Wednesday night’s home defeat to league leaders Forest Green Rovers – the Shots’ third defeat in four games – moved them down to 15th in the National League standings. This weekend, Aldershot Town face a second home game in three days as they welcome Altrincham to the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The 3-0 midweek defeat was almost a complete reverse of the previous weekend’s win at Torquay United. On Wednesday, Rhys Browne could have had a goal after a typical pacey, jinking run within the first ten seconds, which started an open, end-to-end opening twenty minutes. However, it was two fine goals from Darren Carter and Kurtis Guthrie that gave Rovers the lead at half-time. Jim Stevenson had a header from six yards out pushed away by Jonny Maxted just after the hour mark, whilst Cheye Alexander’s blistering late drive was also saved by the visitors’ keeper, but chances for the Shots were rare. In between those efforts, Aaron O’Connor claimed his seventh goal of the season with a neat finish.
Barry Smith was highly critical of his team’s defending after the game, especially with regard to individual errors. Forest Green Rovers’ tally means the Shots have conceded at least three goals in four of their last seven games, with only four National League sides conceding more than Aldershot Town’s 25 goals in this campaign so far. It was also a second consecutive 3-0 home loss, which continues a worrying trend. Since beating Dover Athletic 3-1 on 3 March, Aldershot Town have only won three of their last twelve home league outings. They’ve only managed twelve goals in those games, scoring more than once on just two occasions, whilst keeping just two clean sheets during that stretch.
Formed in 1891, Altrincham are one of non-league’s proudest and most-decorated clubs. Previous long-term spells in the non-league’s top tier from 1979 to 2000 (they won it in its first two seasons) and 2005 to 2011, plus two FA Trophy triumphs and their long-standing record of beating sixteen Football League teams as a non-league team in the FA Cup, meant many fans felt they’d returned to their rightful level after promotion from Conference North in May 2014. The Robins had finished 3rd in the table before defeating Hednesford Town and Guiseley in the Play-Offs. Last season saw the Greater Manchester side finish 17th, eleven points above the relegation zone.
Altrincham are currently 19th in the table, just six points above the bottom four. They won just three of their opening eleven games, before a three-game unbeaten run which included 1-0 wins over Boreham Wood and Barrow. The former victory was their first away win after five defeats to start the campaign, followed by a draw at Lincoln City. Their struggles this season have come about from a poor goalscoring record, notching just thirteen league goals. Only Southport with twelve have scored less in the National League in 2015-16. Despite that, however, they have managed to beat Cheltenham Town, Tranmere Rovers and Grimsby Town, as well as picking up a point against Eastleigh.
The Robins’ inconsistency was addressed by manager Lee Sinnott when he spoke to the club’s official website after Tuesday’s 3-1 home loss to struggling FC Halifax Town. He said: “We are a part-time outfit with a small squad, so you have to be careful with that one. It is an interesting question, but if we were beating everyone, teams above us and below us, we would be in the Football League. What you can say, I suppose, is we blow hot and cold. As I said, this league is unlike any other, with the mixture of full-time and part-time teams, which, in turn, tends to lead to a mixture of performances and results. It is that consistency of performance and result we must strive for.”
Barry Smith named an unchanged line-up on Wednesday night, and understandably so, after the excellent win at Torquay United. That meant Matthew Barnes-Homer was preferred once more to Richard Brodie upfront alongside top scorer Charlie Walker, whilst the midfield started in the diamond formation that proved so successful at Plainmoor. Tom Richards made his first appearance since 29 August after coming on at half-time for Nick Anderton and, with the Preston North End left-back returning to his parent club, Saturday could see Richards’ first start since the opening day. Another option for the Shots boss would be for Luke Oliver to return at centre-back with Jack Saville moving to the left.
Jake Gallagher will serve the final game of his three-match ban at the weekend, whilst defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty, however, are longer-term absentees. The former’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until late October, whilst McGinty, who suffered a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town, is aiming for a return to the starting eleven for the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round tie on 24 October.
For the second season in a row, Lee Sinnott has kept the majority of his playing squad from the previous campaign. Maybe most importantly, he managed to hang on to 21-goal top scorer Damien Reeves, although he’s struggled to repeat that form this season, whilst veteran goalkeeper Stuart Coburn (684 Altrincham appearances and counting!) also remained at Moss Lane. Also staying with the Robins were defenders Gianluca Havern, Adam Griffin, Scott Leather and Tom Marshall; midfielders Nicky Clee (seven goals last year), Shaun Densmore, James Lawrie, Jake Moult and Simon Richman, plus forwards Ryan Crowther and Jordan Sinnott. A number of players did depart the Robins including experienced defensive midfielder Peter Cavanagh, who retired to take up a coaching role at Everton. Forwards Kyle Perry (nine goals in 2014-15) and Sean Williams, along with second-choice stopper Dave Parton, moved to Hednesford Town, whilst striker Steven Gillespie joined Warrington Town.
Two of Sinnott’s new strikers have already got seven goals between them in this campaign. George Bowerman, who arrived from Accrington Stanley, tallied on four occasions, whilst former Aldershot Town forward Michael Rankine (seven goals in 58 games between 2011 and 2013), has notched three times since joining from Gateshead. Midfielder Josh O’Keeffe moved from Kidderminster Harriers, but fellow summer midfield arrival Anthony Griffith (Carlisle United) made just two appearances before retiring due to a long-term hip injury. Tim Deasy joined from Northwich Victoria to back up Coburn and defender Andy Parry is currently in the second month of a two-month loan spell from Luton Town.
Parry was brought in as injury cover for Tom Marshall, who suffered a dislocated ankle and broken fibula in a fixture against Guiseley in August. Stuart Coburn will also be missing this weekend after injuring his calf at the end of the same month, Ryan Crowther is struggling with a hamstring problem whilst Michael Rankine may be a doubt after missing the last two games with a back problem.
Saturday afternoon sees the tenth meeting between Aldershot Town and Altrincham, with the Shots winning three, drawing two and losing four of the previous fixtures. This game last season was on the campaign’s opening day, with Brett Williams, Jordan Roberts and Josh Scott getting the goals in a 3-1 home win at the EBB Stadium, with Nicky Clee’s goal proving a mere consolation. Altrincham got a measure of retribution in February when a Chris Barker own goal proved the difference between the two sides in his first game as caretaker player-manager.
Prior to 2014-15, the last time the two clubs met was in the Shots’ promotion-winning season, with the North-East Hampshire club securing a pair of 2-1 wins. Jonny Dixon and Louie Soares scored for the visitors in the game at Moss Lane in September 2007, whilst Anthony Charles and Scott Davies notched for the hosts in the return game six months later. The 2006-07 season saw a pair of goalless draws between the two sides, but Altrincham managed to complete an emphatic double over the Shots in 2005-06. James Olsen and Colin Little got the goals in a 2-0 win in North-East Hampshire on 27 August 2005, whilst the Shots were battered 5-1 in the away game in January 2006. The teams first met at the EBB Stadium in the fourth round of the FA Trophy in early February 1999 with the visitors winning 2-1.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Mark Pottage from Dorset, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-1 home draw against Wrexham back in April. So far this season, he’s overseen five National League games, showing 21 yellow cards and two 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 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 @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison