Shots – Braintree Town match preview – 31 August 2015
Aldershot Town went down to a 2-1 home defeat to Eastleigh on Saturday in demoralising fashion. However, they get the chance to bounce back immediately with their second game in 48 hours taking them to Essex to face Braintree Town. Can they make it two away wins on the bounce? BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Barry Smith’s side took the positive attitude from their 4-0 win at Guiseley into the game against big-spending Eastleigh and showed plenty of high-tempo, attacking adventure. However, some of those defensive frailties surfaced once again and denied them a deserved point. The first came after 33 minutes when a long ball bounced through to James Constable, who flicked his fifth goal of the season past Phil Smith. The Shots got back on level terms with Charlie Walker firing in his first goal for the club from Rhys Browne’s cross. The home side had chances to win the game late on, but couldn’t find the killer pass, and it was left to substitute Lee Cook to fire a 93rd-minute winner past Smith.
Last Saturday’s win in West Yorkshire was a welcome tonic for Aldershot Town’s travelling fans, with it being just their third away win in 2015. Two of their three games away from the EBB Stadium have seen the side keep clean sheets, and one of those would be very welcome at 9th-place Braintree Town on Monday. It’s a game which completes a very tough August for the Shots, with four of their opening six games coming against teams currently in the top six. Barry Smith’s team are currently 18th in the early National League standings, but they are top of another table. Sixteen yellow cards from their opening six fixtures is the highest total in the division, and doesn’t compare well with the 58 they were shown in the whole of the 2014-15 league campaign.
Most of Braintree Town’s 116-year history has been spent in regional and local leagues, but four Ryman League promotions in ten years between 1996 and 2006 took the Essex club up to Conference South. Five years at that level ended with the Iron’s promotion as Champions in 2010-11, with their first two Conference Premier campaigns bringing finishes of 12th and 9th, whilst they finished sixth, just three points from a play-off place, in 2013-14. However, they dropped back into the pack last season, finishing 14th. This year, they’ll have to take on the non-league elite without manager Alan Devonshire, who resigned in April to be replaced by former Concord Rangers boss Danny Cowley.
Braintree Town have got off to a strong start this season, despite losing their opening two fixtures. However, their first point came with a goalless home draw against Tranmere Rovers, which has been followed by three straight victories against Bromley, Southport and Welling United. However, it should be pointed out that all three of those sides are currently in the bottom six. The Iron’s opening sextet of fixtures have been fairly light on the goals front, with six goals for and six against. Their last two games at Cressing Road have seen them keep two clean sheets, which is certainly an improvement from their opening home game, a 3-1 defeat to Lincoln City.
The Iron started the Bank Holiday weekend with a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Welling United. Speaking after the game to the Braintree and Witham Times, Cowley spoke about his positive approach: “We have a clear strategy when we are drawing – we feel that if there are 15 (minutes) to go and we’re drawing, then we’ll go and try to win the match. Out of three games, if you are drawing three, then that’s three points. However, if you’re positive in your substitutions and go for the throat, then you might lose one, you might draw one and you might win one and end up with four points. So in this league, with three points for a win, I think you always have to go out to win matches when you can. That’s what we look to do.”
Barry Smith made two enforced changes for the game against Eastleigh, with Matthew Barnes-Homer returning to the starting line-up in place of Richard Brodie, whilst Charlie Walker made his full Shots debut due to Sam Hatton’s absence. Those two formed the striking duo, with former Braintree Town forward Dan Walker (22 scoreless appearances last season) moving into a more orthodox right-midfield position. Despite Nick Anderton’s return to the squad after two games out with an ankle injury, Jack Saville kept his place at left-back, whilst new signing, nineteen-year-old Brighton & Hove Albion attacking midfielder Charlie Harris, joined Anderton on the substitute’s bench.
Brodie was unavailable due to a groin spasm suffered at Guiseley, but he should be fit for the trip to Essex, whilst Hatton is still struggling after taking a knock to the kidney on the opening day against Gateshead. Midfielder Damon Lathrope is a week away from returning to full training, but defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty are longer-term absentees. Oastler’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until mid-October, whilst McGinty should return in late-September after suffering a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town.
The new Braintree Town boss has kept the majority of last season’s squad, whilst also bringing in seven permanent signings and one season-long loanee to compensate for the six key players that have departed Cressing Road. Unsurprisingly, some have followed Alan Devonshire to Maidenhead United, including defenders Ryan Peters and Alan Massey, midfielder James Mulley and back-up goalkeeper Carl Pentney. Their first-choice stopper, Nick Hamann, also left over the summer, signing for Woking, whilst Dan Walker made the move to the Shots. Amongst those who have remained at the club are defenders Mitch Brundle, Remy Clerima, Sam Habergham and Matt Paine, midfielders Chez Isaac and Kenny Davis (ten goals last season), plus forwards Jordan Cox (the Iron’s top scorer last season with twelve goals), Dan Sparkes (ten goals in 2014-15, three in his last three games), Simeon Akinola (seven goals) and Sean Marks.
A quartet of players followed Danny Cowley to Braintree, with the most notable being former Southend United midfielder Alex Woodyard. Defenders Matt Fry and Jeremy Walker, plus midfielder Taylor Miles, also left Concord Rangers to join Cowley at Cressing Road. Michael Cheek, who scored 22 goals last season for Chelmsford City, has arrived to strengthen the striking options, with former Aldershot Town loanee Mark Phillips doing the same at the other end of the pitch after signing from AFC Wimbledon. Will Norris, who’s on a season-long loan from Cambridge United, is the new first choice goalkeeper, with forward Jordan Chiedozie arriving from the same club on a short-term loan earlier this month. Brighton & Hove Albion defender Tom Dallison has also moved to the Iron on a one-month loan deal, whilst winger Anthony Edgar (Bishop’s Stortford) made his debut on Saturday.
Matt Fry will be unavailable for some time after damaging his knee ligaments against Tranmere Rovers earlier this month, and striker Charlie Strutton has been out since January with an ankle injury. Jordan Cox is yet to feature this season, whilst Simeon Akinola didn’t play at Welling United, so both must be considered a doubt for the visit of Aldershot Town.
Aldershot Town and Braintree Town have met on ten previous occasions, with the Shots winning five, losing three and drawing two of the meetings. One of those tied was the most recent game between the two sides in Essex in April. Sam Hatton gave the visitors the lead before Dan Sparkes equalised just before the hour mark. Sparkes also scored in the reverse fixture last September, with Jordan Cox scoring twice in a 3-1 win for the Iron. Damon Lathrope’s first senior goal was the merest of consolations.
The Shots have failed to win any of their four previous trips to Cressing Road, with former loanee Dan Holman’s 3rd-minute goal giving Braintree Town a 1-0 win in March 2014. Aldershot Town also managed a 0-0 draw when the two teams faced off in a Ryman Premier Division fixture in April 2002, whilst they lost 2-1 in a game in the same division eight months later. The last time the Shots beat the Iron was in November 2013 with Andy Scott’s team winning 2-1 in North-East Hampshire. Kenny Davis gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot, before Brett Williams and Matt Paterson netted for the hosts to secure all three points.
Monday afternoon’s referee is Craig Hicks from Surrey, who took charge of two Shots games in 2014-15, including last season’s game between these two sides. He also oversaw the 1-0 home defeat against Macclesfield Town last December. So far in this campaign, he’s officiated in two Conference games, showing seven 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 Monday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2.15pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Sport website 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