After the euphoria of Wednesday night’s FA Cup First Round replay win over Portsmouth, Aldershot Town can now look forward to a home tie in the Second Round against Rochdale on 7 December. However, before then, the Shots have three league games, starting with the visit of Eastleigh this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
For the second consecutive game against their League Two opponents, Andy Scott’s charges were the better side and thoroughly deserving their historic win. Wednesday’s replay at the Electrical Services Stadium wasn’t quite as thrill-a-minute as the first tie, but it certainly matched it for drama and passion from the Shots players, staff and fans. The home side weathered an early storm, with Phil Smith making an excellent save from Farnborough-born Jed Wallace in the 20th-minute. However, from the hour mark, the home side dominated. Mark Molesley headed wide with the goal gaping, whilst Brett Williams and Dan Holman forced saves from Pompey keeper Paul Jones. Molesley then got the decisive goal nine minutes from time to send the home fans home happy.
The victory completed an excellent week for the club with three straight wins, all of which were achieved with a clean sheet to boot. It’s the first time since February 2013 that Aldershot Town have kept the opposition off the scoreboard for three consecutive fixtures and is a fine reward for some excellent defensive play this season. Only five teams have conceded fewer than the Shots’ 21 goals in twenty Conference games, and it’s certainly a solid base from which to build. The victory against Portsmouth also means that Aldershot Town have now won five and lost just one (and that to a last-minute winner against Gateshead) of their previous seven games in North-East Hampshire.
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. Play-off semi-final defeats in 2009 and 2013 preceded last season’s league title, which resulted in the club’s first-ever campaign in non-league’s top flight. The Spitfires also had a run to the last eight of the FA Trophy, beating Gateshead along the way, before they were defeated by Cambridge United.
The newly-promoted side have made a solid start to life in the Conference, sitting tenth with thirty points from eighteen games. Their form has been good of late, with the Spitfires on a six-game unbeaten run, which includes ten points from four league games. However, a streak of the opposite kind has affected Eastleigh on their travels. Since an opening day 3-0 win at Nuneaton Town, they’ve failed to win any of their following seven away league fixtures, although they did manager a 1-0 win at Kidderminster Harriers in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round. Scoring goals hasn’t been a problem for the southern Hampshire club; their record of 31 goals in eighteen games is the fourth-best in the division.
Manager Richard Hill, who took charge in September 2012, was relatively positive after last weekend’s home game against Lincoln City was postponed after a fire at the Imps’ hotel. He told Southern Daily Echo after the decision was made: “Obviously they’re (the players) disappointed because Saturday’s are when they get to play. It’s a bit of godsend to be fair, though. I’m a believer that you have to try and turn a negative into a positive. We had a tough game last weekend against Lincoln. We’ve had a busy week, so it gives us another little bit of a rest… We’ve had a fantastic spell. You want to keep the momentum but you have to balance that out with rest.”
Andy Scott made three changes for the visit of Portsmouth, with Mark Molesley (leg), Jaydon Gibbs and Jordan Roberts (both hamstring) all returning from injury to play their part in Aldershot Town’s famous victory. Those changes saw Sam Hatton and Naby Diallo drop to the bench (although the latter came on as a first half substitute for Chris Barker), whilst Andre McCollin was cup-tied after already featuring in the competition for Kingstonian. Molesley’s goal was his third in consecutive games, and it continued an impressive streak for the Shots. In the twelve games in which the 33-year-old has scored for the club, Aldershot Town have never lost, winning nine and drawing on the other three occasions.
Despite the return of the above trio, Scott’s injury list is still fairly lengthy and was added to when left-back Chris Barker pulled up with a tight calf on Wednesday and he must now be a doubt for this weekend’s fixture in North-East Hampshire. Mark Phillips hasn’t featured since injuring a quadriceps muscle at Portsmouth, whilst Damon Lathrope (groin) and Anthony Tonkin (calf) are longer-term casualties. Josh Scott has also missed the last four games with a foot problem, but Andre McCollin will be available for selection this weekend.
Eastleigh have been able to keep the vast majority of their promotion-winning squad intact, including their six top scorers from 2013-14 – strikers Craig McAllister (fifteen), Ben Wright (thirteen whilst on loan from Salisbury City), Ben Strevens (eleven) and Stuart Fleetwood (ten), plus attacking midfielders Jai Reason (fifteen) and Yemi Odubade (seven). Richard Hill was able to turn Wright’s move into a permanent deal over the summer, but also managed to add two proven Football League goalscorers. James Constable arrived from Oxford United after notching ten goals in League Two last season, whilst Jack Midson arrived from AFC Wimbledon after scoring seven times for the Dons in 2013-14. Constable, Reason and Strevens all have five goals this season to lead the Spitfires; McAllister has four, whilst Midson and Fleetwood have scored on three occasions.
At the other end of the pitch, Ross Flitney is the Spitfires’ first-choice goalkeeper, with defenders Daniel Spence, Michael Green, Dean Beckwith, Will Evans and Chris Todd all returning for the club’s first season at this level. Hill has added to their ranks with centre-back Paul Reid joining the team after his release from Northampton Town. The only regular first-teamer to leave the Silverlake Stadium over the summer was midfielder Glenn Southam, who moved to Chelmsford City, but he was replaced by last season’s Aldershot Town captain Craig Stanley. Stanley, who scored on his Eastleigh debut on the opening weekend of the season, scored three goals in 58 games for Aldershot Town over the previous two campaigns, and joins another former Shot, Jamie Collins, who made 33 scoreless appearances between June 2011 and January 2012.
The Eastleigh manager has a largely fully-fit squad to choose from this weekend, but he will be without centre-back Dean Beckwith who serves the final game of a three-match suspension.
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 earlier this 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 Shots had their chances to take the lead, especially through Jordan Roberts’ 30th-minute effort, but Jack Midson also hit the bar for the Spitfires.
Of those five previous ties, Aldershot Town won four and lost one, with both sides triumphing once at what is now the Electrical Services 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.
If he plays on Saturday afternoon, Jaydon Gibbs will make his 50th league appearance for Aldershot Town, whilst Manny Oyeleke will play his 50th senior game if he lines up against the Spitfires.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Adam Hopkins from Plymouth, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 home win over Lincoln City on 20 September. So far this season, he’s officiated in five Conference games, showed sixteen 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 for team news just after 2pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website at 2.55pm.
We also want your thoughts on how you think the Shots will do against Eastleigh. Let us know on the day via the following methods:
Text: 81333 (please start your text with the word ‘Radio’)
Plus, we want your reaction to the game between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday in ‘The Final Whistle’. Win, lose or draw, we want to hear from you throughout this season. Call us on 03459 57 00 57 and let your voice be heard.