Aldershot Town made it three wins in a row with a 1-0 home win over Kidderminster Harriers on 30 January. They have a chance to record their longest winning run in the league for almost four years if they can pick up three points against promotion-chasing Tranmere Rovers this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After the outstanding win at Macclesfield Town the previous Saturday, it was a more dour display that earned the win against Kidderminster Harriers. The Shots had no efforts on goal in the first half, whilst Phil Smith made a decent save from a deflected shot in the 11th minute. However, they improved after the break, with Alfie Pavey prodding wide from Charlie Walker’s free kick before Walker himself fired in from Rhys Browne’s pass five minutes into the second half. The visitors had chances to draw level, most notably when Ben Whitfield failed to capitalise on Joe Oastler’s sliced clearance and shot well wide. Ross Lafayatte was denied a goal on his home debut after his shot was saved in stoppage time, but the hosts held on for the win – the third in their last four fixtures at the EBB Stadium.
Two-thirds of the way through the National League campaign, it’s an opportune time to look at how the Shots form this season has compared to previous campaigns. In the past eight seasons, only once have they been higher than their current 13th place after 31 games (12th in 2009-10), whilst their total of twelve wins is their second-highest in that time (13 wins in 2010-11 and 2011-12). Aldershot Town’s tally of 37 goals is only bettered by their 49 in 2009-10 and 2013-14, plus their 48 in 2008-09, whilst their points total of 41 also compares quite favourably. The Shots best 31-game tally is the 45 points gained in 2009-10, followed by 43 points in 2011-12 and 42 points (albeit it with a ten-point deduction) in 2013-14.
The Shots’ opponents this weekend were formed in 1884 and were founder members of Division 3 North in 1921. That started an unbroken 94-year spell in the Football League that had some incredible highs along the way. A Division Three North title in 1937-38 led to one year in the second tier of English football, a level they returned to in 1991. Their decade in the Championship saw three play-off appearances and a League Cup Final in 2000, where they lost 2-1 to Leicester City. The Wirral side dropped into the bottom tier with a defeat on the last day of the 2013-14 campaign, before finishing dead last in League Two last season, six points from safety.
Tranmere Rovers currently sit 4th in the National League table with 53 points from 32 games, but their season has fallen into three distinct sections. They only lost two of their first fifteen in the league, then lost six of ten, before winning six of seven, including their last four, albeit against Barrow, Bromley, Torquay United and Southport. Their strength this season has been at the defensive end, with only four sides bettering their record of 33 goals conceded in 32 league games. Away from Prenton Park, Tranmere Rovers have won three on the bounce, scoring seven goals. Overall, they’ve only lost three times in the league on the road and have won at both Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers.
Gary Brabin took over as manager on 5 May and he’s appreciated that the side have had to cope with increased expectations this season. After Saturday’s 1-0 win against Southport, he told the Liverpool Echo: “Before the season started I said the mental side of football is a massive part of the game… I think the anxiety is to be expected, that’s part of the excitement. One of the incentives for taking the job here is the pressure of that expectation. It’s something I have always been aware of. When the supporters are behind you they are fantastic. I think anyone should want to play in front of a big crowd. Hopefully we are at the start of turning the club around and moving in the right direction.”
Barry Smith named an unchanged line-up for the third game in a row, with Alfie Pavey and Charlie Walker starting in the striking roles in preference to recent signing Ross Lafayette. Walker repaid his manager’s faith in him with the only goal of the game. His 50th-minute strike was his eleventh goal of the season, and his first at home since the 1-1 draw against Bromley on 17 October. At the other end of the pitch, the back four of Alexander, Beckles, Oastler and McGinty started for the fifth consecutive game and helped their side to a second successive clean sheet.
The Shots boss had the luxury of a fully-fit squad from which to choose last time out, with Jack Saville, Sam Hatton and Matthew Barnes-Homer all missing out on the matchday sixteen through managerial choice. Like Richard Brodie last month, Barnes-Homer has been released by the club after making fifteen scoreless appearances since arriving in the summer from Macclesfield Town.
As you’d expect from a relegated side, the Tranmere playing staff has changed dramatically over the last eight months. The majority of last season’s squad moved on, with a fair few remaining in the Football League. Thirteen-goal top scorer Max Power joined League One side Wigan Athletic, whilst midfielder Marc Laird moved to Yeovil Town and forward Rory Donnelly went to Gillingham from Swansea City after his five-goal loan spell at Rovers. Adam Dugdale and Lee Molyneux both joined Morecambe, fellow defender Danny Holmes moved to Newport County whilst Jonai Donacien returned to Aston Villa, before linking up with Wycombe Wanderers on another loan deal. Veteran midfielder, and former Welsh international, Jason Koumas retired, whilst first-choice goalkeeper Owain fon Williams moved to Scottish Premiership side Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Also departing Prenton Park were Josh Thompson (Southport), Rob Taylor (Kidderminster Harriers), Kayode Odejayi (seven goals last season, to Stockport County), Peter Brezovan and Iain Hume. Amongst those who remained with the Wirral side were young striker Cole Stockton, midfielder Steve Jennings and defenders Matt Hill, Liam Ridehalgh, Michael Ihiekwe and Marcus Holness.
Gary Brabin made a number of eye-catching signings over the summer, especially in the forward areas. James Norwood was captured after scoring thirteen times in 2014-15 for Forest Green Rovers, a total he’s matched in this campaign. Fellow striker Andy Mangan notched seven times this season before returning to Shrewsbury Town last month, whilst Lois Maynard tallied on twelve occasions from midfield for FC Halifax Town. The Rovers boss has also signed young forward Johnny Margetts on a permanent deal from Hull City, whilst Gary Taylor-Fletcher arrived from Leicester City. Midfielder Jay Harris arrived from Wrexham, whilst ex-Shots winger Adam Mekki, who scored six goals in 100 Aldershot Town appearances between 2009 and 2014, signed after splitting last season between Barnet and Dover Athletic. At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Scott Davies and centre-back Liam Hogan look like excellent signings from Fleetwood Town, whilst defenders Ritchie Sutton and Martin Riley have both joined from Mansfield Town. In recent weeks, Brabin has secured the services of centre-back Steve McNulty (Luton Town), right-back Lee Vaughan (Cheltenham Town), striker Michael Higdon (Sheffield United) and midfielders Jack Mackreth (Grimsby Town) and Jeff Hughes (Cambridge United, on loan from the rest of the season).
Mekki missed last weekend’s win against Southport through illness, so should be available this weekend, whilst Liam Hogan (knee) and Matt Hill (calf) are out with long-term injuries.
Aldershot Town and Tranmere Rovers only met once in the league, with Sam Hatton giving the visitors a fifth-minute lead at Prenton Park on 22 September. However, Rovers replied with goals from Norwood, Mekki and Andy Mangan to secure all three points. They also met in two Second Round FA Cup matches in late 2009. The first game on the Wirral finished goalless, with the home side rattling the woodwork and debutant Marlon Jackson and Louie Soares forcing saves for the Shots. Both sides entered the replay knowing a home tie against Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers awaited the victors, but that seemed to inhibit the home team who defended poorly to give up a 2-0 lead. Oliver Bozanic got a goal back in the 90th minute, but it was definitely a missed opportunity for a cup upset.
Tranmere Rovers did play 32 league games against Aldershot FC between 1961 and 1987, with the Shots winning thirteen, losing twelve and drawing seven. Of the sixteen encounters on the Wirral, the Shots managed four victories (2-1 in August 1961, 3-1 in May 1963, 1-0 in January 1974 and 2-1 in December 1979), but were defeated on nine occasions with three further draws. Rovers are currently unbeaten in eight home games against sides from Aldershot.
If he features against Tranmere Rovers this Saturday, Jim Stevenson will make the 50th appearance of his Aldershot Town career.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Nigel Lugg from Surrey, who took charge of four Shots games last season – the 2-1 home win against Welling United last February, the home defeats against AFC Telford United (1-2) in January 2015 and Chester (0-1) three months later, plus the 1-1 draw at Dartford in October 2014. This season, he’s officiated in ten Conference games, showed 35 yellow cards and no 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 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