Extending their unbeaten run to three league games for the first time since August, The Shots face another home game on Tuesday, with Dover Athletic visiting the Electrical Services Stadium in a re-arranged Vanarama Conference fixture. The Whites, themselves, are without a win in three, but both runs have bucked lengthy recent trends. Steve Gibbs previews the action…
Both teams have, of late, reversed a run of form which seemed certain to take them to polar opposite ends on the table. For Chris Kinnear’s Dover Athletic, 13 league games unbeaten – between 1 November and 20 January – pushed them to the brink of a Play-Off place before two defeats, at Lincoln City and FC Halifax Town, were followed by a 2-2 draw against Southport to stifle their charge towards the top six.
Strong runs in both the FA Trophy and FA Cup – in which they beat two Football League sides before falling to Premier League Crystal Palace – laced that bread-and-butter form with a touch of glamour, as Dover allowed cup football to complement rather than detract for their league games.
However, whilst defeats at Sincil Bank and The Shay, fortresses both, didn’t provide extensive cause for concern, Kinnear was unhappy with the point The Sandgrounders took from Crabble on 21 February.
“We conceded two really, really poor goals against Southport and that’s not good enough,” he lamented. “To be honest, we are looking a bit fragile at the back at the moment. On one hand we are scoring goals at the other end, but leaking them at ours and that’s a cause for concern.”
All of which also neatly sums up their away form. The Conference’s eighth-best home record is contrasted by the eighth-worst away, which features defeats at Nuneaton Town and Dartford. Dover are the fifth-highest scorers away from home but are also burdened by the fifth-worst defence in away matches; a defence which has kept only one clean sheet on their travels, at Welling.
Dover’s squad may feature several familiar faces more used to visiting the home dressing room at the ESS. Striker Dan Holman has made Crabble his latest destination in several loan spells from Colchester United, whilst winger Adam Mekki joined Dover last month at the end of a short-term contract at Barnet. On the same day, Dover signed former Luton Town midfielder Solomon Taiwo, joining another ex-Shots loanee, Stefan Payne, in Kent.
The former Gillingham striker has found his feet at Crabble, with 12 goals this season, including a hot streak of 10 in 14 games between October and December. However, Payne is yet to score in 2015, but will return from a three-match suspension on Tuesday, following his red card in the FA Trophy draw against Bath City on 7 February. Since then he has made his England C debut against Cyprus, but faces stiff competition for his starting place.
In Payne’s absence, Dover have found not one but two in-form ‘strikers’. Pacy winger Tom Murphy has scored seven of his nine goals in 2014-15 since Boxing Day, to justify Kinnear’s decision to award him with an extended run in the side. Whilst Holman has already poached two goals in his two appearances – including one as substitute – since arriving from Colchester United on 2 February.
Although frequently starting with a five-man defence, Dover have not been overly-blessed with defensive solidity. Led by right-back Connor Essam – team captain and converted centre-half – it also features the commanding central pair Richard Orlu and Sean Francis, plus 21 year-old Sean Raggett. Equally powerful, the Whites’ Academy graduate, who has been compared to Chris Smalling, has reportedly been scouted by several Premier League clubs including Liverpool and Everton. Left-back Tyrone Sterling – originally another centre-half – returned to Crabble from Dartford in the summer and scored the opening goal in the 3-0 win against The Shots in September.
Experienced midfielders Nicky Deverdics and Barry Cogan – the latter of whom played in the 2004 FA Cup Final for Millwall – provide guile in midfield, alongside Taiwo’s strength. Midfielder Liam Bellamy broke his hand in the FA Trophy tie against Woking, but striker, James Poole, has returned on loan from Bury, whilst the versatile Chris Kinnear Jr, Ricky Modeste and Tom Wynter provide options from the bench.
Chris Barker has confirmed that the injured trio of Joe Oastler, Ryan Jarvis and Danny East are unlikely to return to fitness in time, and The Shots may name the same 16 players are last weekend. Tristan Plummer, Antonio German and the fit-again Damon Lathrope, however, may challenge for a starting place.
This will be Aldershot Town’s fifth meeting with Dover Athletic, with all four previous meetings resulting in a home win. Before September’s 3-0 defeat at Crabble, the first three encounters came in the FA Cup. In September 1996, David Leworthy’s two goals settled a second qualifying round tie, whilst Gary Abbott earned a degree of revenge in a fourth qualifying round victory in October 2000. Finally, in November 2010, Adam Birchall’s double dumped The Shots out of the FA Cup at the second round stage.
Referee is Brett Huxtable, from Devon, who, in 14 matches this season has issued 37 yellow and four red cards. Last season, he took charge of The Shots’ August Bank Holiday defeat of Woking.
BBC Surrey’s Jon Howick and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune into the BBC Surrey website at around 7.35pm for full match commentary.
Tweet @officialshots and @bbcsurreysport to get in touch during the game.