The glare of the BTSport cameras falls upon Aldershot Town this Easter, as they visit The New Lawn to face a Forest Green Rovers side in a timely run of good form. With two games in four days, The Shots look to make it a very Good Friday with their first victory in five games to take them closer to Conference safety. Steve Gibbs previews the Easter action.
Forest Green Rovers have enjoyed a superb start to 2015, with just one defeat since New Year’s Day as The Greens push for a first-ever place in the Play-Offs. Currently fifth in the Vanarama Conference with 69 points – following a three-point penalty for fielding an ineligible player on the opening day of the season – Ady Pennock’s side have taken 31 from a possible 42 points this year, to make a superb recovery after winning just two of ten games during November and December.
Perhaps crucially, they are unbeaten in home games against the other eight teams which currently occupy the bottom nine in the table – and of those, only Braintree have avoided defeat.
Whilst FGR boast the third-best home goalscoring record in the division, that attacking prowess perhaps leaves them slightly more open at the back. With just the 10th best home defence, their away record shows a better defensive ranking and more clean sheets. Still, though, durability and obduracy are the keys to their success, with 12 of their 19 wins earned by a single goal margin and no defeat by more than one goal since a 4-1 crash at Luton Town in the penultimate game of last season.
Before last weekend’s win at Sincil Bank, Pennock set his team an exacting target for the final run-in. “The challenge now is to start another run. We’ve got six games left and we’ll treat every single one of them like a cup final,” he told the Western Daily Press. “Can we win them all? It’s a massive ask in this league, which I think is the hardest in the country to get out of, but that has to be our aim. Our destiny’s pretty much in our own hands with six games to go and we’d definitely have taken that before a ball was kicked last August.
Led by 25-goal Jon Parkin – the Conference’s third highest scorer this season – Forest Green are a team built for a battle. Full of strength and height throughout the side, they are, though, also blessed with ample creativity.
Left-back Marcus Kelly – growing into the role after converting from midfield – leads the team with 10 assists, alongside former Shots loanee Rob Sinclair, who has missed the last two games with a calf injury. England C winger Elliott Frear follows closely with eight assists from the left flank.
However, Kelly’s prodigious attacking instincts may also be his undoing, as the left side of the FGR defence – alongside former Southampton centre-half Aarran Racine – may hold a slight weakness which The Shots can exploit. Charlie Clough has settled impressively into the other central-defensive berth since arriving from Sutton United in January – his concession of a penalty against Woking last month notwithstanding – whilst the pace of right-back Dale Bennett is also utilised in both defence and attack.
Behind them, 6ft 5 goalkeeper Steve Arnold – a summer signing from Stevenage – has played the last seven games since Pennock made the contentious decision to drop Sam Russell after 144 consecutive league starts for the Club.
Forest Green have ample strength in midfield, too, to provide an extra shield to the back four. Clovis Kamdjo has grown from an inexperienced defender into an imposing and athletic central midfielder, and was partnered in last Saturday’s win at Lincoln City by Club captain David Pipe, a veteran right-back blessed with the quality and strength to shore up the middle of the park. The combative Sam Wedgbury is expected to return from a hamstring injury but may have to settle for a place on the bench.
Pennock should also be able to select two England C internationals on the wing, in Frear and James Norwood, who has also returned from injury of late to support the front two. Parkin has recently been partnered by former Welling United striker Kurtis Guthrie, Eastleigh loanee Stuart Fleetwood and, after his arrival from St Mirren, James Marwood – all of whom can also cover on the right flank – as Rovers enjoy the kind of selection headaches ideal for the business end of the season.
Head to Head
The Shots have won just twice in nine visits to Forest Green. Rovers won 3-1 in last season’s corresponding fixture, on Boxing Day, with Aldershot Town’s last win coming in September 2007, when a John Grant double helped to earn a 3-2 victory.
Although the last two matches between these sides have ended in draws at the Electrical Services Stadium, Rovers are unbeaten in their last four encounters with The Shots, dating back to January 2008. Previous games at The (New) Lawn have included home wins to the magnitude of 3-0, 4-2 and 5-1.
Referee is Brett Huxtable, from Devon, who, in 17 matches this season – including last month’s 3-1 home victory against Dover Athletic – has issued 45 yellow and four red cards. Last season, he also took charge of The Shots’ August Bank Holiday defeat of Woking.
Radio and TV coverage
BBC Surrey’s Gary Smith will provide live online commentary from the BBC Sport website. The match is also broadcast live on BTSport 1, with commentary from Steve Bower.