After eighteen league games in ten weeks, Aldershot Town have a two-week break in order to start their FA Cup campaign. After last Saturday’s 1-1 draw against high-flying Bromley, the Shots sit 12th in the table going into this weekend’s tie against National League South side Sutton United. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The Shots more than held their own against the Kent side last weekend, with a draw probably being a fair result. The first half had fewer chances, but saw the only two goals. Charlie Walker’s ninth goal in thirteen games, albeit via a sizeable deflection, gave Aldershot Town the lead, but Jack Holland’s bullet header from a right-wing cross gave the visitors an equaliser three minutes later. Phil Smith made a pair of outstanding second half saves to deny the league’s top scorer Moses Emmanuel, including one in stoppage time, but Barry Smith’s side did have their own spell of sustained pressure without unduly testing the Ravens’ goalkeeper. However, this was ended by Jake Gallagher’s fifth red card in a year.
The Shots go into this weekend’s game have picked up ten points from their last five league games, with three wins and a draw from their last sextet of fixtures at the EBB Stadium. However, they’ll be concerned with their habit of losing points from winning positions. In 2014-15, they dropped thirteen points from such a situation in the whole campaign, but they’ve already lost eleven from winning positions this season. Hanging on to just six of those points would place Aldershot Town in fourth place in the table. One positive statistic, however, is that this is the first time an Aldershot Town side has been in the top half of the table after eighteen games of a season since the 2010-11 campaign.
Sutton United were formed in 1898 and, after 43 years in the Athenian League, they were elected to the Isthmian League in 1964. Their third league title in 1985-86 earned them promotion to the Conference for the first time, where they stayed for five seasons. They spent another campaign in the non-league top flight in 1999-2000, before dropping back to the Ryman League Premier Division. They won that league in 2010-11, with this being their fifth consecutive season in National League South. They’ve lost twice in the Play-Off semi-finals, to Welling United in 2011-12 and Dover Athletic in 2013-14, but they slumped to 15th in last season’s standings.
The South London side sit tenth in the table with five wins and five draws from their first thirteen league games. However, their three defeats have come against sides currently in the top four of the division. The Us are on an unbeaten run of six games in all competitions, which includes four wins and two clean sheets, with their tally of 22 league goals only being bettered by four other sides in National League South. They’re defensively very solid away from Gander Green Lane, conceding seven goals in seven league games. Sutton United’s discipline has been highly suspect in 2015-16 thus far, with the club receiving 39 yellow cards and five red cards in their sixteen league and FA Cup games.
Paul Doswell has been in charge since May 2008 and is impressed by his club’s recent upturn in form. Speaking to the Sutton Guardian last week, he said: “A lot of credit has to go to the coaching staff. (Head coach Ian) Baird recognised we were conceding goals too easily. We’ve worked the back four, and that had stopped. In football, if you don’t keep clean sheets you are never going to win games. We were too open – it’s too much of my trademark of wanting to entertain – and we’ve worked very hard on the back four and the shape of the team. Bringing Craig Eastmond and getting Bedsente Gomis back have given us better legs in the midfield. Additionally, the team is more together and understand what their roles are”.
Barry Smith made two changes for the visit of Bromley last weekend with Jake Gallagher coming in for Damon Lathrope, whilst first-team captain Sean McGinty made his return from injury, with Dan Walker dropping to the bench. McGinty, who’d been out for three months after breaking a metatarsal at Basingstoke Town in July, lasted the whole game, which would have been a tremendous boost to his manager. It also meant that Tom Richards moved into his favoured wide midfield role, whilst Jake Gallagher’s dismissal gave Luke Oliver the opportunity to come off the bench and make his first appearance since the defeat at Grimsby Town on 12 September.
Gallagher starts his four-match ban this weekend, so will miss the visit of Sutton United, but fellow midfielder Lathrope could start in his place after missing the draw against Bromley with a slight knock. However, defender Joe Oastler’s long-term recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until the latter part of November.
With bags of Football League experience, Paul Doswell has arguably the strongest squad below the National League, with four former Shots potentially returning to the EBB Stadium. They are ever-present goalkeeper Ross Worner (26 appearances between 2011 and 2013, signed from AFC Wimbledon in the summer), defenders Simon Downer (thirteen games at the end of the 2003-04 season) and Jamie Collins (33 scoreless appearances in the first half of the 2011-12 campaign), plus striker Dan Fitchett, who left Aldershot Town in January after one goal in 24 games. They also captured a quartet of players from last season’s National League Play-Off squad at Eastleigh – defenders Dean Beckwith and Dan Spence, plus strikers Craig McAllister (eleven goals for the Spitfires last season) and Stuart Fleetwood.
