Shots v Barrow match preview – 11 February 2017
Aldershot Town stretched their unbeaten run to six games with last weekend’s 2-0 victory at struggling Maidstone United. The Shots moved up to 6th in the table, just two points from the Play-Off places and now face fellow promotion chasers Barrow on Saturday at the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Whilst the scoreline looks comfortable, Saturday’s game was anything but for Aldershot Town. Despite taking the lead through Kundai Benyu’s nineteenth-minute free kick, it was the hosts who finished the first half the stronger, with Reece Prestedge forcing a save from Jake Cole, Seth Nana-Twumasi shooting over from distance and Jamar Loza having a goal-bound shot deflected wide. In the second half, Stones centre back Jamie Coyle had a point-blank header saved by Jake Cole two minutes after half-time and then shot into the side netting from another set-piece in the 73rd minute. However, thirteen minutes later, Jake Gallagher doubled the Shots lead with a cushioned volley from Jonny Giles’ looping cross. There was still time for substitute Alex Flisher to hit Cole’s crossbar four minutes into stoppage time.
The three points in Kent also lifted Aldershot Town to the fifty-point mark in the National League this season. The total of 31 games to make it to that mark is the fewest in any Shots season since the 2007-08 promotion campaign, when they managed it in just 22 fixtures. That pace is even more rapid than the 2009-10 League Two Play-Off campaign, when the team got to the fifty-point mark after 33 league outings. Another element of the Shots season so far is that they’d only be eleventh if games ended at half-time. They’ve held a lead on just nine occasions (five at home, four away) in the league at the break, whilst their first half goal differential is +2, compared to +8 in the second period of games.
Barrow AFC was formed in 1901 and were founder members of Division 3 North twenty years later. Before being voted out of the league in 1972 (to be replaced by Hereford United), they did manage three seasons in the Football League’s third tier between 1967 and 1970. The Bluebirds were also part of the original line-up for the Alliance Premier League (now the National League) for the 1979-80 campaign. They’ve actually been promoted to this level on five occasions, the most recent of which came via winning the Conference North title in 2014-15. The two-time FA Trophy winners (1990 and 2010) finished 11th in their first season back at this level, fifteen points from the play-off places.
The Cumbrians have had a vastly improved campaign this time around, sitting 7th in the National League table with 49 points from 29 games. Most of the season has been spent in the play-off places, but they’ve lost four of their last five league games (conceding ten goals in the process) to drop out of the top five. Prior to that, the Bluebirds had gone nineteen league games unbeaten, with the run of ten wins and nine draws dating back to 27 August. They’ve gathered eighteen points from fourteen league games on the road, but they’ve lost their last two on the road at York City and Gateshead. Their league totals of 47 goals scored and 30 conceded are both good for the fifth-best records in the division.
Paul Cox, who led Mansfield Town to the Conference Premier title in 2012-13, also saw his side progress to the FA Trophy quarter-finals at the weekend, beating Kidderminster Harriers. He told the North-West Evening Mail: “The performance today wasn’t brilliant, but the result was… This last month has been the most vulnerable we have been as a football club … We started like this at the start of our run at the beginning of the season. We ground out a few good wins, we kept clean sheets and we worked hard as a side. Even though I don’t think there was a lot of quality on show from us today, I was more impressed with how resolute we were, how organised, and that application and desire to keep clean sheets again.”
Gary Waddock made three changes last weekend, with one of them seeing an Aldershot Town debut for 21-year-old left back Callum Buckley. He certainly played his part in the team’s thirteenth clean sheet of the league campaign, a total only bettered by Dagenham & Redbridge. At the other end of the pitch, Matt McClure made his first league start since 26 November, whilst Jim Kellermann came into a three-man central midfield alongside Kundai Benyu and Jake Gallagher. That meant Anthony Straker, Scott Rendell and Idris Kanu all dropped to the bench, with the latter pair coming on just after the hour mark. Oxford United loanee Jonny Giles had another impressive cameo as a substitute and could be an option as a starter for the visit of Barrow.
Waddock was without just two players for Saturday’s win at Maidstone United. Central midfielder Liam Bellamy will have an operation this 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, should return to the side later this month.
