After securing their National League status four days earlier, Aldershot Town slumped to a third defeat in four games last Saturday. The 2-1 home loss against Boreham Wood dropped them to 15th in the table, with their final home game of the campaign taking place this weekend against mid-table Southport. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Barry Smith’s side followed the away win at FC Halifax Town with yet another lackadaisical home performance. The visitors took the lead through Ricky Shakes in the 9th minute, but the Shots were level 90 seconds later through Jake Gallagher’s cool right-footed finish. It was the only time the hosts were to show any urgency. Harry White, Delano Sam-Yorke and Clovis Kamdjo all had half-chances in the first half, whilst Shakes missed a sitter in the 71st minute. Rhys Browne headed straight at Wood keeper James Russell just before the pivotal moment of the game. Chris Barker was sent off after “handling” a vicious shot on the line, with Conor Clifford dispatching the 77th-minute penalty. Jim Stevenson’s drive straight at Russell in the 93rd minute was the closest the home side came to a second equaliser.
The defeat also meant that the Shots need to wait another week to better last season’s total of 53 points. After three consecutive losses at the EBB Stadium, Barry Smith and his players will be desperate to finish their home campaign with a good result and performance this weekend. The defeat to Boreham Wood was their eleventh at home in the league this season, a figure that is the joint worst in the division. One of the main tasks next season must be to improve the club’s home form. The Shots have won just 20 and lost 26 of their last 62 home games in all competitions, scoring just 70 goals in the process. Their 25 home points this season actually matches the total from the 2012-13 relegation campaign.
Southport have spent almost half of their 133-year history in the Football League. However, their 57-year League stay was ended in 1978, when they became the last team to be voted out by the other member clubs. The last decade has seen the Sandgrounders fluctuate between the National League, in its various guises, and Conference North, with this being their sixth consecutive campaign in the non-league top-flight. Hopes were high for a prolonged upturn in the club’s fortunes after a seventh-place finish in 2011-12 (five points from a play-off place), but the last three campaigns have seen the Merseysiders finish in 20th, 18th and 19th, and they were just six points above the relegation zone last season.
The Sandgrounders made a terrible start to this season, picking up just one point and one goal from their opening six games with manager Paul Carden leaving his post on 16 November with the club 15th in the table. Dino Maamria took over and led the team to six straight wins either side of Christmas, but he resigned on 14 March for personal reasons. Veteran striker Andy Bishop has since been given the job on a caretaker basis with good success. Southport are currently on a five-game unbeaten run and sit one place and one point below the Shots. Overall, they have the eleventh-best away record in the division and the eleventh-best defensive record, but only five teams have scored less than their 47 league goals.
Last Saturday saw Southport draw 2-2 at home to Lincoln City, with Bishop, who’s been in charge since 19 March, telling the Southport Visitor after the game: “We’re disappointed not to pick up three points, but I thought some of our attacking play was excellent. We created chances and we could have scored more goals, but we were naïve in conceding twice straight after we scored… The lads have put in a terrific shift and there was some really good stuff from us today. We’ve worked very hard on the attacking side of our game and our second goal shows that. Going unbeaten breeds confidence and you can see that today. There is still a lot to play for and everyone is playing for a contract and for their future.”
Barry Smith made one change for the visit of Boreham Wood, with Nathan Ralph returning to the starting eleven at left-back in place of the inured skipper Sean McGinty. The return of Millwall striker Alfie Pavey to his parent club also opened up a place amongst the substitutes for Tom Richards, but he failed to get off the bench. After missing two games with a virus, Luke Oliver came on as a replacement after the dismissal of Chris Barker and could start this weekend. Last Saturday’s game was also notable for Jake Gallagher’s first game as Aldershot Town’s captain, which he marked by scoring his first home goal for the club.
The Aldershot Town manager could be without as many as seven players this weekend as the squad gets stretched in the final month of the season. He will definitely be without midfielder Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot in February, and Joe Oastler, who picked up a knee injury at Chester last month, whilst Sean McGinty (dislocated shoulder) and Chris Barker (one game suspension) will also be unavailable. Phil Smith missed out with a thigh problem; Jack Saville has an ankle injury, whilst Dan Walker has missed recent games due to a virus.
