Aldershot Town bowed out of the FA Cup at League One side Bradford City on Wednesday evening after a battling display in West Yorkshire. They return to league action at the EBB Stadium this weekend aiming for a first National League win in five outings against in-form Wrexham. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Barry Smith certainly got the required positive response from his side at Bradford and, for an hour, the game was a carbon copy of the goalless draw in North-East Hampshire ten days earlier. Richard Brodie and Sam Hatton forced a double save from Bantams keeper Ben Williams, whilst Jim Stevenson spurned a golden opportunity to score on the half-hour mark. At the other end, Phil Smith touched Mark Marshall’s shot onto the post to keep the game scoreless at the interval. Home left-back Greg Leigh broke the deadlock in the 61st minute, whilst Tony McMahon converted a penalty fifteen minutes later after Omar Beckles had fouled Luke James. The Shots had a number of half chances after that, with Beckles volleying the best of them over the bar in the 79th minute.
Aldershot Town’s failure to hit the back of the net, despite creating a number of good scoring chances, on Wednesday evening, albeit against a side with the third best defensive record in League One, was all too familiar. They’ve managed just five goals in their last eight league and cup outings. It’s one of the main factors why Barry Smith’s side have lost three consecutive games in all competitions and have failed to win any of their last four league games, picking up two points in the process. That run, which includes just one point from their last two home league games, has seen the Shots drop to 14th in the division, eight points from the play-off places.
After 87 years as a Football League side, Wrexham were relegated to the Conference Premier in 2008. They came close to promotion earlier in the decade, finishing fifth in 2012-13, before losing that season’s Play-Off Final against Newport County. The North Wales club were also beaten by Luton Town at the play-off semi-final stage in the previous two campaigns, with the loss in 2011-12 coming after finishing runners-up to champions Fleetwood Town. After a 17th-place finish in 2013-14, just eight points above the relegation zone, they improved last year to finish 11th with 66 points, whilst also losing the FA Trophy Final, a defeat which cost manager Kevin Wilkin his job.
Wrexham’s run of three straight league victories (which ended a run of six games without a win) against Woking, Barrow and Gateshead has lifted them to eighth in the National League table, just two points outside the top five. The Dragons’ strength in this campaign so far has coming in the attacking third, with them netting forty times in twenty league outings. Only Grimsby Town and Cheltenham Town have better goalscoring records in the division thus far. Their one recent blip, however, came with a 1-0 home defeat to National League North side Gainsborough Trinity in the FA Cup. They have ten points from their nine away fixtures thus far, but have lost two of their last three on the road at Chester and Dover Athletic.
Gary Mills, who took over as manager in the summer, had positive things to say about the Shots following their FA Cup exit. He told the North Wales Daily Post: “They have lost the game, they will recover today and they will do a little bit on Friday, I presume, and will be ready to go on Saturday. I thought they played well actually, I watched the game last night and I thought they did okay. But they are out the Cup now and will be wanting to start picking up points in the league. Aldershot is always a tough place to go and get a result, but we are in a good place and the spirit is really good, the belief is really good, the hunger is really good, and we can’t wait to get on that bus to get down there and play the next game.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the FA Cup tie on Wednesday, with the experience of Sam Hatton being preferred to Rhys Browne, whilst Charlie Walker started alongside Richard Brodie in place of the ineligible Dipo Akinyemi. Despite reuniting upfront, Brodie and Walker both stretched unwanted scoreless streaks. The former has now gone thirteen games without a goal since he netted the winner against Welling United on 15 September, whilst nine-goal top scorer Charlie Walker has now gone six games since hitting the back of the net. Either could start on the bench this weekend, whilst Browne could come back into the starting eleven after a lively cameo at Valley Parade.
Jack Saville has missed the last two games with a hamstring problem and is a doubt to face Wrexham on Saturday, whilst fellow defender Joe Oastler is back in training after an ankle operation over the summer and is expected to return to action in the next three weeks. Stevenage loanee Akinyemi should return to Smith’s squad at the weekend.
Since his arrival from Gateshead at the end of April, Gary Mills has overseen a dramatic overhaul of the playing squad. Last season’s two top scorers, Louis Moult (23 goals) and Andy Bishop (seventeen goals) moved to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell and FC Halifax Town respectively, whilst first-choice goalkeeper Andy Coughlin joined Southport. The midfield departures included Dean Keates (Rhyl FC), Jay Harris (Tranmere Rovers), Joe Clarke (Kidderminster Harriers), Kyle Storer (Cheltenham Town) and Elliott Durrell (Tamworth), whilst they’ve also lost some key defenders. Luke Waterfall has gone to Lincoln City, Neil Ashton joined Barrow and fellow full-back Steve Tomassen made the move to Tamworth. Some key players have remained at the Racecourse Ground, however, including forwards Connor Jennings (nine goals in 2014-15, eight strikes in this campaign already) and Wes York (six goals this season), midfielders Mark Carrington and Rob Evans, plus centre-backs Manny Smith and Blaine Hudson.
Mills’ most impressive signings came in restocking his midfield ranks with nine-goal top scorer Dominic Vose, Adriano Moke (Macclesfield Town), Lee Fowler (who split last season between Nuneaton Town and Crawley Town) and former Shot loanee Adam Smith (FC Halifax Town), although the latter is now on loan at Guiseley. On the defensive side of the ball, Sean Newton, who scored eight goals for Lincoln City last season, former Welling United defender Jamal Fyfield and ex-Tamworth full-back Javan Vidal should feature prominently this season, whilst goalkeeper Cameron Belford, who finished the last campaign at Swindon Town, was the number one until the loan arrival of Rhys Taylor from Newport County until January. Upfront James Gray (Accrington Stanley, five goals this season) and Kayden Jackson (Tamworth) will look to replace Moult and Bishop. The Wrexham boss also added midfielders Jon Nolan (Lincoln City) and James Caton (Shrewsbury Town) to his squad on loan deals until January.
Due to Rhys Taylor’s dead leg, however, Belford is slated to start in goal for Wrexham this weekend, whilst Javan Vidal will be out after picking up a groin problem earlier this month. Midfielders Jon Nolan and Jonathan Royle will also be unavailable for the trip to Aldershot due to hamstring injuries.
Saturday afternoon will see the sixth meeting between Aldershot Town and Wrexham, with the Shots losing 3-0 in North Wales in August. A flat, lacklustre display from the visitors was punished by goals from Wes York, James Gray and Dominic Vose’s 90th-minute penalty. They’d also lost both ther previous games at the Racecourse Ground. Last November, the home side won 3-1, despite Dan Holman giving the Shots the lead after 14 minutes. On 4 January 2014, the game finished 2-1, with Jay Harris thumping a superb winner three minutes from time to secure all three points after Brett Williams had notched an excellent equaliser.
Aldershot Town’s one victory over the Dragons was a 2-0 home win in September 2013, when Mark Molesley got the opening goal of the game and Jordan Roberts came off the bench to net his first senior goal. The two sides also played out an entertaining 1-1 draw back in April. Aldershot FC also had an excellent record at home against Wrexham, winning eleven and drawing three of the seventeen meetings at the Rec. Wrexham haven’t won any of their last seven visits to Aldershot, with their most recent victory being a 3-2 win in April 1976.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Constantine Hatzidakis from Kent, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-0 home defeat against Macclesfield Town in September, as well as the 1-0 loss to Burgess Hill Town in the FA Trophy last December. This season he’s officiated in six National League fixtures, showing 24 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 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