Aldershot Town are still looking for their first win of the season after Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Wrexham left them with a return of one point from three games. The side’s tough run of fixtures to start the campaign continues on Tuesday night with a home outing against one of last season’s surprise sides, Dover Athletic. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The positive energy created by last week’s point at Cheltenham Town was largely lost after Saturday’s drubbing in North Wales. Barry Smith’s side were second best all over the pitch, with the Wrexham midfield constantly given time and space to pick apart the visitors’ deep-lying defence. Wes York turned in Connor Jennings’ flick to give the home side the lead after twenty minutes, with York also hitting the crossbar after a defensive error in the 44th minute. Wrexham doubled their lead after James Gray headed home seven minutes into the second half, whilst Dominic Vose’s penalty in second-half stoppage time gave the scoreline a more realistic look. Phil Smith made two fine saves from Jennings to keep the score respectable, whilst the one Shots’ shot on target came from Jim Stevenson on the hour.
With the opening day home loss to Gateshead, where the side played very well for the opening hour, the Shots have now won just one of their last six games at the EBB Stadium and scored just six goals in the process. It’s fair to say that three points on Tuesday is more important than the performance, with the Shots only managing 27 goals (only three teams scored fewer) and 29 points (fifth-worst in the division) at home last season. Smith will also be highly concerned with his side’s defending from set-pieces, with all three games thus far characterised by defensive confusion from free kicks and corners. The tally so far stands at four goals conceded (plus one from a penalty), and countless other chances given up.
Dover Athletic were formed in 1983, following the demise of Dover FC, and they have had a rollercoaster history thus far. Two promotions from the Southern League’s Southern Division (1987-88) and Premier Division (1992-93) saw the start of nine seasons in the non-league top-flight, with a best finish of 6th in 1999-2000. However, financial difficulties saw three relegations in four seasons, which left the club in Ryman League Division One. Under the stewardship of Andy Hessenthaler, consecutive promotions were won in 2007-08 and 2008-09, which saw the Whites climb into Conference South. It was from there that they were promoted via the Play-Offs in 2013-14 after a 5th-place finish in the league.
Initially, the Kent side struggled last season and were 20th after seventeen games, but a thirteen game unbeaten streak lifted them clear of danger. An 8th-place finish was an excellent return for the Whites, with their home form being particularly impressive. Only Bristol Rovers, Barnet and Macclesfield Town bettered their 43 points in 23 games, but their away form was only good for 14th in the Conference Premier. This season so far has seen mixed results for the Whites with their only away game seeing a 2-1 loss at Barrow on the opening day. In the two home games since then, they’ve beaten Kidderminster Harriers 3-2 and played out a goalless draw with Chester on Saturday.
Chris Kinnear, who took over in January 2013 after previously managing the Whites from 1985 to 1995, did a fantastic job last season and his squad are hoping for better in this campaign. Prior to the opening day loss in Cumbria, defender Tyrone Sterling told the Dover Express: “We have kept the core of the team from last season. Some have gone of course, but the main core is still here… We can definitely push on. I have tried to drill that in to the new lads that have come here. We want to improve on last season, finish higher in the table. Sixth or seventh would be great but we really do think the play-offs are there for us this year. We are hungry to do that.”
After the impressive showing at Cheltenham Town, Barry Smith unsurprisingly opted for an unchanged starting line-up for the game at Wrexham. The one change came amongst the substitutes with new signing Richard Brodie coming in to the squad for Chris Barker. Brodie, who scored twelve league goals for Southport last season and has Conference winners’ medals from his time at Crawley Town and Fleetwood Town, made his debut as a 58th-minute replacement for Matthew Barnes-Homer, but struggled to get into the game as the Shots were starved of possession. The 28-year-old striker will most likely start against Dover Athletic on Tuesday night, whilst the Aldershot Town manager may also choose to make changes in his defence, with Jack Saville being an option to make his first start for the club.
Sam Hatton missed his second consecutive game after taking a bump to the kidney during the opening day home defeat against Gateshead. He may be available for the game on Tuesday, but Smith will continue to be without two key defenders, with Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty both unavailable. Oastler has only played once since Valentine’s Day because of an ankle injury, whilst McGinty suffered a broken metatarsal in the pre-season win over Basingstoke Town.
Chris Kinnear has made fewer summer changes to his squad than most in the National League, with ten departures being offset by seven new signings. The biggest loss was captain Connor Essam, who left for League Two side Leyton Orient, whilst fellow centre-back Sean Francis moved to Bromley. Those that have also departed the Whites include former Shots Solomon Taiwo (Margate) and Adam Mekki (Tranmere Rovers), fellow midfielders Craig Stone, Barry Cogan and Christian Nanetti, plus forwards Nathan Elder and Jake Reid. Plenty of last season’s squad have remained at Crabble though, including eighteen-goal top scorer Stefan Payne, fellow striker Tom Murphy (twelve goals in 2014-15), midfielders Nicky Deverdics (ten goals last season), Ricky Modeste and Chris Kinnear Jr., defenders Richard Orlu, Tyrone Sterling and Sean Raggett, plus goalkeepers Mitchell Walker and Andy Rafferty.
The tough task of replacing Essam falls on the shoulders of ex-Kidderminster Harriers centre-back Jamie Grimes, whilst former QPR youngster Sam Magri is expected to be the new first-choice right wing-back. Matt Young (Sheffield Wednesday) may also feature in Dover Athletic’s back five in this campaign. Naby Diallo, who played twelve times for Aldershot Town last season before moving to Bath City, adds depth to the midfield, as does former Woking player Jack Parkinson. Ricky Miller, who scored five times for the Whites last season whilst on loan, has signed permanently from Luton Town, whilst Duane Ofori-Acheampong has arrived from Torquay United to add attacking options to the Dover squad.
However, the Dover Athletic boss will be without Murphy on Tuesday night after the striker is scheduled to miss the next month because of a hamstring injury, and Andy Rafferty, who has his appendix removed. Ricky Modeste, who went off against Kidderminster Harriers last week after rolling his ankle, is another doubt for the game against the Shots.
Tuesday night’s game sees the sixth meeting between Aldershot Town and Dover Athletic, with last season’s games being the first in the league. Back in March, this game finished 3-1 to the home side, thanks to Andre McCollin and Jim Stevenson’s brace, which made up for the defeat in the reverse fixture. A horror show at Crabble last September saw the Shots go down to a 3-0 defeat that flattered the visitors.
The three previous occasions saw the sides face off in the FA Cup. The most recent one of those saw two Adam Birchall goals give the Whites (then of Conference South) a 2-0 home win against Kevin Dillon’s team in a Second Round tie in November 2010. The Kent side also won by the same score in the only other meeting at Crabble, which was a Second Qualifying Round fixture in September 1996. Aldershot Town’s sole victory came courtesy of a Gary Abbott goal in a Fourth Qualifying Round game at what is now the Electrical Services Stadium on 31 October 2000.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Derek Eaton from Tewkesbury, who’s in his first season on the National Referees List. Eaton, who’s also a Premier League linesman, has taken charge of one National League game this season; Woking’s 2-0 home win over Bromley last Tuesday.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Sport website from 7.35pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison