently over the summer), the Cheshire side won their last three games of last season, and they’ve recovered from a slow start to this campaign to currently sit 8th in the National League table. They’ve gone unbeaten in their last six league fixtures (a run which includes a win against Eastleigh and a draw with leaders Tranmere Rovers), three of which have been at the Deva Stadium. Overall, the Blues have the sixth-best home record in the division, with 23 points from twelve games. Only four sides have bettered Chester’s tally of 38 goals from 24 league games, whilst their record of twelve clean sheets is the joint-best in the National League.
Jon McCarthy, the former Birmingham City and Northern Ireland midfielder, has overseen a stretch of one defeat in 16 since playing the Shots in September. Speaking to the Chester Chronicle, he said: “We are very evenly matched; we were down there when it was 0-0 and that was the start of our amazing run. It was the first clean sheet and a big performance from us down there. We played them at a time when they were absolutely flying at the top of the league. It was really significant in terms of our development… If we can go and do that again then that is quite significant for us. We’ve had quite a lot of challenges over the past few weeks, but we keep going and we keep getting results.”
Gary Waddock made five changes to his starting line-up, including both his strikers with Matt McClure and Charlie Walker replacing Scott Rendell and Idris Kanu. Both got confidence-boosting goals, with McClure scoring his first goal in thirteen games and Walker getting just his second goal in his last twelve appearances, eight of which have been from the bench. New signing Kundai Benyu got his first senior start on the occasion of his nineteenth birthday in place of Cheye Alexander (Dion Conroy moved to right back), Jack Saville replaced Callum Reynolds at centre back and Iffy Allen came in for Shamir Fenelon. As well as the score, the game was also notable for the occasion of Anthony Straker being named as Shots captain for the first time on the occasion of his 248th appearance for the club.
Jake Gallagher will return from his three-match suspension this weekend, but Jack Saville will serve his own one-game ban after his red card on Monday evening. Central midfielder Liam Bellamy broke down with a recurrence of his knee injury in training earlier this month and is unlikely to be fit to face the Cheshire side, whilst McClure will also be unavailable after picking up a knock on Monday. Nick Arnold will be out with an ankle injury until the New Year at the earliest, but first choice goalkeeper Jake Cole should return soon after missing the last five games with a similar issue.
Bearing in mind the side’s lowly position in the National League last season, Jon McCarthy retained approximately half of his playing squad. Nine players have moved on from the Deva Stadium to be replaced by eight permanent signings and three long-term loanees. There were key departures, however, with last season’s 26-goal top scorer Ross Hannah joining Barrow, outstanding centre-back Ben Heneghan moving to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell and John Rooney (ten goals in 2015-16) making the short trip to Wrexham. Defenders Ian Sharps (now First-Team Coach at Walsall) and Ryan Higgins (Southport), plus goalkeeper Tony Thompson and forward Craig Hobson also left the Cheshire side. Last year’s first-choice goalkeeper Jon Worsnop also left the club by mutual consent at the end of September. Amongst those who have remained are defenders Ryan Astles and Johnny Hunt; midfielders Craig Mahon, Tom Shaw and Matty Waters, plus forwards James Alabi (eight goals to lead the Blues this season), Jordan Chapell and Kane Richards.
The former Tamworth striker Elliott Durrell (thirteen league goals last season for The Lambs, six in this campaign) was brought in to help replace the goals of Ross Hannah. The defensive corps has been strengthened by the arrivals of Blaine Hudson (Wrexham), Evan Horwood (Northampton Town), Ross Killock (Leeds United) and Theo Vassell (on loan from Walsall until 1 January), whilst goalkeeper Liam Roberts has joined the club on a season-long loan deal from Walsall. Ryan Lloyd (on loan from Port Vale until 1 January), James Akintunde (Cambridge United) and Wade Joyce (Stalybridge Celtic) have also added midfield options. Since Chester last played the Shots, Alex Lynch has arrived from Welsh Premier League side Bala Town to become the regular goalkeeper, whilst former Liverpool youth midfielder Will Marsh has also joined the club.
The Chester manager will definitely be without Hudson after he was sent off on Tuesday evening, but he will welcome Kane Richards back to his squad after he served a one-match ban in the FA Trophy replay. Theo Vassell (hamstring), Ross Killock and James Akintunde have all missed games through injury in recent weeks and are doubts for this weekend’s fixture.
Saturday sees the eighth meeting between Aldershot Town and Chester, with the Shots winning two, drawing two and losing three of the previous encounters. The two sides played out a goalless draw at the EBB Stadium in September, with Ryan Lloyd hitting the woodwork in the first half for the Blues. Shots fans won’t want to be reminded of the last time the two sides faced off in Cheshire, with the visitors going down to a record 8-2 defeat at the Deva Stadium. Four goals from James Alabi and two from Sam Hughes put the Blues 6-1 up at half-time, with Ross Hannah’s brace rounding things off for the hosts in the second half. Ross Lafayette and Dan Walker got the merest of consolations for Barry Smith’s side. Two months earlier, Sean McGinty, Alfie Pavey (on his debut) and Jim Stevenson got the goals in a 3-1 home win for the Shots. The Cheshire side did the double over Aldershot Town in the 2014-15 campaign, notching a pair of 1-0 victories, whilst the previous season saw the Shots picking up four points. That tally included a 2-0 home win in March 2014, with Brett Williams scoring both goals.
Aldershot Town previously played four league games against Chester City, with a record of one win, one defeat and two draws. Both sides won a game apiece at the Deva Stadium, with the Shots’ Marvin Morgan scoring the only goal of the game in November 2008. Four-and-a-half years earlier, the Cheshire club had won 4-2 in a game that saw both teams reduced to ten men.
Chester City (confusingly also previously known as Chester) also had 45 games against Aldershot FC between 1948 and 1989. The Shots‘ record at the club’s old Sealand Road ground was poor, winning five, losing eleven and drawing six of their 22 visits. However, their overall record against the Blues was very much in their favour thanks to a string of excellent results at home. Of those 45 games, Aldershot FC won nineteen, drew thirteen and lost thirteen.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Scott Oldham from Lancashire, who is in his first season on the National Referee’s list. So far this season, he’s officiated in three National League fixtures, showing eleven yellow cards and no red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town striker Matt McClure will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM or DAB from 2.10pm for team news and pre-match interviews, followed by full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website and BBC Sport app from 2.50pm.
You can also contact us throughout the afternoon via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @bbcsurreysport or @GavinDenison