Aldershot Town made it three wins out of four with Saturday’s 3-2 victory over FC Halifax Town, their first home win of 2015-16. The Shots now face three away games in September, none of which will involve a round trip of less than 440 miles. The first of those, and the closest, is a visit to promotion contenders Grimsby Town this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
It’s very rare that Aldershot Town do anything the easy way, with Barry Smith finding that out on Saturday afternoon. The first half against their West Yorkshire opponents was the Shots’ best of the season, with them flying into a 2-0 lead thanks to excellent finishes from Jim Stevenson and Charlie Walker. Walker with his third goal in two outings at the EBB Stadium made it 3-0 six minutes into the second half, and everything seemed set fair for a comfortable win. However, the Shaymen rallied with a couple of fine goals themselves in the 60th and 84th minutes. To their credit, the Aldershot Town defence held firm for the final eleven minutes, with the three points moving them up to 12th in the National League table.
Those late goals continued a worrying trend for Smith’s side so far this season. Of the eleven goals they’ve given up in the first month of the season, five of them have come in the final fifteen minutes of games. In comparison, only two have been given up in the opening half-hour. Fortunately, goals are going in at the other end, especially away from home, with only Torquay United, Eastleigh and Grimsby Town bettering the Shots’ six goals. They’ve also been good defensively on their travels, conceding just four times in four outings. The seven points accrued from their four trips away from North-East Hampshire is good for the fifth-best record in the division thus far.
Grimsby Town are currently in their sixth consecutive season in the non-league top flight after relegation from League Two in 2009-10 ended a 99-year stay as a Football League club. Two 11th-place finishes followed before three doses of disappointment over the next triumvirate of campaigns. The Mariners 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 year, Grimsby 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 season.
The North-East Lincolnshire side are currently 9th in the table, one point above the Shots, with Saturday’s 3-1 win at Boreham Wood ending a four-game winless run. The Aldershot Town defence should expect a busy afternoon with the Mariners’ seventeen goals leading the National League at this stage of the campaign. Ten of those have come at Blundell Park, but they lost 2-0 against Macclesfield Town in their last home game on Bank Holiday Monday. However, they’d won seven and lost one of their previous ten games on home turf. An interesting note regarding Grimsby Town’s season is that none of their eight opponents so far this season are currently in the top half of the table.
The first month’s results mean that Mariners’ boss Paul Hurst is already facing criticism from some sections of the club’s fan base. Speaking to the Grimsby Telegraph on Saturday, he said: “I won’t become a manager who tries to look after his own back and try to kid people who haven’t been to the games… We know that we’ve got to start moving up the table as we did do on Saturday because, on the whole, results went for us… You can’t go from thinking that you’re going to walk the league in pre-season to being completely hopeless after eight games… It doesn’t work like that. There’s always highs and lows – you only have to look at the table from last season. For us, there’s a very similar look to it at this stage in the season and it finished very well, so give the team your backing.”
Barry Smith made one change for the visit of FC Halifax Town, with Charlie Harris being rewarded for his excellent performance from the bench at Braintree. The Brighton and Hove Albion loanee came into the starting eleven for Rhys Browne, who was on international duty with Antigua & Barbuda. The Shots boss was also able to welcome Damon Lathrope (groin) and Jack Saville (neck) back into his matchday squad, with both coming on as substitutes in the latter stages of Saturday’s victory. It was confirmed on Wednesday that the loan of Preston North End’s Nick Anderton would be extended until Wednesday 7 October, with the left-back expected to retain his place for this weekend’s trip to North-East Lincolnshire.
Browne should return to the Shots squad this weekend, but former Grimsby Town midfielder Sam Hatton (three goals in 77 games between 2012 and 2014) is still struggling for fitness after taking a knock to the kidney on the opening day against Gateshead. Defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty are longer-term absentees, however. 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.
Paul Hurst made some excellent additions to his squad over the summer as the Mariners look 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 already has five goals this season, whilst Padraig Amond, who notched ten goals for Morecambe last season, has four goals to his name for his new club. 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 has been reinforced by Danny East (Portsmouth, six games on loan at the Shots last season) and Richard Tait (Cambridge United), whilst midfielder Matt Robinson is on a month-long loan from Luton Town.
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 (six goals), Scott Brown and Craig Clay, plus striker Jon-Paul Pittman, who scored eleven times for Grimsby Town in the previous campaign.
Josh Gowling will serve the final game of a three-match suspension this weekend, whilst Scott Brown (ankle) and Josh Sunter (foot) will both be unavailable for the visit of the Shots due to injury. Marcus Marshall is also a doubt because of a back injury sustained earlier this week.
This Saturday sees the ninth game between Aldershot Town and Grimsby Town, with the Shots winning two, drawing three and losing on three occasions. The most recent meeting was on the final afternoon of last season with the Mariners winning 3-1, thanks to a Ross Hannah brace 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 game in North-East Hampshire in a 2-1 win last August against a Grimsby Town side that had had Lenell John-Lewis sent off after 35 minutes.
The only draw in this fixture came on Aldershot Town’s return to non-league in August 2013, with Hannah equalising for the home team after Joe Oastler’s debut goal. The Shots won 2-1 at Blundell Park in August 2009 with two goals for Scott Donnelly and two red cards for the Mariners’ Barry Conlon and Adam Proudlock. Five months earlier, Conlon had been the Grimsby hero, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory for the hosts.
Aldershot FC had a similar record against Grimsby, winning eight, drawing eight and losing just six of the 22 ties between the two clubs. However, the Shots failed to win on any of their last eight visits to North East Lincolnshire and had a poor record at Blundell Park. They picked up just two victories (which came in 1968 and 1971), four draws and five further defeats.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Ian Hussin from Liverpool, who took charge of two Shots’ games last season – the 1-1 draw at Nuneaton Town last September and the 2-0 win at Kidderminster Harriers in November. So far this season, he’s officiated in two National League games, showing five yellow cards and two 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