Aldershot Town’s first game of 2016 resulted in a 2-1 defeat at local rivals Woking, a loss that dropped the Shots to 17th in the National League table. Their first home game of the new calendar year sees them take on fellow mid-table side Chester on Saturday at the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
For the first time, Aldershot Town suffered two league defeats to Woking in the same season. However, as with their home game on Boxing Day, it was their first half display that cost them. After 25 minutes, John Goddard’s left-wing cross was turned in by striker Joe Quigley, whilst Goddard scored himself in first-half stoppage time. The visitors had chances between the two goals, with Jim Stevenson forcing a good save from Woking keeper Jake Cole, before the crossbar was hit in the melee from the resulting corner. Two minutes before his goal, Goddard’s free-kick forced a superb save from Phil Smith. With sixteen minutes to go, Rhys Browne got a goal back for Barry Smith’s side after Stevenson’s shot was saved, before Charlie Walker hit the crossbar in the 87th minute with what was the Shots’ last chance.
The defeat was Aldershot Town’s seventh in their last nine league games, a dismal run where they’ve secured just four points out of a possible 27. The Shots have only managed to score five goals in their last ten games in all competitions, whilst they’ve tallied more than one goal on just one occasion in their last sixteen games in all competitions. Despite those statistics, Aldershot Town are even worse at home over the last few months, with four league defeats in five, and just one goal in their last five competitive fixtures at the EBB Stadium. As things stand, only Boreham Wood, Kidderminster Harriers and Torquay United have a worse home league record than the Shots in 2015-16.
The story of Chester FC has been a brief and, mostly, very successful one. The supporters-run club was founded in 2010 following the demise of their precursors Chester City, who were wound-up in March of that year after a string of financial problems, points deductions and on-pitch struggles. Continuing to play at the Deva Stadium, the Blues secured three straight promotions, winning the Northern League Division One North, the Northern League Premier Division, and then the Conference North in 2012-13. Their first season at this level was one of struggle, with the Blues ending the campaign in the relegation zone before a reprieve due to Hereford United’s expulsion. Last season saw a more comfortable 12th-place finish.
After a good start to 2015-16, where the Blues won three and drew two of their opening six league fixtures, they’ve dropped to 15th in the National League standings, two points and two places above the Shots. Their recent form has been poor, winning just one (against struggling Torquay United on 19 December) of their last eight league games, whilst they’ve only managed one point from their last five games away from the Deva Stadium. Overall, they’ve secured just eleven points from thirteen away National League games. Chester also opened the season in good form defensively, starting with three consecutive clean sheets, but they’ve only managed two in 25 games since then.
Last Saturday, Chester boss Steve Burr, who’s been in charge since January 2014, was very disappointed with his side’s 1-1 home draw with Altrincham. He told the Chester Chronicle after that game: “The game should have been killed off at half-time and it was a message at half-time that one mistake or lapse of concentration could cost us and it did. We had lots of chances. Our delivery into the box was excellent and there were lots of chances that like I say we should have added to the one goal that we got… If we’d have been more clinical we’d have won the game comfortably. I thought we were the best team but like I say if you don’t put the ball in the net then you’re not going to win games.”
Barry Smith named an unchanged starting line-up for the short trip to Woking last Saturday, which meant Jake Gallagher continued in central-midfield, Tom Richards and Sam Hatton remained in the wide midfield positions, whilst Charlie Walker and Danny Carr continued their partnership upfront. However, the Shots boss is hoping to add a loan signing before the Chester game. There was a place in the squad for the returning Rhys Browne, who’d missed the previous three games with a virus. He marked his return with his fourth goal of his debut season for Aldershot Town and may well return to the starting eleven this weekend.
Richard Brodie missed his second successive game at the weekend after suffering a back spasm before the fixture at Eastleigh, so he must be a doubt for Saturday. Sam Hatton may also be questionable to feature after taking a knock to his ankle during the first half at Woking, whilst ever-present right-back Cheye Alexander has suffered from illness this week and will be assessed nearer to the weekend.
Steve Burr was able to re-tool his squad last summer with excellent replacements coming for those key players that did leave the Blues. Amongst those who moved on were joint-top scorer Sean McConville (eleven goals, to Accrington Stanley), midfielder Kingsley James and centre-back Matty Brown (both FC Halifax Town), defenders Gareth Roberts (Stockport County) and Kieran Charnock (Chorley), plus long-term loanee Matty Hughes, who returned to Fleetwood Town. The Chester boss, however, did manage to hang on to striker John “Brother of Wayne” Rooney (who also scored eleven times in 2014-15, but only has four goals so far this season), midfielders Craig Mahon and Craig Hobson (both scored seven times last season), defenders Ben Heneghan (eight goals in the previous campaign) and Ryan Higgins, plus goalkeeper Jon Worsnop. Midfielder Michael Kay also re-signed before leaving Chester last month to take a break from football for personal reasons.
McConville’s goals have been more than replaced by the former Grimsby Town striker Ross Hannah, who has sixteen goals this season, including twelve in his last eleven games. His most recent partner has been Danny Hattersley, who’s on loan from FC Halifax Town, and scored at the EBB Stadium for his parent club in September. The midfield has been enhanced by the arrivals of Luke George (Southport), Tom Shaw (Alfreton Town), Jordan Chapell (Torquay United), Steven Hewitt (signed at the start of this transfer window after being released by Burnley) and Ryan Lloyd (on loan from Port Vale until the end of January), whilst Dylan Forth (Aston Villa) is the back-up to Worsnop. In defence, the experienced pair of Ian Sharps (Burton Albion) and Johnny Hunt (Cambridge United) have been the first choices at centre-back and left-back respectively this season, whilst Thursday saw the arrival of young centre-back Ryan Astles from Northwich Victoria.
In what must be a real rarity at this stage of the season, Burr should have a full squad from which to choose on Saturday afternoon.
Saturday sees the fifth meeting between Aldershot Town and Chester, all of which have been in what is now the National League. The Cheshire side won both games last year by the score of 1-0. John Rooney scored the only goal in this corresponding fixture last April, whilst Matty Hughes was the game-winner at the Deva Stadium in October 2014. Seven months earlier, a Brett Williams brace gave the Shots a comfortable 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium, with Jaydon Gibbs’ 90th-minute goal securing a point for the Shots in that campaign’s away fixture in November 2013.
Aldershot Town previously played four league games against Chester City, with a record of one win, one defeat and two draws. Both sides won a game apiece at the Deva Stadium, with the Shots’ Marvin Morgan scoring the only goal of the game in November 2008. Four-and-a-half years earlier, the Cheshire club had won 4-2 in a game that saw both teams reduced to ten men.
Chester City (confusingly also previously known as Chester) also had 45 games against Aldershot FC between 1948 and 1989. The Shots‘ record at the club’s old Sealand Road ground was poor, winning five, losing eleven and drawing six of their 22 visits. However, their overall record against the Blues was very much in their favour thanks to a string of excellent results at home. Of those 45 games, Aldershot FC won nineteen, drew thirteen and lost thirteen.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Brett Huxtable from Devon, who took charge of the Shots’ goalless draw at Cheltenham Town earlier this season, as well as Aldershot Town’s 3-1 victories at home to Dover last March and at Forest Green Rovers the following month. This season he’s officiated in ten National League fixtures, showing twenty yellow cards and one red card.
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