Monday’s 2-1 win over Braintree Town was the perfect tonic after the disappointing late winner they conceded against Eastleigh 48 hours earlier. After two wins away from the EBB Stadium this season, the Shots will endeavour to get their first home victory of the campaign against FC Halifax Town this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
For the first time this season, Aldershot Town came from a losing position to win a game, with the celebrations both on and off the pitch showing how important the victory was to everyone of a red-and-blue persuasion. It looked like being the same old narrative at Braintree after a first-half that saw Richard Brodie hit the crossbar three minutes after the home side had taken a 42nd-minute lead. However, Barry Smith’s switch to 4-3-3 just after the hour mark proved a masterstroke, with substitute Charlie Harris volleying in at the second attempt from Brodie’s knockdown with twenty minutes to go. The roles were reversed with four minutes left as the big striker powerfully headed home Harris’ cross for his fourth goal in three starts for the Shots.
The three points lifted Barry Smith’s side to 13th in the table and meant they finished a very tough August with eight points from seven games. Five of their seven opponents ended the month in the top seven of the National League standings, including all three of their home opponents. The side have played well at the EBB Stadium, but their one point and a goal difference of minus-two is the second-worst record in the division thus far. The late goal was very welcome too, and was just the second time since 26 November 2013 (a stretch of 78 league games) that Aldershot Town have scored a winning goal in the final five minutes of a game.
The story of FC Halifax Town has been a brief and incredibly successful one. The club was founded seven years ago following the demise of their precursors, Halifax Town, who were wound up following their relegation from the Conference Premier in 2008, with debts of over £2 million. The West Yorkshire side secured three promotions in their first four years, winning the Northern Premier League Division One North (2009-10) and the Northern Premier League Premier Division (2010-11), before winning the 2013 Conference North Play-Off Final. Their first campaign at this level saw a Play-Off semi-final defeat to Cambridge United, before a 9th-place finish last season, thirteen points off the top five.
However, the Shaymen finished last season with just one win in fifteen games, and that form continued into this campaign. They lost five of their first six games in 2015-16, before securing a first win of the season against Barrow on Monday. The West Yorkshire side are 21st in the embryonic National League table, and they’ve lost all three of their away league games against Boreham Wood, Tranmere Rovers and Wrexham. Only Barrow have conceded more than FC Halifax Town’s fourteen league goals this season, whilst they’ve gone fifteen consecutive league games without keeping a clean sheet, a run that dates back to 21 March.
Neil Aspin has been in charge since April 2009 and he was delighted with his team’s performance on Monday. He told the Halifax Courier after the game: “For the seventh game in a row we’ve conceded first and I have to admit (the win) didn’t look likely… Sometimes you might not have played great but it’s all about the result. We didn’t play well but I’m not bothered, it’s just about getting the points… I don’t need the chairman, the supporters or the media to tell me – I know if I’m not doing well, I feel it myself. You’ve got your own pride and if you’re not winning games it’s not a very nice situation to be in. You have a lot of sleepless nights. But I can enjoy this result and I might even have a look at the league table.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the game at Braintree Town, with Richard Brodie returning from a groin spasm to replace Matthew Barnes-Homer, who dropped to the bench, whilst loanee left-back Nick Anderton returned after three games out with an ankle injury to take the place of Jack Saville. However, the story of the game came from debutant Charlie Harris, who’d only arrived from Brighton and Hove Albion three days earlier. On his senior debut, the nineteen-year-old scored the equaliser before setting up Brodie for the 86th-minute winner. He must be odds-on for his first Aldershot Town start at the weekend.
Saville missed Monday’s game with a slight neck injury, but could be back to face FC Halifax on Saturday. However, Rhys Browne will definitely be unavailable as he’s been called up to the Antigua & Barbuda squad to face Guatemala in a two-legged CONCACAF third-round World Cup qualifier. Sam Hatton is still struggling after taking a knock to the kidney on the opening day against Gateshead, whilst midfielder Damon Lathrope is a week away from returning to full training, but defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty are longer-term absentees. Oastler’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until mid-October, whilst McGinty should return in late-September after suffering a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town.
The Shaymen’s struggles this season can be explained, to some degree, by a reduced playing budget and the key players that have departed the club over the summer. Aspin has lost captain Marc Roberts (Barnsley), fellow centre-backs Matty Pearson (Accrington Stanley) and Steve Williams (Barrow), thirteen-goal top scorer Scott Boden (Newport County), midfielders Lois Maynard (Tranmere Rovers, twelve goals in 2014-15), Ross Dyer (Tamworth, scored the only goal in the Shots’ 1-0 loss at FC Halifax Town last September), Paul Marshall and Danny Schofield (both Bradford Park Avenue), plus forwards Adam Smith (Wrexham) and Jamie Jackson (Alfreton Town). Amongst those players who have remained are goalkeeper Matt Glennon, defenders James Bolton and Scott McManus, plus striker Richard Peniket, who scored twelve goals in the last campaign.
The two most eye-catching of the eleven permanent arrivals at FC Halifax Town over the summer were the former Lincoln City pair, defender Hamza Bencherif and striker Jordan Burrow, who scored ten goals last season for the Imps, but has netted a league-leading six times already this season for his new club. Midfielder Kingsley James and centre-back Matty Brown look good captures from Chester, whilst attacking midfielders Connor Hughes and Danny Racchi have arrived from Hyde. Fellow midfield additions include Sam Walker (captained Curzon Ashton to promotion to National League North last season), Josh MacDonald (Marske United) and Elliott Whitehouse (Notts County), whilst striker Sean Tuton has signed from Buxton of the Northern League Premier Division. Last week, Aspin also picked up Sheffield United midfielders David Brooks and CJ Hamilton on one-month loan deals.
Richard Peniket has been out of action with a knee injury since mid-March, whilst Matty Brown will be struggling to be fit for the weekend because of a hamstring problem. Scott McManus also missed the win over Barrow, so must be a doubt to make the trip to North-East Hampshire.
Aldershot Town have met FC Halifax Town on four previous occasions, with two draws at the EBB Stadium, plus two Shots defeats in West Yorkshire. In March of this year, Antonio German gave the Shots the lead, before Richard Peniket equalised just before the hour mark. In January 2014, the Shaymen secured a 2-2 draw in the same fixture. Goals from Jordan Roberts and Craig Stanley were bookended by a Lee Gregory brace, whilst Brett Williams missed a penalty with the game at 0-0.
The Shots did meet Halifax Town on ten occasions, winning five, drawing three and losing just twice, while dominating the home games. Aldershot Town picked up thirteen points from a possible fifteen against Halifax Town, including a 1-0 win in October 2007 where Jonny Dixon’s goal was enough for all three points. Darren Barnard had scored the solitary goal in a win by the same scoreline at this ground thirteen months earlier. No Halifax side has won at, what is now known as, the EBB Stadium since March 1986, a run of four draws and six defeats. In all, the record for all Halifax sides in Aldershot since 1963 reads as five wins, eight draws and sixteen losses in 29 visits.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Rob Whitton from Essex, who took charge of two Shots’ home games last season – the 2-1 win over Grimsby Town last September and the 2-2 draw with Bristol Rovers the following month. He also oversaw the 2-1 home FA Cup defeat to Shortwood United in October 2013. So far this season, he’s officiated in two National League games, showing two 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 2.15pm, 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