Paul Carden had to rebuild his squad over the summer with a number of key players from last season’s relegation battle moving on from Haig Avenue. Richard Brodie, the Sandgrounders’ top scorer in 2014-15, moved to the Shots after featuring in their first game of this campaign, whilst second-top scorer John Marsden (six goals) joined Macclesfield Town, along with left-back David Fitzpatrick. Also leaving were fellow defenders Luke George (Chester) and Dom Collins (AFC Fylde), midfielder Micah Evans (Stockport County) and goalkeepers David Raya Martin (returned to Blackburn Rovers) and Daniel Lloyd-Weston (Worcester City). Defensive midfielders Joe Connor and Scott Kay have also failed to feature this season, whilst captain Luke Foster joined Harrogate Town earlier this year. Amongst those who remain from the 2014-15 season are full back Matty Challoner, midfielder Paul Rutherford and striker Louis Almond, who leads the team with twelve goals in this campaign.
Carden brought in a number of experienced players over the summer, most notably the former Rochdale, Bradford City and Notts County midfielder Gary Jones, goalkeeper Andy Coughlin from Wrexham and striker Andy Bishop, who arrived after a short spell at FC Halifax Town earlier this season following a haul of seventeen goals for Wrexham in 2014-15. Bishop has been assisted in the attacking third by Mike Phenix (Barnsley) and Jamie Allen (Fleetwood Town). Liam Nolan (Crewe Alexandra) has been a good addition to the midfield ranks, whilst Jon Viscosi is the back-up goalkeeper after signing a season-long loan deal from Chester. Andrew Wright (Morecambe) has been a regular starter at centre-back alongside Foster, whilst Andrai Jones (Gateshead), Josh Thompson (Tranmere Rovers) and Adam Blakeman (Ayr United) have also featured in the back four. Oxford United loanee Max Crocombe has been the first-choice stopper since Coughlin was injured in October, whilst Alex Whittle has been starting at left-back since he arrived on loan from National League North side AFC Fylde in March. Fellow loanees Craig Westcarr (Mansfield Town), Johnny Margetts (Tranmere Rovers) and Steven Hewitt (Burnley) provide options in the attacking third.
As well as Coughlin’s absence, Andrai Jones and Johnny Margetts have been absent for the last two games through illness and could be doubts for the weekend’s trip to Aldershot.
These two sides have met on nine previous occasions, with Aldershot Town triumphing on four occasions coupled with two draws and three Southport victories. The first meeting this season on 31 October saw Jim Stevenson give the visitors the lead before Luke Foster’s goal ensured the points were shared at Haig Avenue. The two fixtures last season were both won by the away side, with Aldershot Town winning 3-1 in November 2014. Andre McCollin and Sam Hatton gave the visitors a 2-0 lead before Richard Brodie pulled one back just before half-time. However, Brett Williams’ 71st-minute goal secured the three points. He also scored in the second half of the return game back last March, but the Shots were already 2-0 down and couldn’t come back to secure a draw.
That victory was the Merseysiders’ first at the EBB Stadium against Aldershot Town. The previous meeting in North-East Hampshire had seen Williams score a hat-trick in a 5-1 Shots win in November 2013, with Adam Mekki also netting a screamer. The home side also won 2-0 in November 2005, thanks to goals from Matt Somner and Darren Barnard, whilst John Grant’s brace secured Aldershot Town a 2-2 draw twelve months later.
Southport also faced Aldershot FC in thirty Football League fixtures between 1958 and 1978, the majority of which took place in the old Fourth Division, but there were two Third Division meetings in 1973-74. Again, the Shots held the advantage, winning fourteen, drawing nine and losing seven of the thirty ties between the two sides. Southport’s record at the EBB Stadium was less than impressive, however, with just one win (3-0 in September 1964), four draws and ten defeats.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Brett Huxtable from Devon, who took charge of Aldershot Town’s goalless draw at Cheltenham Town in August, as well as their 3-1 home win against Chester in January. He also oversaw the 3-1 victories at home to Dover Athletic and away at Forest Green Rovers last Spring. This season he’s officiated in eighteen National League fixtures, showing 34 yellow cards and one red card.
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 or DAB from 2.10pm for team news and pre-match interviews, followed by full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website and BBC Sport app from 2.50pm.
You can also contact us throughout the afternoon via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport