After two defeats in a row, Aldershot Town have now confirmed their National League status with Saturday’s 2-0 win at FC Halifax Town, coupled with results elsewhere in midweek. They now face two consecutive games at the EBB Stadium, starting with relegation-threatened Boreham Wood this coming weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Those Shots fans who made their way up to West Yorkshire on the eighth annual Tour of Duty couldn’t have been more pleased with their side’s textbook away performance at the weekend. The visitors weathered early FC Halifax Town pressure, but from the half-hour mark they bossed the game. Ross Lafayette was denied by home goalkeeper Sam Johnson in the 38th minute, but he could do nothing to stop Jim Stevenson’s brave header from Rhys Browne’s cross in the first minute of the second half. Johnson saved well again from Charlie Walker’s free kick four minutes later, but he was beaten for a second time with Browne’s rasping 83rd-minute drive from the edge of the area. Dan Thomas’ best saves came in second half stoppage time from James Bolton’s header and Shaq MacDonald’s shot.
The win also meant that the Shots have equalled last season’s total of 53 points with three games to go this season. Having picked up more points on the road in 2015-16, Barry Smith and his players will be desperate to finish their home campaign with a pair of good results and performances heading into the summer. After going five games unbeaten at home to start 2016, Aldershot Town have lost their last two at the EBB Stadium against Barrow and Grimsby Town. Overall, they’ve lost ten of their 21 home league games this season, scoring just 21 goals in the process. Only Boreham Wood (17) and Kidderminster Harriers (19) have managed to score less frequently at home than the Shots.
Boreham Wood was formed in 1948 by the amalgamation of two local sides, Boreham Rovers and Royal Retournez, winning promotion to the Isthmian League for the first time in 1974. In 2010, the Wood won promotion to Conference South via the Ryman League Premier Division Play-Offs. After four midtable finishes, they made the play-offs for the first time last season having finished second, two points behind champions Bromley. After a 4-2 aggregate semi-final win over Havant & Waterlooville, the Hertfordshire side beat Whitehawk 2-1 after extra-time, winning a promotion to the top-flight of non-league football for the first time in the club’s history.
However, the side have struggled this season, sitting 21st with 41 points from 43 games, two points from safety. The club were shocked when Ian Allinson, who’d led them to last year’s promotion, left the Wood on 12 October with the side 15th in the table with twenty points from sixteen games. His assistant Luke Garrard took over, but he’s won just five of his 27 league games in charge. Boreham Wood have only won one of their last nine games and are without a win in their last five on the road. Defensively, they’ve been very good this season (48 league goals conceded, 7th best in the division), but only Welling United (35) have scored less than the Hertfordshire club’s 38 league goals.
On Saturday, Boreham Wood went down to a very disappointing 2-0 home defeat to Southport, with Garrard telling the Borehamwood and Elstree Times after the game: “I thought there would be a reaction after the FC Halifax game. Unfortunately we were poor all over the park today. At any level gifting the opposition two goals in the opening half is a recipe for disaster, at this level even more so. Fortunately for us, the other results went our way and it means that our season will now hinge on one thing and one thing only – our trip to Aldershot next Saturday. I still believe and we need to have conviction from here on in to save our season.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the trip to FC Halifax Town, with goalkeeper Dan Thomas and player-assistant manager Chris Barker coming in for injury victims Phil Smith (who was named amongst the substitutes) and Jack Saville. For Thomas, it was just his fifth start in two seasons with the Shots and his first since the loss at Tranmere Rovers on 22 September. Barker featured for just the second time this season (the other was at home to Wrexham in November), with both additions playing crucial parts in the team’s fourteenth league clean sheet of the 2015-16 campaign. There was also a return for midfielder Nathan Ralph, who came off the bench after missing two games with a chest infection.
The Aldershot Town manager could be without as many as eight players this weekend as the squad gets stretched in the final month of the season. He will definitely be without midfielder Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot in February, and Joe Oastler, who picked up a knee injury at Chester last month, whilst Sean McGinty (dislocated shoulder) and Alfie Pavey (ankle, returned to Millwall) both picked up their season-ending knocks on Saturday. Phil Smith missed out with a thigh problem; Jack Saville has an ankle injury, whilst Dan Walker and Luke Oliver have both missed recent games due to a virus.
Allinson made a number of eye-catching signings following Boreham Wood’s promotion in the hope of securing a second season in the non-league top flight. The most notable was the former Dagenham & Redbridge captain Scott Doe, who made 243 Football League appearances for the East London club, whilst midfielder Luke Howell also arrived from the Daggers. Experienced striker Charlie MacDonald signed after eight goals and a Conference winners’ medal with Barnet last season, with former Bees loanee Conor Clifford, who signed from Southend United, also bringing the experience of that title-winning campaign. Joe Devera (Portsmouth) has partnered Doe at centre-back on occasions, whilst the former Tranmere Rovers full-back Danny Woodards has also been a regular in this campaign. Billy Clifford (Walsall) and Clovis Kamdjo (season-long loan from Forest Green Rovers) have added depth to the midfield. Garrard has brought in a number of players since taking charge with defender David Stephens (Barnet) and forward Jordan Chiedozie (Cambridge United) signing on permanent deals. He also has a quintet of loanees from which to choose – strikers Jamie Lucas (Bristol Rovers, top scorer with seven goals), Harry White (Barnsley), Danny Haynes (Ebbsfleet United), Delano Sam-Yorke (Forest Green Rovers) and defender Jack Connors (Dagenham & Redbridge).
Undoubtedly, Boreham Wood’s biggest loss from the previous campaign was 32-goal top scorer Lee Angol, who returned to Luton Town after the completion of his one-year loan deal. Not only was he the Conference South’s top scorer with 24 league goals, making the Conference South Team of the Year in the process, he also won the prestigious Young Player of the Year Award at the National Game Awards. Former Aldershot Town captain Ben Herd also left Meadow Park in the summer, joining Hemel Hempstead Town, whilst Scott Thomas and Ben Martin moved to St Albans City and Ryan Hope moved to Wealdstone. Forwards Mustafa Tiryaki and Anthony Jeffrey have moved on during the course of the campaign, with the latter signing for Forest Green Rovers. However, Allinson was able to keep a number of key performers from the promotion-winning squad, including goalkeeper James Russell (who was also named in the Conference South Team of the Year), defenders Callum Reynolds, Ben Nunn and Sam Cox; midfielders Ricky Shakes (twelve goals in 2014-15), plus forward Ricky Morias, whose thirteen goals last season included the winner in the Play-Off Final.
Garrard has a largely fully-fit squad from which to choose, but Danny Haynes missed the loss at Southport with a hamstring injury and must be considered a doubt for this weekend’s game.
Saturday afternoon sees the fourteenth meeting between these two sides with Aldershot Town winning ten, losing two and drawing just once. Their first meeting at National League level took place on 13 October, with former Wood loanee Charlie Walker netting in the 10th minute of a 1-0 win. The last games prior to that were during the Shots’ 2002-03 Ryman League Premier Division promotion-winning campaign, both of which they won 1-0. A Nick Roddis goal gave the hosts the win at what is now the EBB Stadium in February 2003, whilst Roscoe D’Sane got the only goal of the game at Meadow Park the previous November. Arguably the most famous fixture between these clubs was the 1999 Isthmian League Cup Final, which Aldershot Town won 2-1 after extra time, thanks to a Gary Abbott brace.
Aldershot Town’s home record against Boreham Wood is very impressive with five wins and just the one defeat in six games, keeping four clean sheets and conceding just three goals. As well as the above home victory in 2002-03, the Shots recorded a thumping 6-0 win in November 1998, with Roy Young and Gary Abbott both netting hat-tricks in a Ryman League Premier Division fixture. Current Head Groundsman Andy Nunn scored in a 3-1 win for the hosts in April 1995, whilst the only triumph for the visitors in North-East Hampshire came in November 2001 with a 2-0 win, also in the Ryman League Premier Division.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is David Rock from Hertfordshire, who took charge of Aldershot Town’s 5-2 hammering at Dover Athletic in December, as well as their 2-1 win at Woking in December 2014. This season he’s officiated in ten National League fixtures, showing 24 yellow cards and no 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