Aldershot Town ended a run of four straight league defeats with a 2-1 win at local rivals Woking on Sunday afternoon. The win moved the Shots up to 17th in the Conference table, ten points from both the play-offs and the relegation zone. However, their first game of 2015 sees them embark on a tough visit to league leaders Barnet. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The victory at Kingfield was an impressive one for Andy Scott and his team in all areas of the field. Unlike previous games in the seven-game winless run, the Shots strikers were clinical in the opening thirty minutes, with Andre McCollin’s dangerous cross from the left curling inside the far post and Brett Williams scoring his tenth goal of the campaign from close-range after an excellent cross from Jaydon Gibbs. Dan Holman and Kieron Forbes had chances to further extend the lead before a frantic final ten minutes. The visitors’ defence just managed to hold firm against a late aerial bombardment from the Cards, conceding just the one goal from home striker Jack Marriott. However, Aldershot Town managed to hold on for a deserved three-point haul.
The victory ended a run of six defeats and a draw from their last seven fixtures, none of which had seen the Shots score more than one goal. It also ended a three-game losing streak away from the Electrical Services Stadium, with the win meaning Aldershot Town have now garnered sixteen points from fourteen away league fixtures, which is the 12th-best in the Conference. The one downside was the concession of the late goal, which means Scott’s team have only kept one clean sheet in their last ten competitive fixtures. However, that certainly can’t be considered a freak occurrence, with twenty of their 41 goals conceded in the 2014-15 campaign coming after the 65-minute mark.
After a trio of consecutive last day escapes from relegation out of the Football League, Barnet finally dropped through the trapdoor in April 2013. It brought an end to an eight-season stay in the Football League, and was a sorry finish to the Club’s 106-year stay at Underhill. The Club finished 8th in the non-league top-flight last season, seven points from the play-offs, but they had a good finish to the campaign under Martin Allen. Having taken charge for the fourth time on 19 March, Allen oversaw a run of one defeat from the last eight games of 2013-14. After winning the Conference title in 1991 and 2005, the Bees are ideally-placed to become the first Club to win the Conference title on three occasions.
Barnet have been leading the way for the majority of the season so far, with their 59 points from 28 games seeing them secure a seven-point lead at the turn of the year. Their 63 league goals is, by far, the best record in the division (Eastleigh are the next highest with 48), whilst they’ve failed to score in only one league game this season. Only Bristol Rovers and Eastleigh have better home records than the Bees (29 points from fourteen games), whilst they’ve also conceded just 26 league goals so far in the 2014-15 campaign. However, their only clean sheet in their last ten league games came in a 3-0 home win against Chester on 20 December.
The Bees showed plenty of resilience on Sunday, coming from 2-0 down to draw with Dover Athletic. Speaking to the Barnet & Potters Bar Times after the game, Allen said: “We had to try something different because we were not making any headway. Their back five were dominating and we just could not get through it. All the crosses going into the box – and there were numerous – they just cleared everything. In the second half, that changed when we changed the formation again and changed our way of playing and we played with more intensity and wore them down…We just chatted really and said we all know we have got to play a little bit better. It got through and we got a good point – a really pleasing result.”
Andy Scott made two enforced changes for the short trip to Woking, with Dan Thomas coming in for his full Shots debut in place of Phil Smith. The 23-year-old goalkeeper performed well at Kingfield and came within an 88th-minute goal of keeping a clean sheet. The other change saw Andre McCollin coming in as part of the forward trio alongside Brett Williams and Dan Holman, with Jordan Roberts dropping to left back and Chris Barker moving into the centre. McCollin’s early goal – his second for the club since signing from Kingstonian in mid-October – marked the first time Aldershot Town had scored first in a competitive fixture since the loss at Wrexham on 29 November, and it proved crucial in securing all three points.
