Shots v Eastleigh match preview – 29 August 2015
Aldershot Town picked up their first win of the season last Saturday with a comprehensive 4-0 win at newly-promoted Guiseley. This coming weekend, The Shots will aim to pick up their first three points at home in 2015-16 as high-flying promotion contenders Eastleigh visit the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Barry Smith’s first win in English football came with a mix of clinical finishing and the occasional slice of defensive fortune. The opening twenty minutes saw the home side create a number of good chances without hitting the target, before Richard Brodie finished crisply from Jim Stevenson’s pass in the 22nd minute. Eleven minutes later, Stevenson doubled the lead from ten yards. However, the game was over as a contest four minutes into the second half as Cheye Alexander’s wonderful slaloming run (reminiscent of Ricky Villa according to his manager) resulted in his first senior goal. Brodie made it 4-0 with ten minutes left to give the Shots their biggest away win since 21 April 2012 when they won by the same score at Burton Albion in a League Two fixture.
With the majority of the plaudits going to the forwards on Saturday, it’s also important to highlight the side’s defensive play. Centre-backs Omar Beckles and Luke Oliver both had impressive games to help Aldershot Town to their second clean sheet in four games. This comes after they kept just two in their previous 27 league fixtures. Keeping the opposition off the scoresheet at home must be the next aim, with The Shots keeping just one clean sheet in their last seven home games (a 2-0 win over Torquay United on Easter Monday). One table that Barry Smith won’t want his side to be on top of for long are the Fair Play standings, with his team leading the way with twelve bookings so far in this campaign.
Eastleigh were formed in 1946 as Swaythling Athletic, and then played as just Swaythling, before settling on their current moniker in 1980. The club first rose to prominence with three successive promotions (Wessex League Premier Division to Southern League Eastern to Ryman Premier Division) between 2002 and 2005, which started a nine-year stint in Conference South. 86 points was enough to give them a triumphant championship title in 2013-14. The Spitfires finished 4th in their maiden campaign in the non-league top flight, ten points behind champions Barnet. However, their promotion hopes were dashed by a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Grimsby Town in the Play-Off semi-finals.
The Spitfires are on course for similar success in this campaign and are one of only three sides to be unbeaten after five games, alongside leaders Forest Green Rovers and Cheltenham Town. Their eleven points from five games sees them sitting 4th in the embryonic National League table, whilst only the former have conceded fewer goals than Eastleigh’s three this season. They had the third-best away record in the division last season, and so far in 2015-16, they’ve won 4-0 at Southport and drawn 2-2 at Welling United. Their fixture last Saturday saw them secure a 1-0 home win over Macclesfield Town.
Manager Richard Hill, who took charge in September 2012, has been very bullish about his club’s new place in football’s pecking order, which has been enhanced by the financial backing of Chairman Stewart Donald. He told the Southern Daily Echo earlier this month: “Something that’s become apparent to me is that, outside of the Football League, Eastleigh is becoming the next most desirable club to play for. Obviously people think I’m biased saying that, but I honestly do believe it… No disrespect to Aldershot and Woking, but we have become the National League club to play for in the south-east. Everyone believes we’re paying fortunes and, for that reason alone, it puts us into that bracket – even though we’re not paying as much as people think we are.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the trip to Guiseley, with Jake Gallagher replacing Damon Lathrope and Rhys Browne returning to the starting eleven in place of Matthew Barnes-Homer, who dropped to the bench. Gallagher was his usual combative self in midfield, whilst Browne’s 33rd-minute effort was parried straight to Jim Stevenson for the midfielder’s first goal of the campaign. The front two, Dan Walker and Richard Brodie, showed signs of already striking up a good understanding, with the former setting up the latter for his second goal of the afternoon, and Brodie’s third in two starts for Aldershot Town.
That second goal, however, saw Brodie limp off the field of play, and, whilst his ailment has improved this week, he must be considered a doubt for Saturday’s game with Eastleigh. Lathrope (groin) will be back in full training in around ten days, whilst loanee left-back Nick Anderton (ankle) missed the trip to West Yorkshire, but returned to full training earlier this week. Smith, however, will continue to be without key defenders, Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty. 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.
Eastleigh have been able to keep the vast majority of last season’s play-off squad intact to mount a similar charge in this campaign. Former Shots captain Craig Stanley (five goals last season) has moved to a National League rival in the form Lincoln City, whilst fellow midfielder Harry Pell did likewise when he joined Cheltenham Town. Veteran striker Deon Burton left the Silverlake Stadium for Brackley Town, whilst four players have moved to National League South side Sutton United. Defenders Dean Beckwith and Dan Spence, plus forwards Craig McAllister (eleven goals in 2014-15) and Stuart Fleetwood have all made the trip to Gander Green Lane. Amongst those to have remained with the Spitfires are goalkeeper Ross Flitney; defenders Paul Reid, Jamie Turley, Michael Green and Will Evans; midfielder Jai Reason (eleven goals last season) and forwards James Constable (top scorer in the previous campaign with nineteen goals, four already this season), Jack Midson (eleven goals last season), Yemi Odubade and Ben Strevens (eight goals in 2014-15).
Two former Shots were amongst Richard Hill’s six permanent summer signings, with midfielder Josh Payne (three goals in 35 games between January and December 2012) and defender Joe Partington (ten games, one goal in a loan spell during January and February 2014) arriving from Woking and Bournemouth respectively. The most eye-catching signing was left-back Dan Harding, who made 28 appearances in the Championship last season for Nottingham Forest and Millwall (loan). Andy Drury (Luton Town) and Lee Cook (Barnet) add experience to the midfield ranks, whilst striker Ross Lafayette (Luton Town) will hope to recapture the form that saw him score seventeen times for Welling United in 2013-14. Hill also snapped up Portsmouth goalkeeper Michael Poke on loan until January 2016.
The Eastleigh manager has a largely fully-fit squad to choose from this weekend, but he will be without Ross Flitney, who injured his thumb last month.
Whilst the first five fixtures between Aldershot Town and Eastleigh took place in the Hampshire Senior Cup, they met in the league for the first time last season. On 14 August, in front of the TV cameras, the two clubs played out a dour encounter decided by a 90th-minute goal from home striker Ben Wright. The Spitfires then completed the double three months later, as goals from Craig McAllister and Stuart Fleetwood secured a 2-0 win for the visitors.
Of those five previous ties, Aldershot Town won four and lost one, with both sides triumphing once at what is now the EBB Stadium. A Lee Charles brace in January 2003 gave the home side a 2-1 victory in a quarter-final match-up, whilst Eastleigh got a measure of revenge twelve months later, triumphing 1-0 in a 4th Round game in North-East Hampshire. The Shots had won their first three games at the Silverlake Stadium, including the most recent Hampshire Senior Cup tie in March 2007 when Kirk Hudson got the only goal in a quarter-final match.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Chris Powell from Dorset, who took charge of two Shots games last season – the opening-day 3-1 victory over Altrincham in North-East Hampshire and the defeat by the same score at Welling United on 20 December. So far this season, he’s officiated in three Conference games, showed ten yellow cards and no red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town defender Joe Oastler will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2.10pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Sport website 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