Aldershot Town v Tranmere Rovers – National League Play Off Semi First Leg – Wednesday 3rd May 2017
Two goals in four second-half minutes against Braintree Town on Saturday secured Aldershot Town’s final three points of the National League season and ensured qualification for the two-legged Play-off semi-final with Tranmere Rovers this week. The result also confirmed that The Iron, Play-Off contenders themselves last season, will play in National League South next term. Will Evans rose high to powerfully head home Nick Arnold’s 55th minute corner and, soon after, Bernard Mensah wriggled his way into the visitors’ penalty area before despatching a low shot into the corner to double the score.
Following the match, the home side showed appreciation for the wonderful support they’ve received all season with a lap of honour around The EBB Stadium. Then, in the centre of the pitch, Shots’ keeper Jake Cole was named both Players’ and Supporters’ Player of the Year, and Jake Gallagher received the Away Travel Group award.
Rob Worrall previews the action…
Shots manager Gary Waddock made two changes for the Braintree match. He rested Gallagher and started Manny Oyeleke, following several impressive cameos from the bench. Idris Kanu (suspended for the previous match) returned as Jim Kellermann made way.
Tranmere Rovers were formed in 1884 and were founder members of Division Three North in 1921. That started an unbroken 94-year spell in the Football League that had some incredible highs along the way. A Division Three North title in 1937-38 led to one year in the second tier of English football, a level they returned to in 1991. Their decade in the Championship saw three Play-Off appearances and a League Cup Final defeat in 2000 to Leicester City. The Wirral side dropped into the bottom tier with a defeat on the last day of the 2013-14 campaign, before finishing dead last in League Two twelve months later. Their first National League campaign ended with a sixth-place finish, two points from the Play-Offs.
Rovers began this season strongly, winning six and drawing one of their opening seven fixtures. Their first defeat came at The EBB Stadium in September and the winless run of four games that followed saw the departure of then-manager Gary Brabin. His replacement, Micky Mellon soon had Tranmere firing again and he has led the team to 23 wins from his first 36 games in charge.
Rovers have finished the season strongly, with nine wins from their last eleven matches, one defeat (0-1 at home to Forest Green) and one draw (2-2 v Shots). They have the best away record in the National League with 44 points earned from their 23 games on the road. Their Club-record points total (95) was ultimately only enough to secure the runners-up spot. Rovers have scored 79 goals (joint-fourth best in National League) and at the other end, conceded just 39. Only Aldershot Town themselves have conceded less (37).
In an interview posted on Rovers’ club website, Mellon praised his squad for the season they have had, but says that is now behind them with all focus on the Play-Offs: “It has been a brilliant season, but we now go into a cup competition which we’re really looking forward to. Aldershot will find it difficult against us. We’ve got a good team and we’ll concentrate on ourselves and delivering what we do. We’ll be prepared, we know what’s at stake and we’re ready to get it on. I love the Play-Offs. It’s where you find out a lot about yourself as a manager. It will be exciting – there will be good crowds at both games.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with GetSurrey’s Kaylee Seckington, Waddock shared his pre-match thoughts: “It’s a young group we put together in the summer, so we didn’t know where we would end up. There are some big sides in the play-offs and I don’t think anyone expected us to be there. I think they will deal with the pressure fine. We have been up there (Prenton Park) recently, performed very well and that was in front of the cameras also. There’s no fear among young players really. They go out and express themselves so I am looking forward to watching them over the two games and seeing how far they have come.”
Most Apps: Keeper Scott Davies & defender Steve McNulty both made 45 league appearances.
Most Goals: Andy Cook is Rovers top scorer with 23 league goals in just 32 starts this season.
Key Player: Former Macclesfield & Wrexham attacker Connor Jennings is in great form, scoring 6 goals in his last 5 games.
Town and Rovers have met four times in the National League, the first game taking place in September 2015 at Prenton Park. Sam Hatton gave the visitors a fifth-minute lead, before Rovers replied with goals from James Norwood, ex-Shot Adam Mekki and Andy Mangan to secure the points. In the return game (February 2016), the sides played out a goalless draw. Back in September, Bernard Mensah gave Shots an early lead, before Andy Cook levelled the scores. However, a penalty from Scott Rendell and a blistering Will Evans volley earned Town a 3-1 victory.
Three weeks ago, the teams met again at Prenton Park, with the spoils shared in a 2-2 draw. Matt McClure gave Aldershot Town an early lead, before the home side turned things around with first-half goals from Cole Stockton and Connor Jennings. Bernard Mensah’s left foot half volley levelled the scores again before half time and The Shots returned home with a valuable point.
The sides also met in two Second Round FA Cup matches in 2009. The first game on the Wirral finished goalless, before Rovers came through 2-1 in the replay, Oliver Bozanic scoring for Shots. Rovers played Aldershot FC in 32 league games, between 1961 & 1987, with all but four taking place in the old Fourth Division. Overall, The Shots won thirteen, lost twelve and drew seven of those fixtures.
Wednesday’s match referee is Craig Hicks, who has taken charge of 26 National League matches this season, issuing 67 yellow cards and 6 red cards. He has previously refereed Aldershot Town on five occasions and they are yet to concede a goal when Hicks is in charge. They have won four and drawn one of those five matches. In the only match in which he has refereed Tranmere Rovers this season, they lost 1-0 at home to Forest Green Rovers.
BBC Surrey’s Rob Worrall and ex-Shots goalkeeper Nikki Bull will be covering the game on Wednesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Sport website from 6.45pm for full match commentary. You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @RobShot66 and @BullWorldTrip