Aldershot Town slipped to their fourth defeat in seven games, going down to a disappointing 1-0 home defeat against Barrow. On paper, their task is tougher this coming Tuesday evening with their third home game in a row coming against promotion-chasing Grimsby Town. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After the positivity of four points against Forest Green Rivers and Braintree Town over Easter, the Shots produced a lifeless performance on Saturday. Failing to play with any tempo or pace, they succumbed to a limp 1-0 defeat. Phil Smith made smart saves from Andy Cook and Ben Tomlinson to keep it scoreless at the break, with the solitary chance the Shots created during the game coming seven minutes after half-time. Ross Lafayette’s cross found an unmarked Jake Gallagher, but the midfielder couldn’t keep his header down from five yards. Twelve minutes later, the visitors got the decisive goal, with Andy Cook heading in Andy Haworth’s cross from a narrow angle. The rest of the game saw the Shots struggling to break down their bigger, more organised opponents and never looked like snatching a point.
The defeat was Aldershot Town’s first at home of 2016, with the prior run of three wins and two draws being their best run of form at the EBB Stadium since they went six without a loss in the league between November 2013 and February 2014. Overall though, the Shots home form has been poor again this season. They’ve lost nine of their twenty home games in the National League, notching 25 points and just eighteen goals. Only Boreham Wood with seventeen goals have a lower total in the latter category, whilst only four sides have lost more games at home. The 2009-10 League Two Play-Off campaign was the last time an Aldershot Town side had a home record in the top ten of the division in which they’ve played.
Grimsby Town are currently in their sixth consecutive season in the non-league top flight following relegation from League Two in 2009-10, which ended a 99-year stay as a Football League club. Two 11th-place finishes followed before three doses of disappointment in consecutive campaigns. They lost a Conference Premier play-off semi-final 2-0 on aggregate to Newport County in 2012-13, before losing 4-2 aggregate to Gateshead at the same stage twelve months later. Last season, the Mariners finished 3rd in the table and finally made it to Wembley after beating Eastleigh 5-1 on aggregate. However, a penalty shootout defeat to Bristol Rovers after a 1-1 draw condemned them to another non-league campaign.
The North-East Lincolnshire side should make the play-offs this season as well as they sit 3rd in the table with 72 points from 39 games. However, they have lost their last two – both away, at Macclesfield Town and at leaders Cheltenham Town on Friday night – after winning thirteen of eighteen in the National League. The Mariners have the fourth-best defensive record in the division, but they’re even better at the other end, with only Cheltenham Town bettering their 73 league goals. Away from home, they’ve won seven and lost just five of their nineteen league outings away from Blundell Park. The Mariners also have an FA Trophy Final against FC Halifax Town at Wembley to look forward to on 22 May.
Mariners’ boss Paul Hurst, who’s been in sole charge of the club since September 2013 (he was joint-manager for the two-and-a-half years prior to that), was keen to point out that there wasn’t a lot between the two sides on Friday. He told the Grimsby Telegraph after the game: “It’s all about small margins, and nothing to do with tactics. Credit to Cheltenham – they are top of the league because they do the basics well, and that is a compliment. They don’t give you many chances. They make you defend by quickly putting the ball forward, and the front two – Wright and Holman – work extremely hard… but we had enough chances to put them under some pressure.”
Barry Smith was forced into two changes to his squad on Saturday, with Nathan Ralph and Dan Walker both unavailable due to a virus that had gone round the camp during the week. The former was replaced by Tom Richards on the left of midfield, whilst Louis McGrory, the eighteen-year-old loan midfielder from Forest Green Rovers, was on the bench in place of Walker. Bearing in mind the midweek opposition, it would be a surprise if Smith didn’t stick with the three-man central midfield, so Sam Hatton could feature against the side from which he signed for Aldershot Town in the summer of 2014.
Ralph and Walker should return to the squad if they’re available on Tuesday, as could Rhys Browne. The twenty-year-old winger wasn’t considered for selection at the weekend after only returning from international duty in the Caribbean on Thursday afternoon. The Shots boss will be without midfielder Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot last month, and Joe Oastler, who picked up a knee injury at Chester, for the rest of the campaign.
Paul Hurst made some excellent additions to his squad last summer as the Mariners looked to bounce back from last season’s Play-Off disappointment. Eight permanent signings were made, including attacking midfielder Nathan Arnold (seven goals in the previous campaign) and centre-back Josh Gowling, who were on loan at Blundell Park last season from Cambridge United and Kidderminster Harriers respectively. The attacking ranks were strengthened by Omar Bogle, who was the 2014-15 Conference North Player of the Year after scoring 29 times for Solihull Moors. He has fourteen goals this season, whilst Padraig Amond, who notched ten goals for Morecambe last season, leads the National League with 26 goals (32 in all competitions). Winger Marcus Marshall also arrived from Morecambe, although he spent last season on loan at Lincoln City, whilst fellow midfielder Andy Monkhouse’s ten goals helped Bristol Rovers to a Football League return before he joined Grimsby Town in the summer. The defensive corps were been reinforced by Danny East (Portsmouth, six games on loan at the Shots last season) and Richard Tait (Cambridge United). During the course of the campaign, the Mariners boss has replenished his ranks with defenders Anthony Straker (York City, five years with the Shots, during which he scored seven goals in 229 games) and Evan Horwood (Northampton Town, loan), midfielders Jon Nolan (Lincoln City) and Conor Henderson (Crawley Town), winger Ryan Jennings (Wigan Athletic, loan) and strikers Pat Hoban (Oxford United, loan) and Connor Stewart (Swindon Town, loan).
Amongst the eleven players who left the North-East Lincolnshire side in the summer were twenty-goal top scorer Lenell Jon-Lewis (League Two side Newport County), fellow striker Ross Hannah (Chester), full-back Carl Magnay (Hartlepool United) and midfielder Patrick McLaughlin (Gateshead). Defender Danny Parslow returned to York City after spending 2014-15 on loan with the Mariners before subsequently signing with Cheltenham Town over the summer. Those key players who have remained at Blundell Park include goalkeeper James McKeown; defenders Aristote Nsiala, Gregor Robertson and Shaun Pearson; midfielders Craig Disley (nine goals last season), Jack Mackreth (although he moved to Tranmere Rovers in January), Scott Brown and Craig Clay, plus striker Jon-Paul Pittman, who scored eleven times for Grimsby Town in the previous campaign.
Hurst has some injury concerns for Tuesday with Jennings (toe) and Marcus Marshall (knee) definitely unavailable to him, whilst Evan Horwood and Pat Hoban are doubts with groin injuries.
Tuesday sees the tenth game between Aldershot Town and Grimsby Town, with the Shots winning two, drawing three and losing on four occasions. The most recent meeting took place in September at Blundell Park, with Charlie Walker’s goal giving the Shots a half-time lead. However, the visitors collapsed in the second half, with an Omar Bogle brace and further goals from Padraig Amond and Nathan Arnold giving the Mariners the win. The two sides also met on the final afternoon of last season with the Mariners winning 3-1, thanks to two strikes from Ross Hannah and another from Jon-Paul Pittman. Jordan Roberts’ stunning late free kick was a mere consolation. It was Brett Williams who scored twice in the last game in North-East Hampshire in a 2-1 win in August 2014, which came against a Grimsby Town side that had had Lenell John-Lewis sent off after 35 minutes.
That win was Aldershot Town’s first against the Mariners at the EBB Stadium. Prior to that, Grimsby Town secured a comfortable 3-0 victory in October 2013, whilst the first two fixtures finished all square. As well as a 1-1 draw in January 2010, the Shots came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 in December 2008, thanks to a Scott Davies brace. Aldershot FC also had a decent record against Grimsby, winning eight, drawing eight and losing just six of the 22 ties between the two clubs. They had a superb home record as well, winning six, drawing four and losing just once against the Mariners in North-East Hampshire. Their only home loss was a 3-0 defeat in a game played in the old Third Division in April 1976.
If he plays on Tuesday night, Cheye Alexander will be making his 50th appearance for the Shots.
Tuesday evening’s referee is John Busby from Oxfordshire, who is in his first season on the National Referees List. This season he’s officiated in fifteen National League fixtures, showing 35 yellow cards and eight red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Surrey website and BBC Sport app from 7.35pm for full commentary of the game.
You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport