Shots v Maidstone United match preview – 4 February 2017
Aldershot Town stretched their unbeaten run to five games with last weekend’s goalless draw at home to York City. The Shots remained 7th in the table, but are now five points from the National League Play-Off places as they make the trip to struggling Maidstone United this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Honours were even between two in-form teams on Saturday, but the main surprise was that neither managed to break the deadlock. The visitors started the better, with Jake Cole making great saves from Vadaine Oliver, Amari Morgan-Smith and Simon Heslop in the opening 25 minutes. At the other end, Shamir Fenelon forced Kyle Letheren into a decent save after 19 minutes, but couldn’t hit the target from close range just before half time. The quality dipped after the break, but the two best chances came just after the hour mark. Jake Gallagher ballooned a shot over from ten yards after Fenelon’s inch-perfect pull back, whilst Oliver hit the post with a looping header two minutes later. Oliver and Heslop shot wide in the final fifteen minutes, whilst substitute Jim Kellermann fired straight at Letheren in stoppage time.
With his team in good shape heading into the final third of the National League campaign, the one element of the season that Gary Waddock may be disappointed with is his side’s away form this season. They’ve only managed one victory in their last nine games away from the EBB Stadium (the 2-1 win at Woking on New Year’s Day), although they did pick up a point in the goalless draw at Gateshead last month. The aforementioned win in Surrey was just their third away league win since Waddock’s return. Only eight teams have got a better defensive record on the road than the Shots’ twenty goals conceded in fifteen away league fixtures, but only seven have scored fewer than Aldershot Town’s fourteen goals.
The current incarnation of Maidstone United came into being after the previous club to use the name went bankrupt at the end of the 1991-92 campaign. The current club was formed out of the previous one’s youth team the same summer (known as Maidstone Invicta) and reverted to their current moniker in 1995. The Stones’ run of three promotions in four seasons started with a Ryman League Division One South Play-Off win in 2013, before winning the Ryman League Premier Division title two years later. In May 2016, the Stones beat Truro City and Ebbsfleet United (a 2-2 draw, then a 4-3 penalty shootout victory) in the National League South Play-Offs to take their place in a national league for the first time.
The Kent side has struggled to replicate that form, sitting 21st in the table with 29 points from 30 games. They’ve only managed one win in their last nine games in all competitions (a 2-1 win against Torquay United last month in their last outing at the Gallagher Stadium), whilst only Southport have conceded more than their 56 league goals. Remarkably, Maidstone United have only kept two clean sheets this season, none of which have been at home, with the most recent being back on 10 September, 21 league games ago. Despite the advantage of playing at home on a 3G artificial pitch, only Braintree Town and North Ferriby United have a worse home record than the Stones’ fifteen points from fifteen games.
Maidstone United went down to a 2-0 defeat at Solihull Moors last weekend and manager Jay Saunders, who’s been in charge since March 2011, was critical of his defence. He told Kent Online: “Two set-pieces have killed us. Defensively it wasn’t good enough today, and we’ve known that… We need to be able to defend better and at the moment it’s the same mistakes every week that are costing us. You warn the boys, you go through things with them, give them players to mark and when you’re getting free headers in your box it’s a case of if they can’t take that on board you have to get other people in and that’s what we’ve got to look to do because at the moment we can’t keep a clean sheet for love nor money.”
Gary Waddock made one change last Saturday, with Will Evans returning to the starting eleven for the first time in five games following Dion Conroy’s departure. The 25-year-old slotted back in seamlessly alongside skipper Callum Reynolds as Aldershot Town kept their twelfth clean sheet of the league campaign. Only three teams have kept more in the National League this season and, barring any midweek injuries, it would be a surprise if Aldershot Town didn’t name an unchanged starting line-up for the game at Maidstone United this weekend.
