Aldershot Town ended a seven-game losing streak in all competitions with a battling 1-0 win at Guiseley last Saturday. The three points, which lifted them to 16th in the table, were especially crucial ahead of the festive week of fixtures, which start with a home game against local rivals Woking on Boxing Day. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The Shots picked up just their fourth home league win of the season last Saturday and it was the sort of tight, nervous game that we should have expected. The first half passed without a shot on target for either side, but Barry Smith’s side picked up the pace after the break, with Sam Hatton and Dan Walker testing visiting goalkeeper Steven Drench. His opposite number Phil Smith made a stunning 71st-minute save from James Hurst, tipping his fierce shot onto the crossbar, to keep it 0-0 before Aldershot Town broke the deadlock. Eight minutes later Jake Gallagher’s right-wing cross was turned in by Tom Richards to a mix of joy and relief at the EBB Stadium. There was also time for skipper Sean McGinty to hit the bar from a forty-yard free kick in stoppage time, with Danny Carr’s follow-up being well saved by Drench.
Last weekend’s victory also ended a run of four consecutive home defeats, as well as one of just two points from seven National League fixtures. The win was built on the side’s ninth clean sheet of the season and the 1-0 scoreline helped highlight one particular contrast in Aldershot Town’s 2015-16 campaign thus far. In the fifteen games in all competitions that they’ve either won or drawn, the Shots have scored 23 goals and conceded on just seven occasions. However, they’ve conceded 35 goals and scored just seven in the fourteen league and cup games in which they’ve lost. An improvement on the side’s thirteen goals in sixteen fixtures at the EBB Stadium should help address this balance.
Their opponents on Boxing Day secured a place in the top-flight of the non-league pyramid for the first time in April 1992, a couple of weeks after the demise of Aldershot FC. Seventeen consecutive seasons at that level included five top-five finishes (ending in the runners-up slot in 1994-95 and 1995-96) and three FA Trophy successes between 1993 and 1998. However, the club faded over the next decade and were relegated to Conference South in 2009. Play-off defeats against Bath City and Farnborough followed, before Woking returned to the Conference Premier as champions in 2011-12. They’ve improved each season back at this level, finishing 12th, 9th and then 7th in 2014-15, three points from the play-offs.
The Cards have had an up-and-down season so far, but they sit 10th in the table with 37 points from 25 games. They were unbeaten in their first nine league games, then lost three in a row, before winning three on the bounce. Woking then won just one of their next ten National League outings, before winning four of their last five. Goalscoring has been their strength, with only Cheltenham Town and Grimsby Town bettering their total of 45 league goals, but they’ve only managed one clean sheet in their last eighteen league fixtures. They’ve won three of their last four games away from Kingfield, including league victories at Chester and Gateshead, plus an FA Trophy win at Boreham Wood.
Garry Hill has been in charge of the Surrey side since January 2011 and is delighted with his side’s recent form, including a 5-1 win at Gateshead at the weekend. He told the Surrey Advertiser after that game: “We came here to win and we’re playing well at the moment, with a lot more confidence… Six weeks ago, people were looking at us having a terrible time, so all credit to the management staff, players and everyone at the club. We’ve had to work extremely hard together, and it isn’t easy to turn round at any level of football when things are going against you. But all of a sudden we’ve won five out of the last six games and these players are now starting to grow in the right area, belief-wise.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the visit of Guiseley last Saturday, with Joe Oastler making his first league start since March in place of the suspended Omar Beckles, whilst Sam Hatton returned to the midfield in place of Rhys Browne. Oastler had a particularly strong game at centre-back alongside the former Woking defender Luke Oliver as the Shots kept their first clean sheet in eight league games. Jake Gallagher also returned after a three-game ban, coming on in the 25th minute for Jim Stevenson, and made some driving runs from midfield to go with the assist for fellow substitute Tom Richards. The 21-year-old notched his first senior goal last Saturday and will be hoping to feature from the start on Boxing Day.
The Aldershot Town manager will have both Beckles and loanee winger Marcus Harness available this weekend as they have completed their suspensions, but he could be without a number of other key personnel. Jack Saville and Rhys Browne both missed the win over Guiseley through illness, whilst Stevenson took a knock to the hip and will hope to be fit enough to continue his ever-present run in the side this season.
Garry Hill was forced into a major squad reshuffle over the summer of 2015, with a number of his key players leaving the Cards. First-choice centre-backs Joe McNerney and James Clarke moved to League Two sides Crawley Town and Bristol Rovers respectively, whilst attacking midfielder Kevin Betsy and former Shots full-back John Nutter both retired. Josh Payne (nine goals last season) joined Eastleigh, Dean Morgan was released and left-back Aswad Thomas moved to fellow National League club Dover Athletic. Fellow defender Mike Cestor suffered a serious knee ligament injury last December and hasn’t featured so far in this campaign, whilst last season’s top scorer Scott Rendell (24 league goals) and centre-back Ismail Yakubu (who arrived from Newport County in June) suffered similar injuries in August and have been ruled out for the remainder of this season. Amongst those who have remained at Kingfield include goalkeeper Jake Cole, inspirational skipper Mark Ricketts, midfielder-turned-centre-back Joey Jones, full-back Chris Arthur, attacking midfielders John Goddard (eleven goals this campaign) and Kieran Murtagh, plus long-serving striker Giuseppe Sole, who has recently returned from a loan spell with National League South outfit Basingstoke Town.
Rendell’s loss has largely been covered by former Shots loanee Dan Holman (three goals in eighteen Aldershot Town games between October 2014 and January of this year), who has seventeen goals in 26 appearances for the Cards, including eight in his last six National League outings. Brian Saah (Dagenham & Redbridge) and Jake Caprice (Lincoln City) have strengthened the defence, whilst Nick Hamann arrived from Braintree Town to act as the back-up to Cole. Bruno Andrade (QPR), Jimmy Keohane (Exeter City) and Kadell Daniel (Charlton Athletic) have bolstered the midfield ranks, but Godfrey Poku (AFC Telford United) failed to impress before being loaned out to Havant & Waterlooville. The Woking boss has also recently snapped up the impressive loan trio of striker Joe Quigley (Bournemouth), left-back Cameron Norman (Norwich City) and central midfielder Matt Robinson (Luton Town), all of whom have been crucial to Woking’s recent good form.
Apart from the long-term injures to Rendell, Yakubu and Cestor, Hill should have a fully-fit squad from which to choose this weekend. However, Dan Holman limped off at Gateshead with a calf problem and will be assessed before the trip to the EBB Stadium.
Since their first meeting in the FA Cup in October 1998, these two clubs have met each other on twenty occasions, with the Shots winning ten (including seven of the last eight), drawing six and losing four. The 2014-15 campaign saw both clubs winning the away fixture, with the Cards’ victory last September coming courtesy of a stunning 35-yard free kick from Giuseppe Sole, which was the one true moment of quality in an uneventful game. The reverse fixture on 28 December saw Andre McCollin and Brett Williams give the Shots a 2-0 lead in the opening thirty minutes, before a late goal from loanee Jack Marriott ensuring a nervous finish for the visitors. In the previous season both games finished 2-1 to Aldershot Town, the latter of which at Kingfield, on Easter Monday, secured the visitors’ place in the Conference for another season. Mark Molesley got the decisive goal after Brett Williams and Brett Johnson had netted either side of half-time. Williams also scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the 2-1 win in North-East Hampshire on 26 August 2013.
The home side also has the weight of history behind them at the EBB Stadium; winning four, drawing four and losing just twice against the Cards. They’ve won four of the seven league games on this ground, including the famous 4-0 win in front of the TV cameras in March 2005 and a 2-1 victory on New Year’s Day 2008. Later in the 2007-08 promotion season, these two teams also played out a 2-2 draw in the semi-final of the Setanta Shield, with the Shots eventually going through after winning the penalty shootout 4-3. The first game in North-East Hampshire ended in a 0-0 draw, with the Shots as a Ryman League Premier Division club, in the FA Cup in October 1998, whilst Woking’s only previous victory at the Shots came in an FA Trophy 4th Round Replay sixteen months later.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Constantine Hatzidakis from Kent, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-0 home defeat against Macclesfield Town in September, their 1-0 home loss to Wrexham last month, plus the 1-0 loss to Burgess Hill Town in the FA Trophy last December. This season he’s officiated in seven National League fixtures, showing 29 yellow cards and two red cards, both to Shots midfielder Jake Gallagher.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and former Aldershot FC player and manager Ian McDonald 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 radio frequencies, 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.