Cox has continued to shape the Barrow squad into his image, with eleven new arrivals and thirteen departures last summer. The biggest loss was certainly thirty-goal top scorer Andy Cook, who moved to Tranmere Rovers, whilst second top scorer Jason Walker (thirteen goals) was released and joined Chorley. Meanwhile midfielder Paddy Lacey moved to Accrington Stanley and captain Simon Grand (a former Shots loanee) signed for National League North side Salford City. Forward Ashley Grimes and full-back Neil Ashton joined Southport, whilst Steve Williams (AFC Fylde), Dave Symington, Dan Pilkington (Stalybridge Celtic), Brad Carroll and Alex Newby (both Clitheroe Town), Mo Fofana and Danny Eccles (Bradford Park Avenue) have also moved on from Holker Street. After Andy Haworth’s departure for Macclesfield Town earlier this month, the only key players from last season who have remained at the club are goalkeeper Joel Dixon, defender Danny Livesey, midfielders Andy Parry and Alex-Ray Harvey, plus young forward Jordan Williams.
The task of replacing Cook was supposed to fall to Ross Hannah, who notched 26 goals for Chester last season, but it’s Byron Harrison (Chesterfield, 21 goals in this campaign) and Richie Bennett (Northwich Victoria, sixteen goals this season) that have been the best attacking options for the Barrow manager. The defensive corps has certainly been solidified with Shaun Beeley (Morecambe), Nick Anderton (Preston North End, played eleven games on loan at the Shots last season) and Moussa Diarra (Hampton & Richmond). Paul Turnbull (Macclesfield Town) and Liam Hughes (Inverness Caledonian Thistle) look excellent midfield captures, whilst the former Alfreton Town winger Lindon Meikle adds depth to the squad. In the last couple of months, Cox has brought in a number of reinforcements, including loanee midfielders Akil Wright (Fleetwood Town), Dan Rowe (Wycombe Wanderers) and Jack Thomas (Mansfield Town). Another loanee, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Jon Flatt, is the current first-choice goalkeeper; whilst strikers Shaun Tuton, who recently arrived from Barnsley on loan until the end of the season, and Inih Effiong (23 goals this season for Southern League Premier Division side Biggleswade Town) have signed recently to give the Barrow boss extra options in the attacking third.
Paul Cox, however, could be without Dixon and Harrison for the rest of the campaign after they suffered knee ligament and ankle ligaments injuries respectively, whilst Andy Parry and Liam Cockerline will also be missing this weekend due to long-term knee issues.
The first two meetings between Aldershot Town and Barrow took place last season, with the away side coming out on top on both occasions. In September 2015 at Holker Street, the Shots produced one of their best performances of the season. A Charlie Walker brace and a Cheye Alexander cracker secured a 3-1 victory in Cumbria, whilst last April, Andy Cook scored the only goal of a game that the Bluebirds dominated and in which the hosts failed to manage a single shot on target. On the opening day of this season, Barrow also won 1-0. Liam Hughes broke the deadlock after just seven minutes, but Matt McClure, Scott Rendell and Shamir Fenelon all missed good chances to draw the Shots level.
The Bluebirds did face Aldershot FC on 23 occasions. The first, a 2nd Round FA Cup tie in December 1934, resulted in a 2-0 win for the visitors at Holker Street, but the other 22 all took place in the Football League’s Fourth Division. Those games saw ten wins for the Shots, five for Barrow with seven draws. The Shots did manage an 8-2 victory at what is now the EBB Stadium in November 1963, but their results in Cumbria were less impressive. Of the eleven league meetings at Holker Street, six were draws, including the last four. Aldershot FC did manage two wins – 4-3 in January 1959 and 2-0 in April 1964 – whilst Barrow won on three other occasions. The last four fixtures all ended in ties, with a triumvirate of 1-1 results and a 2-2 scoreline in September 1965.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Constantine Hatzidakis from Kent, who’s taken charge of two Shots games this season – the 2-1 win at Dover Athletic in August and the 4-0 home loss to Forest Green Rovers in October. The latter game saw Will Evans receive a dubious red card, whilst Mr Hatzidakis also gave Jake Gallagher his marching orders twice last season. So far this season, he’s officiated in fourteen National League fixtures, showing 49 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 us throughout the afternoon via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport