Chester v Aldershot Town – Match Preview – Saturday 17 March 2018
Following last weekend’s 7-1 defeat to fellow play-off rivals AFC Fylde – Aldershot Town’s first away league defeat since October – The Shots will be looking to ‘bounce-back’ as they hit the road to the north-west again on Saturday. Chester, fighting for survival in more ways than one, are their opposition.
Rob Worrall previews the action…
In his pre-match interview, Gary Waddock suggested that his players “will be judged on their last game” so Saturday could see an opportunity for one or more players that have been on the fringe of the starting eleven in recent weeks. Waddock also hinted that Saturday may come too soon for goalkeeper Lewis Ward and midfielder Jim Kellermann, who continue to recover from knocks. Nick Arnold has stepped up his training following his long-term cruciate ligament injury but is still some way short of a return to the playing side.
Opposition – Chester FC
Nickname: The Blues
Ground: Deva Stadium (also known as the Swansway Chester Stadium)
Manager: Marcus Bignot
Chester sat 13th at the beginning of April 2017, but a closing run of six straight defeats saw them plummet to 19th place, narrowly avoiding relegation. Since reforming in 2010, they have gained three promotions to be back at National League level.
Following the sacking of Jon McCarthy in September 2017, Marcus Bignot was announced as Chester FC’s new manager. Bignot played almost 600 games in a 14-year playing career, predominantly at right-back and for ten different clubs, most notably Telford United, Crewe Alexandra, Rushden & Diamonds and Queens Park Rangers. Unusually for a professional footballer, Bignot began his managerial career whilst still playing actively, managing Birmingham City Ladies for seven years between 1998 and 2005.
Taking over as manager of Solihull Moors in 2011, Bignot went on to lead them to the National League North title in 2015-16. By November 2016, League Two Grimsby Town came calling and he took up the reigns there, only to have his contract terminated just five months later. In September 2017, Bignot was appointed interim assistant manager of National League side Barrow AFC, to assist caretaker manager Micky Moore, but within two weeks he took up his current role as Chester boss. In the last few days, former Chester manager Neil Young has returned to the club to assist Bignot.
Chester lost four players from last season’s playing squad, including centre-back Sam Hughes, who was snapped up by Premier League side Leicester City. McCarthy released a further six players including – rather surprisingly – Elliott Durrell, who joined Macclesfield Town and is the current National League Player of the Month. McCarthy retained 10 of his squad and added a further 12 players to it, three of which moved the opposite way to Durrell, joining from their Cheshire neighbours at Moss Rose: defenders John McCombe (subsequently moved on to Harrogate Town) and Andy Halls, plus midfielder Kingsley James (now on loan at Barrow AFC). Striker Ross Hannah returned to Chester from Barrow, and was joined by midfielder Paul Turnbull from the Bluebirds. However, Turnbull’s contract was recently terminated by mutual consent. McCarthy brought in three other players from National League clubs, in left-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner (from Torquay United) and strikers Nyal Bell (Gateshead) and Harry White, who was Solihull Moors’ top scorer last season with 12 goals.
With Chester in financial trouble, Bignot has had little room for manoeuvre, and budget cuts were necessary in the New Year. Several players have moved on, including goalkeeper Alex Lynch, McCombe, Turnbull and midfielder Tom Shaw. Former Bromley and Wrexham forward Dominic Vose has recently joined Chester, as has 19-year-old Crewe Alexandra goalkeeper Will Jääskeläinen (son of former Bolton Wanderers keeper Jussi) on a one month loan.
Having recruited well in the summer, Chester had high hopes of challenging at the top end of the National League table. However, with just one win in their opening eleven games – the 2-1 victory at Aldershot Town – they found themselves in the bottom three and have been embroiled in a battle to avoid relegation for the entire season. They come into Saturday’s games having lost six of their last seven National League matches.
Saturday afternoon sees the tenth meeting between Aldershot Town and Chester, with the Shots winning two, drawing two and losing five of the previous nine encounters. With The Shots flying high back in August and Chester struggling, The Blues turned the form book upside down with a 2-1 victory at The EBB Stadium, coming from behind as strikes from Lucas Dawson and Kingsley James turned things around after Matt McClure’s first half strike for Town.
Chester won the last match between the two sides at the Deva Stadium (2-0) in December 2016, having played out a goalless draw at the EBB Stadium three months earlier. Chester inflicted what is now Aldershot Town’s joint-record defeat at the Deva Stadium on 8 March 2016. Four goals from James Alabi and two from Sam Hughes put the Blues 6-1 up at half-time, with Ross Hannah’s brace rounding things off for the hosts in the second half. Ross Lafayette and Dan Walker got the merest of consolations for Barry Smith’s side in Chester’s 8-2 romp. Two months earlier, Sean McGinty, Alfie Pavey (on his debut) and Jim Stevenson got the goals in a 3-1 home win for The Shots. The Cheshire side did the double over Aldershot Town in the 2014-15 campaign, notching a pair of 1-0 victories, whilst the previous season saw The Shots pick up four points.
Aldershot Town previously played four league games against Chester City, with a record of one win, one defeat and two draws. Both sides won a game apiece at the Deva Stadium, with the Shots’ Marvin Morgan scoring the only goal of the game in November 2008. Four-and-a-half years earlier, the Cheshire club had won 4-2 in a game that saw both teams reduced to ten men. Chester City (confusingly also previously known as Chester) also had 45 games against Aldershot FC between 1948 and 1989. The Shots record at the club’s old Sealand Road ground was poor, winning five, losing eleven and drawing six of their 22 visits.
Saturday’s referee is Peter Wright, who has taken the middle in 21 National League games this season, showing 58 yellow cards and three red cards, including the sending off of Aldershot Town midfielder Manny Oyeleke against Dagenham & Redbridge. He also refereed The Shots 3-2 win at Leyton Orient in January.
BBC Surrey Sport’s Rob Worrall and former title-winning Shots midfielder Lewis Chalmers will be covering the game live on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to the BBC Sport website, or the BBC Sport App, from 2.50pm for full match commentary. To interact with them tweet @RobShot66