Aldershot Town moved back up to 13th in the National League standings with Saturday’s 2-0 win at Torquay United, which ended a run of two straight defeats. Their next four games include three at the EBB Stadium, including Wednesday’s televised game against high-flying Forest Green Rovers. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Manager Barry Smith got exactly the reaction he wanted from his players after the 3-0 loss to Macclesfield Town. They started positively, winning an attacking free-kick after just eight seconds, with Nick Anderton and Rhys Browne forcing early saves from Gulls goalkeeper Fabian Spiess. However, the German could do nothing to keep out captain Sam Hatton’s stunning 35-yard free kick in the 21st minute. The second goal – Charlie Walker’s seventh of the campaign – was even better, coming as it did after a flowing passing move thirteen minutes later. Phil Smith was more troubled by the South Devon sunshine than the home forwards as the Shots closed the game out with a comfortable second half display.
It was Aldershot Town’s fourth away win in six games to continue their impressive form on the road. However, Smith’s next task is to transfer that play to the EBB Stadium on a more consistent basis. Since beating Dover Athletic 3-1 on 3 March, Aldershot Town have only won three of their last eleven home league outings. They’ve only managed to score twelve goals in those games, scoring more than once on just two occasions – 2-0 v Torquay United on Easter Monday and 3-2 against FC Halifax Town last month. In fairness, two of those wins have come in their last three games in North-East Hampshire, including a 1-0 win over Welling United, which is one of only two clean sheets during that sequence.
Forest Green Rovers are the longest-serving members of the National League, with their promotion in 1998 starting a run of eighteen consecutive campaigns in the top-flight of non-league football. However, the Gloucestershire side actually finished in the relegation zone in 2004-05 and 2009-10, but were saved by the financial failings of others. Green energy tycoon Dale Vince took over the club and became its chairman in October 2010, with Rovers finishing 20th in that season, before three consecutive 10th-place finishes. Last season, though, the Gloucestershire side reached the Play-Offs for the first time, finishing 5th in the standings before losing 3-0 on aggregate to Bristol Rovers at the semi-final stage.
They started this season by winning a National League record nine games in a row, but have failed to win any of their next five games. Two draws in that stretch include Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Grimsby Town, which kept them top of the table after the weekend’s fixtures. Four of those nine wins were away from The New Lawn, but since then they’ve lost at Woking and Macclesfield Town, along with Saturday’s draw. Their defensive record of fourteen goals conceded is the fourth-best in the division, but they haven’t managed a clean sheet in their last eight league games. At the other end, their record of 23 league goals is bettered by only four other teams in the National League.
Despite the recent blip in form, the squad is still in a good situation according to assistant manager Jamie Day, who was appointed to that role in May. He told the Gloucester Citizen after the weekend’s game: “If someone had offered us this amount of points after this number of games before the season had started we would have snapped their hand off. After nine straight wins we’ve found it a bit more difficult of late, but we’re still full of confidence and we’ve got a great bunch of lads who all fight for each other. I’m sure we can keep picking up wins, and if we do that – hopefully starting on Wednesday – we will stay top of the table.”
Barry Smith made three changes for the trip to Torquay United, as well as the tactical shift to a midfield diamond. Damon Lathrope came in at the base for the suspended Jake Gallagher and was outstanding, as was Rhys Browne, who replaced Dan Walker, and slotted in behind the front two. Walker dropped to the bench, as did Richard Brodie, who was left out in favour of Matthew Barnes-Homer, after scoring in just one of his previous six games. Barnes-Homer, who scored five goals in eighteen league games for Forest Green Rovers at the start of the 2013-14 campaign, will hope to play against his former side on Wednesday, as will Luke Oliver (one goals in 31 league games between February 2014 and June 2015), who was an unused substitute at the weekend after missing four games with a calf problem.
Gallagher will serve the second game of his three-match ban on Wednesday, whilst defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty, however, are longer-term absentees. The former’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until late October, whilst McGinty should return in the next fortnight after suffering a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town. Richard Brodie, Dan Walker and Nick Anderton are all carrying knocks going into Wednesday’s game and will be assessed closer to kick-off.
After last year’s Play-Off campaign, it was a case of making minor adjustments to his playing squad for manager Ady Pennock. Six permanent signings arrived at The New Lawn, including former Aldershot Town defender Darren Jones, who made 97 appearances for the club between 2010 and 2012. He arrived from Newport County along with the club’s six-goal top scorer this season Aaron O’Connor (eleven goals for the Welsh side last season). Fellow forward recruits Delano Sam-Yorke (eight goals for Lincoln City in 2014-15) and Keanu Marsh-Brown (eleven league goals for Barnet ion the 2013-14 campaign) give the Gloucestershire side their usual plentiful options in attack. Midfielder Darren Carter was signed last month after two seasons with Northampton Town, whilst goalkeeper Jonny Maxted has been an ever-present since signing from Hartlepool United over the summer.
Rovers were able to keep up a number of their key signings from last season, including thirty-goal top scorer Jon Parkin, who has four so far in this campaign, as does fellow striker Kurtis Guthrie. Midfielders Elliott Frear, David Pipe, Sam Wedgbury, Marcus Kelly (although he’s deputised at left-back in recent games) and former Shots loanee Rob Sinclair (eleven scoreless appearances in two loan spells in 2012) are also still at the club, along with defenders Dale Bennett, Aarran Racine, James Jennings and Charlie Clough. Amongst those who did move on at the end of the previous campaign were goalkeeper Sam Russell (Gateshead), defenders Chris Stokes (Coventry City), Luke Oliver (Aldershot Town), Danny Coles; midfielders Anthony Barry (Accrington Stanley) and Kieron Forbes (Maidenhead United), plus forwards James Norwood (Tranmere Rovers, thirteen goals last season) and James Marwood (Gateshead). Defensive midfielder Clovis Kamdjo also moved to Boreham Wood last month on a three-month loan deal.
Pennock, who took charge in November 2013, should have a strong squad to choose from on Wednesday, but he will be without Jennings (hamstring) and goalkeeper Steve Arnold (ankle) for the trip to North-East Hampshire.
Wednesday sees the nineteenth meeting between the two clubs with the Shots winning six, drawing four and losing eight of the previous eighteen games. Aldershot Town have only won one of the last five meetings, but that was the most recent encounter on Good Friday. Also in front of the TV cameras, Elliott Frear gave Forest Green Rovers a half-time lead, before three goals in eight minutes from Brett Williams, Tristan Plummer and Jordan Roberts gave the visitors all three points. Williams also scored in the game at the EBB Stadium last August, but Lee Hughes equalised in the second half to ensure the points were shared.
Aldershot Town have an average home record against the Gloucestershire side, having three victories and three defeats from their eight home games against Rovers, but haven’t won any of the last three. The Shots’ most recent victory occurred on Boxing Day 2006, with Darren Barnard’s late winner gave the home side a 2-1 victory, whilst the home side won by the same score in November 2005. On that occasion, it was Tobi Jinadu who netted the winner. Forest Green’s most recent win at the EBB Stadium came in January 2008, when Rovers inflicted Aldershot Town’s last home defeat of their promotion-winning season. Mark Beesley scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
Wednesday evening’s referee is Dean Treleaven from West Sussex, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 home defeat to Woking last September. So far this season, he’s overseen five National League games, showing twenty yellow cards and one red card.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town defender Joe Oastler will be covering the game on Wednesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Surrey website and BBC Sport app 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