Preview: Aldershot Town v Barrow

Aldershot Town’s 2-1 win against Braintree Town on Easter Monday gave them their first win in six games, and lifted them to the 50-point mark in the National League. It was also a strong way to start a run of three home games, which continues on Saturday against in-form Barrow. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.

After the draw at Forest Green Rovers 72 hours earlier, not many Shots fans would have expected their team to go even better on Monday. That would have certainly been the case when the visitors took a 34th-minute lead via Simeon Akinola’s chip over Phil Smith. However, Barry Smith’s side equalised six minutes later when Omar Beckles headed in Nathan Ralph’s free kick in front of the East Bank. Aldershot Town improved after the break with Giorgio Rasulo, Sam Hatton and Jim Stevenson all having shots saved by Iron goalkeeper Tom King. Ross Lafayette had another blocked on the line by a defender, but his 69th-minute effort led to the winning goal. His shot was parried by King straight to Ralph who shot in from close range. The visitors pressed in the final twenty minutes, but failed to register a shot on target.

The come-from-behind victory was just the club’s second of the 2015-16 campaign, with both, remarkably coming against Braintree Town. It was also the Shots’ first such win at home in the league since the 3-1 victory against Welling United on 28 December 2013. Overall, it gives Barry Smith’s side eight points from losing positions this season, three less than their mark over the whole of the previous campaign. The win also means Aldershot Town are still unbeaten in their five games at home in 2016, whilst they’ve conceded just two goals in those three wins and two draws. At the other end of the pitch, however, their record of eighteen goals in nineteen home league games is the second worst in the division.

Barrow AFC were 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 with last season’s Conference North title. The two-time FA Trophy winner’s 87-point haul was two points clear of 2nd-placed AFC Fylde and saw the Cumbrians return to this level after two years away.

The Bluebirds have had a solid season and they sit 13th in the National League table with 53 points from 39 games. They’re currently on a seven-match unbeaten run, which has included four wins and three draws, but six of those games have come against sides in the bottom half of the table. Barrow are also unbeaten away from home in 2016, securing three wins and two draws in their five fixtures away from Holker Street this year. Whilst they have the tenth best scoring record in the division, only FC Halifax Town and Torquay United have conceded more than the Cumbrians’ total of 65 goals against this season. Forty of those have come in their nineteen away league games.

Paul Cox, who took over as manager from Darron Edmondson on 23 November, was delighted with Monday’s 4-1 home win over FC Halifax Town. He told the North-West Evening Mail: “I would love for the season another to go on for another 25 games now. I think the professionalism pleases me most… When you’re on the run of games that we are on, it’s very easy to take your foot off the pedal, but these players are hungry to win and to finish the season off well. We can talk about tactics and the way we played, but I think it was our mind-set going into the game that was key. I would have questioned it, not just with this group but with any group… That’s pleasing to me, because all I want is a winning team.”

Barry Smith named an unchanged line-up for the visit of Braintree Town, which meant the three-man midfield of Jake Gallagher, Sam Hatton and Jim Stevenson remained and performed very well once again. Luke Oliver started once again alongside Omar Beckles at centre-back, with the latter adding to an impressive performance by scoring his first national level goal on Monday. Left-sided midfielder Nathan Ralph capped a fine performance with the winning goal, which was also his first for Aldershot Town. It was also his first in any competition since September 2014 when he scored for Yeovil Town against Portsmouth in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

The Shots boss will be without midfielder Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot last month, and Joe Oastler, who picked up a knee injury at Chester, for the rest of the campaign. However, Rhys Browne will be available for selection after returning from international duty with Antigua & Barbuda.

With the club switching to full-time status after last season’s promotion, Darren Edmondson oversaw a major reshaping of the side’s playing staff. Thirteen players moved to Holker Street on a permanent basis, whilst eleven players moved on from the Cumbrian side. However, the majority of last season’s title-winning key players remained with the Bluebirds, including defenders Danny Livesey (who scored the winning penalty for Carlisle United against the Shots in the 2004-05 Conference Play-Off semi-final), Simon Grand (who played six times for Aldershot Town in February 2011) and Niall Cowperthwaite; midfielders Paddy Lacey, Danny Pilkington (six goals last season) and Alex-Ray Harvey, plus strikers Andy Cook (last season’s 23-goal top scorer, eighteen goals in this campaign) and Jason Walker (16 goals in 2014-15, nine this season). Amongst those who did move on were last season’s first-choice goalkeeper Tony McMillan (who joined Stalybridge Celtic), midfielders Izak Reid and Johnny Gorman (both AFC Telford United), Sam Sheridan (Chorley) and Karl Ledsham (Stockport County), plus defender Andy Burns (Tamworth).

The Barrow boss was able to bring in a number of Football League players over the summer. Former Sunderland goalkeeper Joel Dixon has been a fine capture, whilst Steve Williams (FC Halifax Town) and Neil Ashton (Wrexham) added National League nous. The Bluebirds bolstered their midfield ranks with Andy Haworth (after a loan spell from Cheltenham Town in 2014-15), David Mellor (Oldham Athletic), Mamadou Fofana (Oxford City), Elliot Newby (Bolton Wanderers) and Dave Symington (Carlisle United). The former Rochdale striker Ashley Grimes signed from Walsall, but has only managed one goal in this campaign. Paul Cox’s arrival has seen a number of arrivals, including the permanent captures of defensive midfielder Andy Parry (Luton Town) and winger Jordan Williams (Northwich Victoria). He’s also brought in a quartet of loanees to Holker Street – full backs Nick Anderton (Preston North End, eleven games on loan at the Shots earlier this season) and Ritchie Sutton (Tranmere Rovers), midfielder Brad Abbott (Barnsley) and striker Ben Tomlinson (Barnet, fourteen goals last season for Lincoln City).

The Barrow manager has a largely fully-fit squad from which to choose this weekend, including Danny Livesey. The defender should have recovered from the illness that saw him go off at half-time on Monday.

The first meeting between Aldershot Town and Barrow took place on 19 September in Cumbria, with the Shots producing one of their best performances of the season. A Charlie Walker brace and a Cheye Alexander cracker securing a 3-1 victory for the visitors, with Jason Walker’s penalty only proving to be a consolation. However, 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 three meetings between 6 March 1971 and 13 March 1972 all finished 1-1, with the Cumbrians last win coming by a 1-0 margin at North-East Hampshire in November 1996.

The Shots did manage an 8-2 victory at what is now the EBB Stadium in November 1963, and it was one of a number of wins they managed at home against Barrow. The eleven meetings in North-East Hampshire saw eight home wins, a pair of victories for the Cumbrians (both by a scoreline of 1-0 in August 1958 and November 1966) and a solitary draw in January 1972.

Jack Saville will be celebrating his 25th birthday on the day of the game.

Saturday afternoon’s referee is Rob Whitton from Essex, who’s taken charge of four Aldershot Town games this season – the 3-2 home win over FC Halifax Town last September, the 2-0 home loss against Cheltenham Town as well as the away wins at Boreham Wood (1-0 in October) and Welling United (1-0 in February). This season he’s officiated in seventeen National League fixtures, showing 45 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 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