In defence, the Us boss can also select from the former Bristol City and Swindon Town full-back Kevin Amankwaah and ex-Bournemouth and Crawley Town centre-back Shaun Cooper, plus youth-team graduate Louis John. Winger Ross Stearn, who arrived from Bath City over the summer, is the man in form, with three goals in as many games, whilst Craig Eastmond (signed last month from Yeovil Town), last season’s Fans’ Player of the Year Bedsente Gomis, winger Tom Bolarinwa and the versatile Dan Wishart fill out the midfield ranks. Upfront, Sean Dundas is closing in on 400 Sutton United appearances, as well as a century of goals, whilst the veteran Wayne Shaw is the back-up goalkeeper.
The deep squad has certainly been required for Boswell this season, with the squad’s litany of suspensions. Downer and Collins were both suspended for the weekend’s win at Bath City, and the former will miss this weekend’s game as he serves a three-match ban. Collins can feature, however, as his one -game suspension came after picking up five bookings. Dan Wishart was sent off at Bath after coming on as substitute for left-back Dan Spence, who had gone off with a knee injury and must be considered a doubt for this weekend’s FA Cup tie.
FA Cup history
Aldershot Town’s recent history in the world’s oldest cup competition has been the proverbial rollercoaster ride, with two highs and one extraordinary low in the last three years. Last year, the Shots knocked out Portsmouth in the First Round before losing to League One side Rochdale in a Second Round replay, whilst they reached the Fourth Round in 2012-13. They lost to an injury-time winner against Championship side Middlesbrough, having beaten fellow League Two clubs Fleetwood Town and Rotherham United in their two previous ties. In between those campaigns, Aldershot Town suffered the worst FA Cup result in their history, being knocked out in the Fourth Qualifying Round by Shortwood United of the Southern League Division One South & West, a side 65 places below them in the football pyramid at the time. Overall though, the Shots’ record in the FA Cup has been excellent, reaching at least the Second Round in ten of the last twelve seasons.
Sutton United’s best FA Cup runs have seen them reach the Fourth Round on two occasions in 1969-70 and 1988-89. The latter campaign saw their famous 2-1 Third Round win over top-flight Coventry City, who, eighteen months earlier, had won the competition. Their recent form has been impressive; with the Us reaching at least the First Round in four of their previous seven FA Cup campaigns. They got to this stage with a 2-0 win at Bishop’s Stortford (the goals coming from Craig McAllister and Kenny Amankwaah), whilst Ross Stearn scored in both the 1-1 draw at Hemel Hempstead Town and the 2-1 home replay win 48 hours later. However, it was Dan Wishart who scored what proved to be the winner to secure their trip to the EBB Stadium.
Saturday afternoon sees the eleventh meeting between these two sides with the Shots winning four, losing three and drawing three. Eight of those games took place in the Ryman Leaguer Premier Division between 1998 and 2003. Aldershot Town are unbeaten in their last four games against the Us, including a four point haul in the 2002-03 promotion-winning season. Roscoe D’Sane’s scored twice in the 3-2 home win on Boxing Day 2002, whilst he also netted in the 1-1 draw at Gander Green Lane on 21 March 2003 that secured the Shots’ promotion to the Conference. Sutton United’s biggest win was a 5-0 home victory in April 1999.
Overall, Aldershot Town have won four, drawn one and lost one of their six home games against the South London side, scoring seven goals in three consecutive wins. As well as the win mentioned above, the Shots also won 1-0 in the Ryman League Premier Division in March 2002 thanks to a Stafford Browne goal, whilst he also scored twice in the only previous FA Cup tie between the two clubs. Grant Payne got the other goal in a 3-0 Third Qualifying Round victory on 13 October 2001. The Us only win at the EBB Stadium came courtesy of a 2-1 victory in October 1998.
There were also two First Round FA Cup games between Aldershot FC and Sutton United, both at Gander Green Lane. The Shots won 4-0 in November 1963, whilst the Us caused the upset with a 3-0 home victory 24 years later.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Richard Martin from Somerset, who took charge of two Shots games last season – the 2-1 home defeat against Gateshead last November and the goalless draw at Macclesfield Town in March. He also oversaw the 6-0 home win over Tamworth in December 2013. This season he’s officiated in six National League fixtures, showing twenty yellow cards and three red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worral of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM 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 @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison