Caretaker boss Chris Barker’s first home game in charge of the Shots resulted in a much-needed three points against Welling United, which moved them five points clear of the relegation zone. Aldershot Town’s run of fixtures against sides below them in the table continues this weekend with a trip to struggling Alfreton Town. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The relief at the final whistle last Saturday was palpable as the Shots picked up their first points of 2015. The performance was almost the reverse of recent games, with the home side being indebted to goalkeeper Phil Smith, who made four fine saves in the opening twenty minutes. Barker’s side then scored with their first shot on target, when Jim Stevenson headed in a poorly-defended corner, before conceding an equaliser in first half stoppage time. Aldershot Town got a stroke of fortune when the visitors’ Karl Duguid hit the post on the hour mark, before Ryan Jarvis’ 92nd-minute penalty secured the win. A similar victory this weekend will take them eight points clear of the Conference drop zone.
The defeat not only ended Aldershot Town’s run of five consecutive losses, but also gave them their first league win at the Electrical Services Stadium since 15 November. Even though their first lead only lasted five minutes, the match marked just the third time in fourteen games that the Shots has scored the opening goal of the game. They’ll be hoping that’s a trend that continues in the next two months, especially as it should improve the side’s confidence in the attacking third. Only Nuneaton Town have a worse attacking record than Aldershot Town this season, whilst the Shots have also lost all three games on the road in 2015, failing to score a single goal and conceding five.
Alfreton Town were formed in 1959 by a merger between Alfreton Miners Welfare and Alfreton United, and most of their formative years were in the Midland Counties League. A spell in the Northern Premier League was followed by seven seasons in Conference North, which ended with the winning of that title in 2010-11. The Derbyshire side’s first two seasons in a national league saw finishing positions of 15th and 13th, and, despite reverting to part-time playing status in the summer of 2013, the Reds were 3rd in the table with eight games to go. However, a run of just three points from their last eight games saw the Reds sitting 11th in the division’s final standings.
That poor form continued into this season, with the Derbyshire club losing their opening seven league fixtures, and they’ve rarely been out of the relegation zone since. Their 31 points from 33 games means the Reds are currently 21st in the Conference, one point from safety. Their recent form has improved, with eight points from six games in 2015, plus they’ve beaten Southport and drawn with Forest Green Rovers in their last two home games. However, only AFC Telford United have allowed more than the 67 goals conceded by Alfreton Town, with twenty of those coming in their last eight games.
Nicky Law, who took over as the Reds’ manager in May 2007, expressed his disappointment at Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Braintree Town. He told the club’s official website after the game: “l was personally disappointed to have lost the game. l think that in the last two games we did well to take four points, and before the game l spoke about the importance of now going to build on that and not give it up. We got to the point that if we won today we’d go out of the bottom four with Aldershot and Welling playing each other, but it wasn’t to be and, if I’m honest, l think they were probably more able today in playing the pitch and the situation and a few of our players got a bit non-League today.”
Chris Barker named an unchanged starting line-up for the visit of Welling United, but returning winger Tristan Plummer was named amongst the substitutes following a month at Weston-super-Mare, where he scored twice in four games. The caretaker-boss also made the tactical change of Danny East dropping back to right back, whilst Jaydon Gibbs moved forward into midfielder. Gibbs was bundled over for the winning penalty, which was dispatched by Ryan Jarvis for his first goal since New Year’s Day 2014; loanee midfielder Jim Stevenson also scored his first goal for the club. However, the game at Alfreton is scheduled to be the last of his initial one-month stay from Luton Town.
Joe Oastler is a doubt for the trip to Derbyshire after going off at half-time last Saturday with an ankle injury, but Josh Scott could return to the squad this weekend having been rested for the win over Welling United. However, midfielders Damon Lathrope, who’s been out for the last four-and-a-half months with a groin problem, and Mark Molesley, who’s missed the last nine games with an achilles injury, should be available for selection towards the end of February.
For a variety of reasons, Alfreton Town’s squad is virtually unrecognisable from the one that performed so well last season. Over the summer, seventeen players signed on permanent deals, with the defensive reinforcements looking especially impressive on paper. They included Duane Courtney (Tamworth), Luke Graham (Hereford United), Lathaniel Rowe-Turner (Luton Town), Jordan Keane (Stoke City), Chris Smith (FC Halifax Town), Dan Gray (Lincoln City) and Lawrence Gorman (Nottingham Forest). In midfield, Andi Thanoj (Grimsby Town), Jake Sheridan (Lincoln City), plus Anthony Howell and Lee Stevenson (both Mansfield Town) were added to the squad, whilst eight-goal top scorer Karl Hawley (Torquay United), Benny Igiehon (Swiss club FC Lagenthal) and Massiah McDonald (Matlock Town of the Northern Premier League Premier Division) were expected to add firepower to the frontline. A further eight players have arrived since the turn of the year, including former loanee Joe Ironside, who signed permanently from Sheffield United. The first-choice goalkeeper is York City loanee Jason Mooney, whilst the defensive ranks have been supplemented by Niall Heaton (Bradford City), Callum Howe (three-month loan from Scunthorpe United) and Joe Leesley (Matlock Town). Central midfielder Simon Lenighan arrived on loan from Conference North side Harrogate Town earlier this week, whilst winger John Johnston signed from Crewe Alexandra last month.
Undoubtedly, the biggest loss was nineteen-goal top scorer John Akinde, who moved to Barnet, but plenty of other key players also moved on in the summer. They include goalkeepers Jon Worsnop and Ross Atkins (returned to parent club Derby County); defenders Nick Fenton, Chris Westwood, Michael Wylde and Connor Franklin; plus midfielders John McGrath, Danny Meadows and Josh Law, who moved to Motherwell. Only defender Bradley Wood, midfielders Dan Bradley and Tom Shaw, plus striker Paul Clayton have made significant appearances in 2014-15 after featuring as part of last season’s squad..
Nicky Law will be without defenders Callum Howe and Duane Courtney this weekend, as both have suffered recent hamstring injuries. However, Joe Ironside could feature on Saturday after a foot injury restricted him to a place on the substitutes bench at Braintree Town.
This Saturday marks the fourth meeting between the Shots and the Reds, with the game earlier this season ending in a 2-0 victory for the home side. Sam Hatton gave Aldershot Town a first-half lead with a low free-kick, but Alfreton Town had chances to equalise, even hitting the post just after the break. However, Jaydon Gibbs’ only goal of the campaign thus far wrapped up the win just after the hour mark.
Last season saw both teams winning on the road. The Reds scored twice from set-pieces, whilst the winner from Jake Speight was laid on a plate after a run from John Akinde. The home side’s equalisers came from Gibbs and Brett Williams, and they could have snatched all three points had Gibbs not missed an open goal four minutes before the visitors went ahead for the third and final time. Last April, Alfreton Town were swept aside by the Shots who romped to a 4-1 win at the Impact Arena. A Martin Rowlands free kick and a header from Mark Phillips gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at half-time. John Akinde halved the deficit in the 56th minute, but Manny Oyeleke restored the two-goal advantage within sixty seconds. Mark Molesley completed the scoring with a fine run and finish in the 66th minute.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Adrian Holmes from West Yorkshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 win at Lincoln City in October 2013. So far this season, he’s refereed thirteen Conference games, showing 22 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 for team news just after 2pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website at 2.55pm.
We also want your thoughts on how you think the Shots will do against Alfreton Town. Let us know on the day via the following methods:
Text: 81333 (please start your text with the word ‘Radio’)
Plus, we want your reaction to the game between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday in ‘The Final Whistle’. Win, lose or draw, we want to hear from you throughout this season. Call us on 03459 57 00 57 and let your voice be heard.