Waddock was without just two players for Saturday’s draw with York City. Central midfielder Liam Bellamy will have an operation next week on the knee ligament injury he suffered during the game at Forest Green Rovers on 5 November, but Nick Arnold, who’s been out of action since late November with an ankle problem, has returned to training this week. Another boost came with the confirmation that Kundai Benyu has extended his loan from Ipswich Town for a third month.
Unsurprisingly, Jay Saunders looked to keep the majority of his promotion-winning squad together for their first season in the National League. However, a number have been dispensed with as the club battles for survival, including last season’s thirteen goal top scorer Jay May (Hythe Town), fellow striker Dumebi Dumaka (Dulwich Hamlet of the Isthmian League Premier Division) and defender Callum Davies. After taking a leave of absence, Joe Healy (ten goals in the promotion campaign) signed for Dover Athletic in November, whilst fellow midfielder Dan Sweeney joined League Two side Barnet the following month. Amongst those who have remained at the Gallagher Stadium are goalkeeper Lee Worgan, who made the National League South Team of the Season in 2015-16, and defensive colleagues Tom Mills, Jamie Coyle and Callum Driver, although the latter is out on loan. In midfield, Saunders has been able to choose from plenty of returning faces, including Vas Karagiannis (nine goals), Jack Paxman, Bobby-Joe Taylor (the club’s top scorer with eight goals in 2016-17) and James Rogers, whilst striker Alex Flisher has netted six times this season after scoring seven times in the promotion campaign.
Of the Maidstone United manager’s summer signings, only centre-backs Kevin Lokko (Welling United) and ex-Shots trialist Anthony Acheampong (Ebbsfleet United) have played consistently this season. Midfield arrivals Jack Evans (Eastbourne Borough) and Football’s Next Star winner Ben Greenhalgh (Concord Rangers) have even been sent out on loan after failing to meet expectations. As the campaign has gone on, Saunders has re-tooled his squad, especially in the attacking third. In have come Yemi Odubade (Eastleigh), Jamar Loza (Norwich City) and loanees Delano Sam-Yorke (Woking) and Joe Pigott (Cambridge United). Stuart Lewis (Ebbsfleet United) and Reece Prestedge (Bromley) have also come in on loan to bolster the midfield, whilst promising youngster Harry Phipps has joined from Margate. Defensive reinforcements have come in the form of Bournemouth loanee Jake McCarthy (who arrived on Monday) and right back Seth Twumasi, who joined the club in September after being released by Newport County.
Odubade has been out for a month with a foot injury, but is expected to be fit for the visit of Aldershot Town, whilst Jamie Coyle (illness) and Delano Sam-Yorke (groin) could also feature this weekend.
Aldershot Town and the current version of Maidstone United met for the first time in the opening week of this season, with Bernard Mensah netting the 88th-minute winner in a game the Shots dominated for long periods. Aldershot FC and Maidstone United Mk 1 did play each other on five occasions in the 1989-90 and the 1990-91 seasons. The first of those two campaigns saw a pair of wins for the Kent side, including a 2-0 win at what is now the EBB Stadium on 14 April 1990. That came after the Shots had been given a 5-1 hammering at Dartford FC’s Watling Street on New Year’s Day.
The following season saw greater success for the North-East Hampshire club, including a pair of home wins. They triumphed 4-3 in a Fourth Division game on 24 November 1990 whilst beating the Stones 2-1 in a Second Round FA Cup tie a fortnight later. The two sides then drew 1-1 in Kent on 8 May 1991, which was the penultimate game of Aldershot FC’s last full season in the Football League.
If Cheye Alexander plays, he will be making the 100th appearance of his senior career.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Craig Hicks from Surrey, who’s taken charge of three Shots home games this season – the 2-0 wins over Wrexham and Solihull Moors in August and October respectively, plus the 4-0 victory over Woking on Boxing Day. So far this season, he’s officiated in sixteen National League fixtures, showing 32 yellow cards and four red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team 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 them throughout the afternoon via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport, as well as following the game via @officialshots.