Shots v Maidstone United match preview – 9 August 2016
Gary Waddock’s second spell in charge didn’t go the way that anyone associated with Aldershot Town would have wanted, but there were plenty of positives to come out of Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Barrow. He’ll be hoping to get his first win in front of the Shots fans on Tuesday evening against promoted Maidstone United. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Whilst Aldershot Town came back from Cumbria empty-handed, it certainly wasn’t for the lack of trying. After the hosts took the lead in the 7th minute through Liam Hughes, it was the Shots who arguably had the better chances. Matt McClure hit the post seven minutes later, whilst Scott Rendell was somehow denied a goal by Danny Livesey’s 75th minute goal line clearance. Both chances had been created by Shamir Fenelon, who spurned the Shots’ best chance in the 92nd minute after stumbling due to cramp when presented with an open goal; however he did recover to set up Rendell, who blazed over from 15 yards. At the other end, Jake Cole made several important stops, including an outstanding double save from Jordan Williams and Byron Harrison nine minutes into the second half.
Part of Waddock’s remit coming in to the job would have been to improve the club’s home form this season. The Shots had the fifth-worst home record in the National League in 2015-16, managing just 25 points and 23 goals in their 23 home league games; they also lost their last four at the EBB Stadium at the end of the campaign. Going further back, since beating Guiseley in the FA Trophy on 11 January 2014, the Shots have played 63 home fixtures in all competitions and have only managed to win 21 (three of which were in the FA Cup), whilst losing on 27 occasions. Those games have seen Aldershot Town score just 72 goals, scoring more than once in just nineteen of those outings.
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 (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.
Going in to the Play-Offs, Maidstone United had actually lost four of their last seven league games, but their overall form was excellent last season. A lot has been made of the Gallagher Stadium’s artificial 3G pitch, but the Kent side also had the third-best away record in National League South last season, winning twelve of their 21 games on the road, as well as the away leg of the Play-Off semi-final and the Play-Off final itself. Defensively, they were outstanding last season, with only the top two (Sutton United and Ebbsfleet United) conceding fewer than their forty goals. In total, they kept twelve league clean sheets, with eight of those coming on the road.
Their first National League game saw the Stones draw 1-1 at home to relegated York City. Speaking to Kent Online after the game, manager Jay Saunders, who’s been in charge since March 2011 said: “It’s split emotions really… I felt we did enough to win the game – we’ve got to take our chances – and, on the other side of it, it’s a poor goal we’ve conceded. It’s frustration more than anything but I’ve just said to the boys in there it shows, against one of the favourites, a full-time team, that we can compete at this level… I felt we deserved the three points, and we’ve not got it, but we’re moaning we haven’t got three points against a team that were playing League 2 football last year, so it shows you how far we’ve come.”
Gary Waddock named seven debutants – goalkeeper Jake Cole, defender Will Evans, midfielders Liam Bellamy and Callum Reynolds, wingers Shamir Fenelon and Bernard Mensah, and striker Matt McClure; the returning Anthony Straker was also in the first Aldershot Town starting eleven of Waddock’s second spell in charge. They were joined by Cheye Alexander, Jack Saville and Jake Gallagher, who remained from last season. Scott Rendell came off the bench at half-time for his first Shots appearance since April 2005, whilst there were further debuts for substitutes Iffy Allen and Jim Kellermann. The 4-1-4-1 formation employed in the first half at Barrow was changed to 4-4-2 with Rendell’s introduction for Evans, and it would be a major surprise if the Aldershot Town manager didn’t start Tuesday’s game with the line-up which commenced the second half in Cumbria.
Waddock got mixed news on Friday regarding last season’s top scorer Charlie Walker. Whilst he won’t need surgery after damaging his ankle ligaments in pre-season, he will be unable to take part in any footballing activity for at least six weeks, meaning it’s looking unlikely that he’ll feature for the first team until mid-October at the earliest.
Unsurprisingly, Jay Saunders has kept the majority of his promotion-winning squad together for their first season in the National League. Goalkeeper Lee Worgan, who made the National League South Team of the Season in 2015-16, has remained at the Gallagher Stadium, as have defensive colleagues Tom Mills, Callum Driver, Callum Davies and Jamie Coyle. In midfield, Saunders can choose from plenty of returning faces, including Vas Karagiannis (nine goals), Alex Flisher (seven goals), Dan Sweeney, Jack Paxman, Bobby-Joe Taylor (who scored the Stones’ goal against York City) and James Rogers. He’s also welcomed back last season’s thirteen-goal top scorer Jay May and Dumebi Dumaka, who scored six times in fifteen games, including the 121st-minute equaliser in the Play-Off Final, after arriving in February. Dumaka had spent the first part of last season with Grays Athletic of the Ryman League Premier Division, scoring 24 goals in all competitions.
The Maidstone United manager has made some astute signings over the summer, especially with centre-backs Kevin Lokko (Welling United) and ex-Shots triallist Anthony Acheampong (Ebbsfleet United). The midfield ranks have been supplemented with Jack Evans (Eastbourne Borough) and Football’s Next Star winner Ben Greenhalgh (Concord Rangers), whilst striker Tom Murphy has arrived from Dover Athletic. He only managed one league goal last season, but notched twelve times for the Whites in 2014-15. Amongst those who have departed are defender Manny Parry (Margate), wingers Matt Bodkin and Charles Banya, plus striker Alex Akrofi (on loan at Concord Rangers). Midfielder Joe Healy, who scored ten goals in the promotion campaign, may return to the club, but hasn’t signed on as yet. Speaking in May, Saunders said “Joe’s got a couple of weddings in the summer and then he’s going travelling to see his brother. About a month ago he said he’d like to stay but was in a situation where he would miss the first part of the season, regardless of what league we were in. He said he was happy to sign forms and play when he got back. It’s something we’ve got to look at.”
The Stones manager has a largely fully-fit playing squad from which to choose from on Tuesday, but he could be without Jay May, who was unavailable at the weekend because of a calf injury.
Aldershot Town and the current version of Maidstone United have never met in a competitive fixture, but 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.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Neil Hair from Cambridgeshire, who’s in his first season on the National Referees list. On Saturday, he took charge of Boreham Wood’s 1-0 home win over Forest Green Rovers.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Sport website from 7.35pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison