Aldershot Town complete the first half of their National League campaign this weekend, but they go into it on the back of four consecutive defeat in all competitions. They’ll be looking to end that run against table-toppers Cheltenham Town, who visit the EBB Stadium on Saturday. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Aldershot Town were guilty of not taking their chances at the weekend (not for the first time this month) and eventually came away from the game with nothing. The first hour of the contest was even, with Charlie Walker and Omar Beckles having chances in the first half, whilst Richard Brodie volleyed wide ten minutes after half-time. Phil Smith had a quiet afternoon, making a routine save from Mark Carrington’s 37th-minute header, before making an outstanding stop from Wes York in the 62nd minute. However, the home defence couldn’t clear the danger and York turned in Dominic Vose’s low cross from close range. Jake Gallagher then picked up two yellow cards in seven minutes to leave the Shots a man short, but Barry Smith’s side rarely threatened the Wrexham goal even with eleven men.
Aldershot Town have now scored just one goal in their last five games and that’s the main reason behind their poor form. They’ve only managed two points from their last five league games, whilst only notching one goal and one point in their last three league games at the EBB Stadium. However, it’s unfortunately the case that the home fans are used to such runs of form. Since beating Guiseley in the FA Trophy on 11 January 2014, the Shots have played fifty home fixtures in all competitions and have only managed to win seventeen (three of which were in the FA Cup), whilst losing on twenty occasions. Those games have seen Aldershot Town score just 59 goals, scoring more than once in just sixteen of those outings.
Last season’s relegation ended Cheltenham Town’s highly successful sixteen-year tenure in the Football League (their only one since the club’s formation in 1887), which saw two promotions to the third tier in 2001-02 and 2005-06, leading to a total of four seasons in League One. That the Robins also had League Two Play-Off defeats as recently as 2011-12 and 2012-13, under the leadership of Mark Yates, shows how surprising the Gloucestershire side’s demise has been. Yates started last season in charge of the Club, before his sacking last November, but none of Paul Buckle, Russell Milton (caretaker) and Gary Johnson (who took over on 30 March) could arrest the slump.
The Robins are looking well-placed for an immediate return, sitting top of the table with 44 points from 22 games. They’ve only been beaten twice – at Altrincham and at home to Tranmere Rovers, both in September – whilst their current unbeaten run in the league was stretched to nine games with last weekend’s 1-1 home draw against second-place Forest Green Rovers. As well as having the best defensive record in the division (seventeen goals conceded) and the second-best attacking record (only Grimsby Town have bettered their 44 goals), the Gloucestershire side also have the best away record in the National League. They’ve won five and drawn two of their last seven league games on the road.
Johnson was relatively pleased with last Saturday’s draw, telling the Gloucestershire Echo: “It was great to see the ground rocking and that’s a credit to everyone who helped get that. To the ones that haven’t been regularly, we can play better than that. But I think they would have seen a team with spirit, a spirit not to get beat. We are perhaps a bit disappointed only to get a draw with the team that are second in the table. Hopefully a few of them will come back again and give us another chance as we’ve been playing some good football this season… All in all, we’ve probably had the value for money from the game! But we’ve both gone away with a point from a battle.”
Barry Smith made two enforced changes for the visit of Wrexham, with Chris Barker coming in for Luke Oliver, whilst Jake Gallagher replaced Damon Lathrope. It was Barker’s first appearance since the last game of the 2014-15 campaign at Grimsby Town and the player-assistant manager slotted in at centre-back alongside Omar Beckles like he’d never been away. Gallagher’s return to the starting eleven was briefer than he’d have liked as he picked up his third red card in his last three starts for the club, which is a rather unwanted club record. Smith could give a debut on Saturday for Cambridge United loanee Danny Carr, with the 21-year old striker signing a deal until 9 January.
Jack Saville has missed the last three games with a hamstring problem and is a doubt to face Cheltenham Town on Saturday, whilst Luke Oliver (hip) and Damon Lathrope are also questionable to feature this weekend. Joe Oastler is back in training after an ankle operation over the summer and is expected to return to action in the next couple of weeks, whilst Gallagher will start a three-game suspension on Saturday. The 23-year-old picked up his sixth red card in his last 32 league appearances dating back to 11 November 2014 and you wonder when he’ll next be trusted in the first team.
As you’d expect from a team that suffered relegation last year, Gary Johnson oversaw a massive overhaul of the playing staff. Fourteen players arrived at Whaddon Road, whilst the majority of last’s season squad left the club. The Robins’ two top scorers last season – Byron Harrison (seven goals) and Terry Gornell (five goals) – actually moved on in the January transfer window, joining Chesterfield and Accrington Stanley respectively. Over the summer, ever-present goalkeeper Trevor Carson left for Hartlepool United, whilst former Shot Troy Brown (Exeter City), Matt Taylor (Newport County) and Matt Richards (Dagenham & Redbridge) also stayed in the Football League. Winger Andy Haworth moved to Barrow and left-back Craig Braham-Barrett joined National League South side Ebbsfleet United. Those players of note to have stayed with the Robins were midfielders Asa Hall (sixteen appearances for Aldershot Town at the end of the 2012-13 relegation season) and Joe Hanks, right-back Lee Vaughan (although he joined Tranmere Rovers on loan this week), plus the former Bristol Rovers striker Eliot Richards.
The Cheltenham Town manager has addressed the problems upfront with the signings of Danny Wright (ten goals last season for Gateshead, plus four for Kidderminster Harriers), Billy Waters (Crewe Alexandra) and Amari Morgan-Smith (Oldham Athletic, eleven goals for Kidderminster Harriers in 2013-14). Wright has ten goals in all competitions this season, one more than Waters, whilst Morgan-Smith has five. Reading striker Andrija Novakovich arrived on loan on Thursday to give Johnson a further attacking option. There have also been a trio of good midfield captures in the form of Kyle Storer (who split last season between Kidderminster Harriers and Wrexham), Harry Pell (Eastleigh) and former Shots loanee Jack Munns (Charlton Athletic, six goals this season), whilst James Rowe has arrived after leaving Tranmere Rovers in February and winger Ryan Jennings is on loan from Wigan Athletic. Johnson’s summer signings also included three goalkeepers: Dillon Phillips (on loan from Charlton Athletic until 2 January), Calum Kitscha (Hayes & Yeading United) and Rhys Lovett (Rochdale). There’s plenty of experience in the defensive captures of Aaron Downes, who is the new skipper and scored seven goals for Torquay United last season, and Danny Parslow, who signed from York City, but spent most of the 2014-15 campaign on loan at Grimsby Town. Young full-backs George McLennan (Reading) and Jack Barthram (Swindon Town) have also featured prominently this season, as has young Reading defensive loanee Rob Dickie.
Amari Morgan-Smith, who will miss the game with an ankle injury, is the only injury doubt for Cheltenham Town for the trip to Aldershot.
This weekend sees the tenth meeting between Aldershot Town and the Robins, with the Shots winning four, losing three and drawing two. The two ties have occurred in the last two fixtures between the clubs at Whaddon Road. The Shots drew 0-0 in Gloucestershire in August, whilst, in February 2013, loanee Danny Rose gave the visitors the lead before Paul Benson notched the equaliser prior to Anthony Tonkin’s red card. Shaun Harrad scored the only goal for Cheltenham Town in that season’s reverse fixture in August 2012 at the EBB Stadium.
Aldershot Town have two home wins against the Robins, including a 4-1 victory in September 2009. Dave Winfield, Anthony Charles, Marvin Morgan and Scott Donnelly got the goals that day, whilst one from Danny Hylton was enough for the hosts to pick up all three points in September 2011. Cheltenham Town secured a 2-0 win in North-East Hampshire in October 2010 thanks to goals from Danny Andrew and Jeff Goulding. Cheltenham Town also faced the old Aldershot FC in a FA Cup First Round tie in North-East Hampshire in November 1946, with the Shots winning at home by four goals to two.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Rob Whitton from Essex, and he’s taken charge of two Shots games this season – the 3-2 home win over FC Halifax Town in September and last month’s 1-0 victory at Boreham Wood. This season he’s officiated in nine National League fixtures, showing 25 yellow cards and no red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison 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