Phil Smith is available to Scott on New Year’s Day having served a one-match suspension, whilst centre back Glenn Wilson missed Sunday’s game with a knee problem. It’s hoped the injury isn’t too serious, but the trip to Barnet may come too soon for the Shots skipper. Left back Anthony Tonkin has been out for almost three months with a calf injury, but was an unused substitute at Woking, whilst midfielder Damon Lathrope has been out for a similar length of time with a groin problem. Josh Scott will be out for the foreseeable future after scans revealed a broken metatarsal suffered in the home defeat against Gateshead at the beginning of November, Mark Molesley’s achilles problem has been described as a long-term injury, whilst Mark Phillips injured a hamstring at Welling United. Joe N’Guessan, who is scheduled to return to Stevenage on 2 January, has missed the last eight games with an ankle problem.
Martin Allen was able to keep the majority of last season’s squad for this campaign’s promotion push. Midfielder Mark Byrne and top league goalscorer Jake Hyde (twelve goals) both moved into the Football League with Newport County and York City respectively, whilst back-up goalkeeper Nick Jupp was released and subsequently joined Met Police. Midfielders Ahmed Abdulla, Kieron Cadogan, James Harper and Roberto Casabella also left the Bees, as did forwards Harry Crawford and Marciano Mengerink. Amongst those who remained in North London were goalkeeper Graham Stack, defenders Andy Yiadom, Elliot Johnson, Jack Saville and David Stephens; midfielders Curtis Weston, Luisma Villa (who has eleven goals so far in 2014-15) and Mauro Vilhete, plus strikers Keanu Marsh-Brown and Jon Nurse.
The Bees’ most eye-catching signings came in the attacking third, with John Akinde being snapped up after a nineteen-goal season with Alfreton Town. He’s already bettered that in this campaign, with his 21 league goals being the best tally in the Conference, whilst also netting in Barnet’s last five league fixtures. Veteran goalscorer Charlie MacDonald was signed from Oldham Athletic to play alongside him, whilst former QPR midfielder Lee Cook has eight goals this season after arriving in the summer from Greek side Apollon Smyrni. Centre back Bondz N’Gala and defensive midfielder Sam Togwell have been excellent acquisitions at the other end of the pitch, whilst defender David Hunt (Oxford United) and striker Bernard Mensah (Watford) are on loan until early-January. The Barnet manager also signed former Aldershot Town winger Adam Mekki in the summer (he scored six goals in 100 appearances during his time in North-East Hampshire), but the 23-year-old has recently been told he is free to leave the club.
Allen’s only injury concern is striker Jon Nurse, who suffered a knee ligament strain earlier this month, which will keep him out for around six weeks.
Wednesday afternoon sees the eighteenth meeting between Aldershot Town and Barnet, with the Shots certainly having the edge in recent meetings, winning six of the last nine. That gives them the slight historical edge with eight wins, compared to six victories for the Bees, plus three draws, one of which came at the Electrical Services Stadium last September. Aldershot Town led 3-1 with twelve minutes to go, thanks to a Brett Williams brace and a Manny Oyeleke strike, but Barnet secured a point with late goals from Marciano Mengerink and Harry Crawford. Barnet also scored on three occasions in the recent Boxing Day meeting between the two sides, with John Akinde’s clinical hat-trick settling the game in the visitor’s favour. An own goal from a Sam Hatton corner was the sum total of the Shots’ efforts.
The Shots won 3-1 on their first visit to The Hive last January, with Jordan Roberts, Bradley Bubb and Mark Molesley netting the goals in a highly impressive victory for the visitors. That win can be added to Aldershot Town’s decent record at the Bees’ former home Underhill, where they won three and lost four of their seven visits. A Craig Reid penalty was enough for a 1-0 away win on New Year’s Day 2013, while the away team also won 2-1 on New Year’s Day 2011 (Ben Harding and Wade Small scored for the Shots) and 3-0 on Boxing Day 2008.
If he plays on New Year’s Day, Manny Oyeleke will make his 50th appearance for Aldershot Town.
Wednesday afternoon’s referee is Mark Pottage from Dorset, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-1 home defeat against Braintree Town in September. So far this season, he’s refereed ten Conference games, showing 29 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 New Year’s Day. Tune into the BBC Surrey website at around 2.50pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the game via our Twitter feed: @bbcsurreysport