Aldershot Town slipped to a fifth straight league defeat, and their sixth in all competitions, after going down to a demoralising 5-2 defeat at Dover Athletic at the weekend. They take a break from league action on Saturday as they host fellow National League side Eastleigh in the First Round of the FA Trophy. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Having conceded twice from free kicks against Cheltenham Town seven days earlier, the last thing Barry Smith would have been expecting would be for his side to then concede five times from set-pieces at Dover. A right-wing throw-in was the starting point for Nicky Deverdics’ 22-yard drive after 55 seconds, whilst Jack Parkinson headed in from a corner to make it 2-0 to the hosts at half-time. After going almost seven hours without a goal, Sam Hatton and Charlie Walker then scored twice in ninety seconds at the start of the second half to make it 2-2. However, the Whites re-took the leader after ex-Shot Stefan Payne fired in from an uncleared corner, before Sean Raggett scored twice in five minutes from a corner (after a sliced clearance from by Cheye Alexander) and then a free-kick to complete the home side’s scoring.
Aldershot Town remains in 17th place in the table, but they slipped to within six points of the relegation zone. As a means of comparison, the Shots were one point further away from the bottom four after 24 games last season and a place higher in 16th. They had two more points (thirty compared to 28), but with the same amount of wins (eight). The first 24 league games of the 2014-15 campaign saw 26 goals, compared to this season’s 27, but this season’s Shots have conceded 39 goals (the fifth-worst current total in the division), which is eleven more than at this stage in the previous campaign. Last season also saw five wins in the first twelve home league games, compared to the three so far in 2015-16.
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.
They’ve been equally impressive in this campaign, sitting 4th with 43 points from their opening 23 games. However, after winning five and drawing two of their first seven in the league, a run of one point from five games resulted in the dismissal of manager Richard Hill on 23 September. Chris Todd, the former Eastleigh defender and Hill’s assistant, took over and has led the club to eleven wins and just two defeats in fourteen games. Even more impressive has been his record away from the Silverlake Stadium, with the Spitfires winning eight (including their last six) and drawing one of their nine away fixtures in all competitions. Their overall away record is the second-best in the National League.
Last weekend’s 2-0 win at Stourbridge also took Eastleigh to the Third Round of the FA Cup for the first time, where they’ll host Bolton Wanderers. Focus will be on the FA Trophy this weekend, however, with Todd telling the Southern Daily Echo: “We’ve got a lot of players in that dressing room who are showing they are among the league’s best. They’re hungry for success and the commitment and desire at Macclesfield (a 2-1 win on Tuesday evening) was outstanding. Regardless of the competition, I want a winning mentality around the club and we want to do well in the Trophy. It’s a good cup and probably doesn’t get enough credit. Whatever team I pick for Saturday, it will be with the aim of winning.”
Barry Smith made three changes for the trip to Dover Athletic, with the most notable seeing the return of Damon Lathrope after a two-game absence through injury. He replaced Tom Richards, who dropped to the bench, whilst Smith also changed his front two. Charlie Walker, who rewarded him with his first goal in nine games and his tenth of the campaign, and Cambridge United loanee Danny Carr started in place of Richard Brodie, who came off the bench in the second half, and Dan Walker, who was left out of the matchday squad for the first time as a Shot. Luke Oliver was an unused substitute after missing the two previous fixtures with a hip problem.
Gallagher will definitely be unavailable for the trip for this weekend’s game as he serves the final game of a three-match suspension, as will Marcus Harness, who has already featured in this competition whilst on loan at Ilkeston Town earlier in this campaign. Joe Oastler, who hadn’t played since 20 March and had a major ankle operation over the summer, made his comeback in the Hampshire Senior Cup on Tuesday and could feature this weekend having completed 78 minutes at AFC Portchester.
Eastleigh were able to keep the vast majority of last season’s play-off squad intact as they aim to mount a similar charge in this campaign. Former Shots captain Craig Stanley (five goals last season) moved to a National League rival in the form of 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 joined National League South side Sutton United. Defenders Dean Beckwith and Dan Spence, plus forwards Craig McAllister (eleven goals in 2014-15) and Stuart Fleetwood 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, eleven 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 (on 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. In the week before the loan window closed, Chris Todd brought in midfielder Matty Fanimo (Bishop’s Stortford), winger Robbie Willmott (on loan from Ebbsfleet United) and defender Wes Atkinson (on loan from Notts County) to bolster his squad.
Atkinson’s arrival was largely due to the recent injuries suffered to Jamie Turley (hamstring) and Dan Harding (calf), whilst Will Evans was injured in the warm-up at Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night and must be a doubt for the trip to North-East Hampshire.
Whilst the first five fixtures between Aldershot Town and Eastleigh took place in the Hampshire Senior Cup, they’ve met three times in the league over the last sixteen months. The Spitfires have won all three, including a 2-1 victory in North-East Hampshire back in August. James Constable gave the visitors the lead, Charlie Walker equalised on his full debut, but Lee Cook won it for Eastleigh with a fine goal in the 93rd minute. Last 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, with the Spitfires completing the double three months later, as goals from Craig McAllister and Stuart Fleetwood secured a 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium.
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.
FA Trophy history
Aldershot Town’s foray into the FA Trophy last season will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, going down 1-0 at the EBB Stadium to Ryman League Division One South side Burgess Hill Town. However, they did manage a trip to the quarter-finals in 2013-14, beating Weston-super-Mare (after a replay), Worcester City and Guiseley before going down to a 4-1 defeat at Havant & Waterlooville in the last eight. 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.
Eastleigh have only been eligible for the FA Trophy since 2003, with their best run also being to the quarter-finals in 2013-14. They defeated Maidstone United, Bury Town, Gateshead and Dover Athletic before losing 1-0 at home to Cambridge United. In another parallel with their opponents this weekend, the Spitfires also went out of last season’s FA Trophy in the First Round. Their result was less embarrassing, however, as they lost 2-0 at fellow Conference Premier side Woking.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Derek Eaton from Tewkesbury, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-1 home draw with Dover Athletic in August. This season he’s officiated in nine National League fixtures, showing 25 yellow cards and no red cards.
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