Despite their excellent form in the FA Cup, the Shots slumped to their third defeat in four league games on Wednesday, losing 1-0 to high-flying Macclesfield Town. Aldershot Town have another break from league action this weekend with Burgess Hill Town visiting the Electrical Services Stadium in the First Round of the FA Trophy. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Andy Scott was highly critical of his team following the midweek defeat, telling the club’s official website: “It’s not good enough and I’m absolutely furious. Some have believed the hype of the Cup run and think it’s too easy to turn it on and off”. The game itself was a poor affair, with both teams failing to produce much of note in the first half. Dan Holman, the Shots’ man-of-the-match, forced a superb save from opposition keeper Rhys Taylor four minutes into the second half, shortly before the visitors took the lead. Phil Smith saved well from Matthew Barnes-Homer, but Danny Whitaker prodded in the rebound. Holman hit the bar with nine minutes remaining, whilst Sam Hatton and Tristan Plummer had goalbound efforts deflected wide in the second half.
Despite some excellent home performances, Aldershot Town have actually failed to score in their last three games in North-East Hampshire, losing in the league to Eastleigh and Macclesfield Town, whilst admirably drawing with League One Rochdale in the FA Cup. The Shots had chances in all three games to secure victories, but just lacked that clinical edge inside the opposition’s penalty area. Overall, they have the 6th-worst home record in the Conference, losing five of their twelve home league games, but they’ve won two and drawn one of their three home cup games. Scott’s players have played very well defensively in recent weeks, keeping four clean sheets in their last eight league and cup outings.
Burgess Hill FC (they added the ‘Town’ in 1969) were formed in 1882, and they joined the Sussex County League in 1958. The Hillians had a run of five Sussex County Division One titles and two runners-up finishes between 1996 and 2003 before finally securing promotion to Step 4 of the non-league pyramid, albeit it to the Southern League. They moved over to the Ryman League prior to the 2004-05 campaign, and that’s where they’ve remained ever since, in spite of the odd flirtation with relegation. Last year, however, saw their best finish for ten years as they ended the Ryman League Division One South season in 6th place, just two points from a play-off place.
This season has seen the Sussex side go on an extraordinary run of form, losing just one of their 33 games in all competitions. They’re the only side in the top eight levels of English football still to be unbeaten in the league, with their only defeat coming at Conference side Dartford in the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup. That’s their only loss away from Leylands Park in sixteen games on the road so far in this campaign, whilst their current total unbeaten streak is eleven games. Their defensive record is the best in the division, conceding just sixteen goals in their twenty league outings, whilst they’ve failed to score on just two occasions in all competitions in 2014-15.
Burgess Hill Town’s form has attracted considerable attention, with 19-year-old striker Greg Luer signing for Premier League Hull City last month. Hillians’ chairman Kevin Newell told the Argus: “We are all delighted that Greg has made his first step towards realising his ambition to play at the highest level – though our pleasure is tinged with the disappointment that we will no longer have Greg’s talents at our disposal. He has been a key player for us this year and has been influential in the tremendous start to the season we have enjoyed. However, we have always made it clear to our younger players that we would help them progress their careers in any way possible and we are happy to honour that pledge with Greg.”
Andy Scott made four changes for the visit of Rochdale, with Mark Phillips (who’d missed the previous seven games after injuring his thigh at Portsmouth last month), Naby Diallo, Sam Hatton and Andre McCollin coming in for the injured Joe Oastler, Mark Molesley, Jordan Roberts and Manny Oyeleke. The latter two were on the bench, as was Tristan Plummer for the second consecutive game following his loan spell at Southern League Premier side Weymouth. McCollin’s return meant the Shots started in a 4-4-3 formation, although the hosts reverted to 4-4-2 shortly after Macclesfield Town took the lead. Bearing in mind, the Shots boss’ criticism of his team after Wednesday’s defeat, further changes must be expected on Saturday.
Oastler was absent for the first time this season after suffering a fractured cheekbone against Rochdale and must be highly doubtful for this weekend’s FA Trophy tie. Left back Anthony Tonkin has been out for two months with a calf injury, whilst midfielder Damon Lathrope has been out for a similar length of time with a groin problem. Josh Scott will be out for the foreseeable future after scans revealed a broken metatarsal suffered in the home defeat against Gateshead last month, whilst Joe N’Guessan has missed the last three games with an ankle problem. Plummer will also be unavailable having played in the competition whilst with Weymouth.
Ian Chapman has managed to blend youth and experience amongst his squad this season, with plenty of his squad being familiar to followers of Sussex football. Behind the side’s excellent defensive record has been goalkeeper Josh James, who, like a handful of his teammates, was once a member of the Brighton & Hove Albion youth system. In front of him this weekend should be the quartet of centre backs Andy Pearson and youth product Will Miles, plus full backs Toby Pointing and Neill Watts, with the latter making over 300 appearances for the Hillians. Sam Fisk, who played in the Conference Premier with Lewes, could also be an option at left back.
Club captain Darren Budd (formerly of Eastbourne Borough) and Joe Keehan (ex-Crawley Town and Rushden & Diamonds) form an excellent central midfield duo, with Graham Martin, Scott Kirkwood and Spencer Slaughter all strong options from the bench. Fourteen-goal top scorer Rob O’Toole and Lee Harding should start in the wide areas, whilst Dan Perry (ten goals in 2014-15, with seven in his last seven outings) and Greg Luer (thirteen goals so far this campaign) are Chapman’s favoured strikers at the moment, although Pat Harding (top scorer in the previous three seasons, ten goals in this) could also start upfront. If he plays, it could be one of Luer’s final games for Burgess Hill Town with his move to Hull City set to go through on 1 January.
The Burgess Hill Town boss should have an almost fully-fit squad to choose from on Saturday, although Scott Kirkwood has missed the last three games through injury.
This is the first competitive fixture between the Shots and Burgess Hill Town.
FA Trophy history
Aldershot Town’s foray into the FA Trophy last season took them to the quarter-final stage, beating Weston-super-Mare (after a replay), Worcester City and Guiseley along the way. Loanee striker Aiden O’Brien scored a goal in all four of those games, but he’d returned to Millwall by the time the Shots faced Havant & Waterlooville in the last eight. On a wet night in South Hampshire, Jordan Roberts’ first half red card proved crucial, with the Hawks scoring four unanswered goals against the ten men. Brett Williams’ 81st minute penalty was not much of a consolation. The Shots’ best performances in this competition came in 2003-04 and 2007-08, when they reached the two-legged semi-final stage before losing to Hednesford Town and Ebbsfleet United respectively.
The Hillians’ foray to the First Round of this competition is their best showing since 2003-04 and 2004-05, when they reached the Second Round. To show the impressive nature of their current FA Trophy run, in the nine years since 2005, they’d reached the Second Qualifying Round on just two occasions. This season’s run started in the Preliminary Round, when a Greg Luer goal gave them a 1-0 home win over Aveley of the Ryman League Division One North. A Pat Harding brace then got them past Chesham of the Southern League Premier Division in a First Qualifying Round home tie, whilst the next stage was breached thanks to Dan Perry’s only goal of the Second Qualifying Round replay (the first game finished goalless at Leyland Park) against fellow Ryman League Division One South side Folkestone Invicta. Burgess Hill Town then came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Leatherhead of the Ryman League Premier Division in the Third Qualifying Round, thanks to two goals from Joe Keehan and a late screamer from Darren Budd.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Constantine Hatzidakis from Kent, who has never previously taken charge of an Aldershot Town fixture. So far this season, he’s refereed three Conference South games, whilst also acting as an assistant referee in the Premier League and Championship.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website from 2.55pm.
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Plus, we want your reaction to the game between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday in ‘The Final Whistle’. Win, lose or draw, we want to hear from you throughout this season. Call us on 03459 57 00 57 and let your voice be heard.