Aldershot Town suffered their worst-ever league defeat on Tuesday night, going down to an 8-2 thrashing at Chester. That game was their fourth consecutive away game, so the Shots will have the relief of a first home game in a month this weekend as they welcome Torquay United to the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
“It’s hard to explain it but it’s a totally unacceptable performance and we apologise to all the Aldershot Town fans because that was a performance that we’re not proud of.” That statement from Barry Smith to BBC Surrey after the game could even be considered an understatement. The Shots were 6-1 down at half-time after the same mistakes were made over and over again. The pacey James Alabi’s four goals all came from balls over the top of a high defensive line, whilst an unmarked Sam Hughes netted twice from corners. Chester’s top scorer Ross Hannah scored two goals in the second half to emphasize the home side’s dominance, whilst the two bright spots for Shots fans came from Ross Lafayette’s fine curling strike in the first half, whilst Dan Walker’s run and finish got them on the board in the second period.
After the midweek horror show, plus the disappointing defeat three days earlier at Lincoln City, Aldershot Town’s players will be happy to finally return to the EBB Stadium this weekend. The game against Torquay United is their first home game since the goalless draw against Tranmere Rovers on 13 February, whilst it’s just their fourth home game since Boxing Day. That does mean the Shots are still unbeaten at home in 2016 with wins over Chester and Kidderminster Harriers before the Tranmere Rovers game. Going back slightly further, Barry Smith’s side have won three and drawn one of their last five home league fixtures, conceding just two goals in the process, but only scoring five at the other end.
Formed in 1899, it took Torquay United 28 years to reach the Football League, and that’s where they stayed until their first relegation from League Two in 2007. The Gulls were promoted two years later (one year after the Shots) and managed to reach the League Two play-offs in consecutive seasons. In 2011, they lost 1-0 to Stevenage in the final at Wembley, whilst twelve months later; they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Cheltenham Town in a Play-Off semi-final. They finished bottom of the Football League again in 2013-14, five points from safety, before their 13th-place finish in 2014-15. However, the club has suffered massive upheaval over the last year, including being taken over by a consortium of local businesspeople.
The resulting reduced playing budget is one reason why the Gulls find themselves in the National League relegation zone. Their total of 33 points leaves them two places and two points from safety, but their form has improved dramatically in recent weeks. They’ve picked up four wins and a draw from their last five outings, although three of the wins were against relegation rivals Boreham Wood, Welling United and Kidderminster Harriers. The Boreham Wood win, plus another at Macclesfield Town, also means Torquay United have won their last two games away from Plainmoor. The five-game unbeaten streak has also featured three clean sheets, but the South Devon side still have the division’s worst defensive record.
Former left-back Kevin Nicholson took over as player-manager on 28 September, replacing Paul Cox, with his side drawing 0-0 at home to Braintree Town on Tuesday night. After the game, Nicholson told the club’s official website: “It’s not a bad point, particularly as we were not fully at it… The biggest improvement is the mentality, character and will of the players. They worked so hard and this kind of attitude and determination is everything for me. I’m fortunate to have a group of talented players here now with the right kind of attitude. They are working for each other and it’s a real team effort. If we can keep this going, it will get us places and now we are ready to go again at the weekend.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the game at Chester with new loanee Giorgio Rasulo, who’d signed earlier that day from MK Dons, going straight into the starting line-up. It was something he didn’t manage in a loan spell at the end of 2014-15, which saw four substitute appearances last April. Rasulo came in for Alfie Pavey, whilst Dan Walker was preferred to Nathan Ralph and promptly scored his first goal for the club on his 37th appearance. With the cataclysmic shambles at the back on Tuesday night, no defensive player’s place in the first eleven is guaranteed, so we could see recalls for Dan Thomas, Jack Saville, Luke Oliver or even 36-year-old player-assistant-manager Chris Barker.
After the game on Tuesday, Smith highlighted the crucial absence of Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot last month and is most likely out for the rest of the campaign. The Shots will also be without top scorer Charlie Walker for a couple of weeks due to an ankle injury he suffered in training earlier this month, whilst former Gull Joe Oastler is struggling with a knee problem.
With such financial hardship hitting Torquay United, it’s no surprise that the squad has seen a massive overhaul in the last twelve months. The biggest loss last summer was eighteen-goal top scorer Ryan Bowman, who moved to Gateshead, but they lost key players from other areas as well. Defenders Aaron Downes (Cheltenham Town, seven goals in 2014-15), Krystian Pearce (Mansfield Town), Tom Cruise, Dale Tonge (Chester) and young left-back Levi Ives (Bristol City) all left Plainmoor, as did first-choice goalkeeper Martin Rice (Truro City). They’re also without attacking midfielders Jordan Chapell (Chester), Courtney Cameron (Southport) and striker Duane Ofori-Acheampong, who scored six goals in the previous campaign before joining Dover Athletic. Amongst those players who did remain were ten-goal winger Louis Briscoe (although he left in January to join Wrexham), midfielders Luke Young (seven goals) and Courtney Richards, plus new team captain, centre-back Angus MacDonald. There have been further first-choice players departing during the season including seven-goal joint-top scorer Tyrone Marsh (Dover Athletic), fellow strikers Alex Fisher (Inverness Caledonian Thistle) and Waide Fairhurst (FC Halifax Town), plus midfielders James Hurst (seven goals, on loan at Guiseley) and Simon Heslop (Wrexham), goalkeeper Fabian Spiess (Boston United) and winger Shepherd Murombedzi (Nuneaton Town). Highly-rated nineteen-year-old goalkeeper Dan Lavercombe also signed for Wigan Athletic in January for £30,000, but was immediately loaned back to the Gulls for the rest of the campaign.
Paul Cox brought in the majority of those players who have now moved on from Plainmoor, but four of his defensive signings have remained at the club – former Shots loanee Dan Butler (fifteen appearances in two loan spells in 2013-14), right-back Durrell Berry (Cheltenham Town) and centre-backs Exodus Geohaghon (Northern League Premier side Stourbridge) and Nathan Smith (season-long loan from Port Vale). Kevin Nicholson has re-tooled the rest of the squad with strikers Nathan Blissett (Bristol Rovers), Andre Wright (West Bromwich Albion, loan), Shaun Harrad (Worcester City) and Toby Ajala (Dover Athletic, six goals for the Gulls last season) all arriving in recent months. Meanwhile, the midfield ranks have been added to with the signings of Josh Rees (Nottingham Forest, loan), Aman Verma (Kidderminster Harriers, loan), Danny Racchi (Tamworth) and Ifeanyi Allen (Yeovil Town). Ben Gerring signed from Hayes & Yeading United to act as defensive cover, whilst Grant Fisher (Buckland Athletic) is the new back-up to Lavercombe.
Midfielder Luke Young has missed the entire campaign thus far after damaging knee ligaments in July, but is back in training. However, the trip to Aldershot will come too soon for him. Nathan Blissett limped off on Tuesday night with a hamstring problem, so could be a doubt to face the Shots, as could Dan Lavercombe, who has a niggling groin injury.
Aldershot Town and Torquay United have faced each other on fourteen occasions, with the Shots having the edge by seven wins to five. Their first meeting this season resulted in a 2-0 win for the visitors at Plainmoor, with Sam Hatton and Charlie Walker getting the crucial first-half goals. Last season saw a further pair of 2-0 home wins. A Josh Scott brace gave the hosts the win in an FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round tie in October 2014, whilst Tristan Plummer and Glenn Wilson got the goals last Easter Monday, when Aldershot Town secured their non-league status for another season. The other game last season saw a 1-1 draw at Plainmoor on a wet August Bank Holiday Monday. Courtney Cameron’s long-range free kick was misjudged by the visitor’s defence for the opener, but Joe N’Guessan equalised with twenty minutes left to ensure the spoils were shared.
Last season’s victories mean Aldershot Town have won four of their last five home fixtures against the Gulls. The wins, which have all come alongside clean sheets, include a 1-0 win in February 2013, where Troy Brown scored the only goal of Dean Holdsworth’s last game in charge, and a victory by the same score in March 2011, with Luke Guttridge netting the winner. However, the South Devon side have beaten Aldershot Town at the EBB Stadium three times, most recently with a 1-0 win in August 2011. Overall, Torquay United’s record against Aldershot FC saw them win fifteen, draw eight and lose twenty of their 43 visits to North-East Hampshire.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Alan Young from Cambridgeshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 home win against Welling United in September, as well as the 2-1 defeat at home to Lincoln City two months later. This season he’s officiated in fourteen National League fixtures, showing 57 yellow cards and three 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 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