Preview: Altrincham v Aldershot Town

Aldershot Town bounced back from their drubbing at Chester the previous week with a battling goalless home draw against Torquay United last Saturday. Results elsewhere saw them drop to 15th in the table as they look to end a three-game winless streak with a trip to relegation-threatened Altrincham this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.

Defensive solidity and organisation, rather than gung-ho adventure, was always going to be the order of the day at the EBB Stadium at the weekend. However, the visitors started the brighter, with Andre Wright and Shaun Harrad having decent opportunities in the opening fifteen minutes. The Shots grew into the game though, with Alfie Pavey narrowly missing the target with two opportunities towards the end of the first half. Wright and Harrad missed half-chances just before the hour mark, before the hosts forced the two best saves of the game. Pavey’s through ball in the 59th minute found Ross Lafayette, but a heavy first touch allowed Brendan Moore to smother his shot. The Gulls’ goalkeeper made an even better save two minutes from time as he turned away Jake Gallagher’s fierce, 25-yard drive.

The recent defensive record of Barry Smith’s side highlights the inconsistent nature of their campaign. The clean sheet at the weekend was their fifth in their last eight games, but they’ve conceded thirteen goals in the other three outings, including the eight at Chester. That also relates to their away form as well, which is the eleventh-best in the division, but quite lop-sided over the course of the season. Their first ten league games away from the EBB Stadium saw five wins and seventeen points, whilst the next nine have garnered two wins, six defeats and seven points. Only Barrow and Bromley (both 39) have conceded more away goals in 2015-16 than Aldershot Town’s 36.

Formed in 1891, Altrincham are one of non-league’s proudest and most-decorated clubs. Previous long-term spells in the non-league’s top tier from 1979 to 2000 (they won it in its first two seasons) and 2005 to 2011, plus two FA Trophy triumphs and their long-standing record of beating sixteen Football League teams as a non-league side in the FA Cup, meant many fans felt they’d returned to their rightful level after promotion from Conference North in May 2014. The Robins had finished 3rd in the table before defeating Hednesford Town and Guiseley in the Play-Offs. Last season saw the Greater Manchester side finish 17th, eleven points above the relegation zone.

They’re struggling this season, however, sitting 22nd with 35 points from their 36 league games. They haven’t won any of their last eight league games (five draws, three defeats) since a 3-1 home win over Woking at the end of January, whilst they’ve only managed four points out of a possible eighteen at Moss Lane since the win over Woking. Only Torquay United, Barrow and FC Halifax Town have conceded more than Altrincham’s 61 league goals in 2015-16, with their last sextet of league fixtures seeing them ship thirteen goals. Despite a disappointing campaign overall, the Robins have managed home wins against Cheltenham Town, Grimsby Town and Tranmere Rovers.

The poor form saw Lee Sinnott’s departure last week, with his assistant Neil Tolson taking over as Caretaker Manager. Speaking to the Non-League Paper over the weekend, Chairman Grahame Rowley said: “I tried to talk him (Sinnott) around because we wanted to keep him here but, when someone’s mind is made up, it’s made up. He felt it was better for the club to make a change and that’s a measure of the man. I was disappointed that certain media reported he was sacked. He certainly wasn’t. Lee resigned and that is an absolute fact. It was a decision made by himself and it was regrettable from our point of view. Neil knows the club… He will be given the chance to prove he is the man to keep us in the league.”

Unsurprisingly, Barry Smith made five changes from the side that started against Chester at the weekend. Jack Saville (making his first start since 5 December) and Tom Richards (his first start since the loss at Woking on 2 January) came into the back four in place of Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty, with both contributing to a disciplined and solid defensive display. Wingers Dan Walker and Rhys Browne, plus central midfielder Jim Stevenson, were dropped to the bench, along with McGinty, with Alfie Pavey, Nathan Ralph and Sam Hatton returning to the starting eleven. Aldershot Town struggled to create chances against Torquay United, so Smith may make changes to his front six this weekend.

The Shots boss will be without Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot last month, for the rest of the campaign, whilst the trip to Altrincham may come a week too soon for top scorer Charlie Walker, who’s missed the last three games with an ankle problem. Joe Oastler picked up a knee injury at Chester and was due to be assessed further this week.

For the second season in a row, Lee Sinnott kept the majority of his playing squad from the previous campaign. Maybe most importantly, he managed to hang on to 21-goal top scorer Damien Reeves, although he’s struggled to repeat that form this season scoring just eight times, whilst veteran goalkeeper Stuart Coburn (689 Altrincham appearances and counting!) also remained at Moss Lane. Also staying with the Robins were defenders Gianluca Havern, Adam Griffin, Scott Leather and Tom Marshall; midfielders Nicky Clee (seven goals last year), Shaun Densmore, James Lawrie, Jake Moult and Simon Richman, plus forwards Ryan Crowther and Jordan Sinnott. A number of players did depart the Robins, including experienced defensive midfielder Peter Cavanagh, who retired to take up a coaching role at Everton. Forwards Kyle Perry (nine goals in 2014-15) and Sean Williams, along with second-choice stopper Dave Parton, moved to Hednesford Town, whilst striker Steven Gillespie joined Warrington Town.

Arguably, Sinnott’s most important summer capture was the former Aldershot Town forward Michael Rankine (seven goals in 58 games between 2011 and 2013), who is the club’s top scorer with thirteen goals since joining from Gateshead. Fellow striker George Bowerman arrived from Accrington Stanley and midfielder Josh O’Keeffe moved from Kidderminster Harriers, whilst fellow summer midfield arrival Anthony Griffith (Carlisle United) made just two appearances before retiring due to a long-term hip injury. Tim Deasy joined from Northwich Victoria to back up Coburn, but has been the number one for the majority of 2015-16, with Callum Williams (Blackburn Rovers) signing to be his deputy. Centre-back Marcus Holness (Tranmere Rovers) and winger Josh Ginnelly (Burnley) have recently signed on loan to add quality to the Robins’ squad.

Altrincham have been hit by a number of long-term injuries this season, with Stuart Coburn (calf) and Tom Marshall (dislocated ankle and broken fibula) being out since August, whilst captain Shaun Densmore went off in the first game against Aldershot Town and hasn’t played since that fixture. Rankine also missed the game at Barrow last weekend and must be considered a doubt to face his former club.

Saturday afternoon sees the eleventh meeting between Aldershot Town and Altrincham, with the Shots winning four, drawing two and losing four of the previous fixtures. Earlier this season, the hosts played out a comfortable 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium, with Jack Saville and Rhys Browne getting the goals, whilst Charlie Walker hit the post late on. Aldershot Town also won their home game last season, with Brett Williams, Jordan Roberts and Josh Scott getting the goals in a 3-1 win on the opening day of the campaign, with Nicky Clee’s goal proving a mere consolation. Altrincham got a measure of retribution last February when a Chris Barker own goal proved the difference between the two sides at Moss Lane in his first game as Caretaker Player-Manager.

Prior to 2014-15, the last time the two clubs met was in the Shots’ promotion-winning season, with the North-East Hampshire club securing a pair of 2-1 wins. Jonny Dixon and Louie Soares scored for the visitors in the game at Moss Lane in September 2007, whilst Anthony Charles and Scott Davies notched for the hosts in the return game six months later. The 2006-07 season saw a pair of goalless draws between the two sides, but Altrincham managed to complete an emphatic double over the Shots in 2005-06. James Olsen and Colin Little got the goals in a 2-0 win in North-East Hampshire on 27 August 2005, whilst the Shots were battered 5-1 in the away game in January 2006. The teams first met at the EBB Stadium in the fourth round of the FA Trophy in early February 1999 with the visitors winning 2-1.

Saturday afternoon’s referee is Robert Jones from the Wirral, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-1 victory at Barrow in September. This season he’s officiated in fifteen National League fixtures, showing 42 yellow cards and one red card.

BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison 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