Aldershot Town started 2015 with a 1-0 defeat at league leaders Barnet, a defeat which saw them drop to 18th in the Conference table. The Shots will hope to get back to winning ways as they take on the division’s bottom side, AFC Telford United, on Sunday afternoon at the Electrical Services Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Andy Scott’s side’s loss on New Year’s Day saw them encounter similar issues to the defeat to the Bees on Boxing Day. A lack of attacking guile and inventiveness meant they struggled to break down Barnet, whilst Charlie MacDonald took his goal well after a defensive mistake in the visitors’ penalty area. The goal came three minutes after Andre McCollin spurned a great opportunity to open the scoring. The Bees could have been further ahead at the break, after which the Shots improved. Dan Holman had their first effort on target in the 70th minute, with substitutes Tristan Plummer (on at half-time for the unwell Brett Williams) and Dan Fitchett also having good opportunities to notch an equaliser. However, the home side always looked comfortable in securing their 19th league win of the campaign.
The defeat means the Shots have lost seven of their last nine games in all competitions, whilst only picking up three points from their last possible eighteen in the Conference. The obvious area of concern is in the attacking third, with those nine games seeing Aldershot Town score just six goals. In fact their record of thirty goals from 28 league games is the fourth-worst in the division and needs dramatic improvement if they’re going to move towards mid-table safety. Aldershot Town’s home form has also dropped off the cliff, with four defeats, one draw and an own goal in their last five fixtures in all competitions. Only Southport have scored fewer than the Shots’ fifteen home goals in the Conference.
AFC Telford United were formed in 2004 after the demise of Telford United, which was largely down to the financial collapse of the other businesses of then-owner Andy Shaw. Starting in Northern Premier League Division One, AFC Telford United got an immediate promotion, followed by one from the Premier Division two years later. A first promotion to the non-league top-flight was earned in 2010-11, but, after just two seasons, they were relegated back to Conference North. Last year, AFC Telford won their first league championship to take their place amongst the non-league elite once again.
However, the Bucks have struggled this season and are currently bottom of the table, fourteen points from safety. Just three league wins in their first 24 outings saw manager Liam Watson sacked on 13 December, with Steve Kittrick taking over nine days later. AFC Telford are currently on a ten-game winless run in all competitions, whilst their last league win came eight games ago against Altrincham on 12 November. Their defensive record (61 goals conceded) is the worst in the division, as is their away record. In fact, the Shropshire side have won only one of their sixteen away games in all competitions, with that coming via a 3-1 victory at Woking on 18 October.
Kittrick has started with two points against relegation rivals Nuneaton Town, including a goalless home draw on New Year’s Day. Speaking to the Shropshire Star before that game, the ex-Guiseley boss laid out his approach: “When I went to Guiseley the crowds were about 250 and when I left (six years later) there were 700-800 and we were playing good football. I just want to get people playing, enjoying their football and I want supporters to come here with a smile on their faces and enjoying what we put on for them. We know the situation we are in. We will endeavour to get out of it and it will be a massive plus for us to get the ground full. When you have a big crowd behind you it can put points on the table.”
Andy Scott made one change for the game at Barnet, with Phil Smith returning from his one-game suspension in place of Dan Thomas, who dropped to the bench. That meant Jordan Roberts continued at left-back and a three-man central midfield of Sam Hatton, Kieron Forbes and Manny Oyeleke. Both Oyeleke and Dan Holman are scheduled to return to their parent clubs after this weekend’s game, so will hope to finish their current loan spells on a high. Left back Anthony Tonkin was an unused substitute for the second straight game after missing almost three months with a calf problem.
Shots skipper Glenn Wilson missed his second straight game with a knee injury, whilst Mark Molesley’s achilles problem has been described as a long-term ailment, so he’ll be out for the foreseeable future. Damon Lathrope (who’s been out for almost three months with a groin problem) and Josh Scott (who broke a metatarsal in the home defeat against Gateshead at the beginning of November) are back in training and may be ready for returns later this month. Loanees Mark Phillips (AFC Wimbledon) and Joe N’Guessan (Stevenage) have both returned to their parent clubs.
Liam Watson was able to keep the majority of his promotion-winning squad over the summer, although he did lose his captain Simon Grand (moved to Barrow), first-choice goalkeeper Ryan Young (Havant & Waterlooville) and midfield general Matty McGinn (Welsh Premier side Airbus UK). During the season, the Bucks have also seen midfielder Mike Phenix move to League One side Barnsley, whilst right-back Ryan Higgins joined Chester earlier this week. Those first-choice players who have remained at AFC Telford include defenders Chris Lever, Wes Baynes, Andy Owens and Neill Byrne; midfielders Mike Grogan (fifteen goals last season), Sean Clancy (twelve goals) and Charlie Barnett, plus strikers Adam Farrell (seventeen goals in 2013-14 to lead the Bucks) and Tony Gray, who leads the team with nine goals in this campaign.
Nine players arrived at New Bucks Head over the summer, with Jonathan Hedge (Grimsby Town) having the unenviable task of replacing Young in the AFC Telford goal. Ex-Chester and Oxford City goalkeeper Freddy Hall has since arrived to provide competition at that spot. Rod McDonald (Hereford United), Steve Akrigg (Southport) and Andy Todd (Tamworth) add Conference Premier experience to the centre-back position, whilst Kristian Platt joined from Conference North club Stalybridge Celtic. Central midfielder Godfrey Poku looks a good capture from Mansfield Town, whilst Jordan Deacey (Bradford Park Avenue of Conference North), Josh Hancock (Witton Albion) and Sam Smith (four league goals on loan at Hereford United last season) add options in the attacking third of the pitch. Left back Kyle Brownhill is on loan from Hyde until later this month, whilst right-back Kyle Dixon arrived on loan from Notts County on Friday until the end of the season.
Kittrick currently has injury issues in defence with Sean Clancy (broken ribs and collarbone), Rod McDonald (knee) and Steve Akrigg (knee) all unavailable for the trip to Aldershot. Poku’s recent knee injury meant he was only an unused substitute on New Year’s Day, whilst Platt may feature after a recent hamstring problem.
Aldershot Town faced AFC Telford United for the first time on 17 August, with the Shots winning 2-0 at New Bucks Head. It was almost the archetypal away win, with the visitors taking an early lead as Joe Oastler hammering home from the edge of the area after just five minutes. A Brett Williams 26th-minute penalty put them firmly on top, with a solid team effort from the visitors then closing the game out in the second half to ensure a comfortable three points.
The Shots had a pair of league games against Telford United in the latter’s final season. Although the Shropshire side scored first in both games, they were defeated twice by the Shots, including a 5-2 defeat at the New Bucks Head. An Aaron McLean brace, plus goals from Jon Challinor, Tim Sills and Fiston Manuella gave the visitors a comfortable victory on 16 August 2003. Five months later, Sills also scored in the return fixture, but two late goals from Roscoe Dsane were the decisive strikes in a 3-1 win for Aldershot Town.
Aldershot FC also played one competitive game against the Bucks, triumphing 5-3 in North-East Hampshire in a 1st-Round FA Cup tie in November 1953.
If he plays on Sunday, Chris Barker will make the 650th senior appearance of his career.
Sunday afternoon’s referee is Nigel Lugg from Surrey, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-1 draw at Dartford in October. So far this season, he’s refereed ten Conference games, showing 46 yellow cards and four red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison will be covering the game on Sunday afternoon. Tune into the BBC Surrey website at around 2.50pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the game via our Twitter feed: @bbcsurreysport