Preview: Chester v Aldershot Town

Aldershot Town went down to just their second defeat in seven games at the weekend, losing 2-0 at Play-Off-chasing Lincoln City. This Tuesday evening sees the Shots play their fourth consecutive away game, travelling to Chester for a rearranged National League encounter. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.

Barry Smith’s side probably gave their worst performance of 2016 at Sincil Bank on Saturday, with Jamie McCombe’s 8th-minute goal getting the visitors off to the worst possible start. The Shots didn’t manage a single shot on goal in the opening period and could have been further behind but for Phil Smith’s outstanding penalty save from Matt Rhead in stoppage time. In the 51st minute, Jim Stevenson’s shot was smothered by Imps goalkeeper Paul Farman, whilst Rhead’s diving header hit the top of the Aldershot Town bar sixty seconds later. However, the game was put to bed on the hour mark when Joe Oastler – under no pressure at all – turned Bradley Wood’s cross past his own goalkeeper. Rhys Browne came closest to getting the Shots on the board, but his curling effort hit the post with five minutes to go.

On paper, Aldershot Town have a highly beneficial end-of-season run-in, which should see them push for a top-half finish. Only three of their remaining eleven games are against sides in the top half of the table (at home to Braintree Town and Grimsby Town, away at Forest Green Rovers on Easter Saturday), whilst they face five of the current bottom ten at home before the end of the campaign. However, their away form has been better than their record at the EBB Stadium, picking up 24 of their 45 points in 2015-16 on the road. They’d also scored in their six away games prior to the trip to Lincoln City, notching nine goals in that sextet of outings, but have only managed seventeen home league goals in sixteen games.

The story of Chester FC has been a brief and, mostly, very successful one. The supporters-run club was founded in 2010 following the demise of their precursors Chester City, who were wound-up in March of that year after a string of financial problems, points deductions and on-pitch struggles. Continuing to play at the Deva Stadium, the Blues secured three straight promotions, winning the Northern League Division One North, the Northern League Premier Division, and then the Conference North in 2012-13. Their first season at this level was one of struggle, with the Blues ending the campaign in the relegation zone before a reprieve due to Hereford United’s expulsion. Last season saw a more comfortable 12th-place finish.

After a good start to 2015-16, where the Blues won three and drew two of their opening six league fixtures, they’ve dropped to 17th in the National League standings, five points above the National League relegation zone. Their recent form has been poor, winning just one (against struggling Altrincham on 16 February) of their last nine league games, whilst they’ve not managed a win at the Deva Stadium so far in 2016. Their last five league games there have seen three draws and two defeats since a 4-1 win over Torquay United on 19 December. Chester also opened the season in good form defensively, starting with three consecutive clean sheets, but they’ve only managed two in their last fourteen league fixtures.

Chester boss Steve Burr, who’s been in charge of the club since January 2014, has been disappointed with recent results. He told the Chester Chronicle before the weekend’s 1-1 home draw with Bromley: “I think the main thing for me at the minute is getting the results and trying to turn things around and I’m determined to do that. When you’re not winning you get criticised and I think that drives me on even more… It’s been frustrating this season without a shadow of a doubt. I’m not looking towards next season, I’m looking towards Saturday and Tuesday to win those matches, because that’s what it about and keeping this club in this division… We want to finish as strongly as we can.”

Barry Smith made one change for the game at Lincoln City, with Alfie Pavey coming in for the injured Charlie Walker. It was the Millwall loanee’s first start alongside Ross Lafayette and the manager will hope that partnership develops over the coming weeks. Nathan Ralph made his second start in midfield, but may be under pressure following substitute appearances on Saturday by Dan Walker and Tom Richards. However, there probably won’t be any changes in defence, with Cheye Alexander, Joe Oastler, Omar Beckles and Sean McGinty having started ten consecutive league games as a quartet.

Smith was dealt a blow, however, with the news that Damon Lathrope suffered a fractured foot last month and is most likely out for the rest of the campaign. He’ll also be without top scorer Charlie Walker for a couple of weeks due to an ankle injury he suffered in training last week.

Steve Burr was able to re-tool his squad last summer with excellent replacements coming for those key players that did leave the Blues. Amongst those who moved on were joint-top scorer Sean McConville (eleven goals, to Accrington Stanley), midfielder Kingsley James and centre-back Matty Brown (both FC Halifax Town), defenders Gareth Roberts (Stockport County) and Kieran Charnock (Chorley), plus long-term loanee Matty Hughes, who returned to Fleetwood Town. The Chester boss, however, did manage to hang on to striker John “Brother of Wayne” Rooney (who also scored eleven times in 2014-15, but only has five goals so far this season), midfielders Craig Mahon and Craig Hobson (both scored seven times last season), defenders Ben Heneghan (eight goals in the previous campaign) and Ryan Higgins, plus goalkeeper Jon Worsnop. Midfielder Michael Kay also re-signed before leaving Chester last month to take a break from football for personal reasons.

McConville’s goals have been more than replaced by the former Grimsby Town striker Ross Hannah, who has twenty goals this season, including sixteen in the National League. His most recent partner has been James Alabi, who arrived from Ipswich Town at the end of January. The midfield has been enhanced by the arrivals of Luke George (Southport), Tom Shaw (Alfreton Town), Jordan Chapell (Torquay United) and Ryan Lloyd (on loan from Port Vale until the end of the season), whilst Tony Thompson arrived from Morecambe in January to provide competition to Worsnop. In defence, the experienced pair of Ian Sharps (Burton Albion) and Johnny Hunt (Cambridge United) have been the first choices at centre-back and left-back respectively this season, whilst young centre-back Ryan Astles joined from Northwich Victoria earlier this year. Burr has recently added to his options in the attacking third with the loan captures of Danny O’Brien (Wigan Athletic) and Nyal Bell (Rochdale).

Both George and Sharps have missed games in recent weeks due to hamstring injuries, so are doubts to face Aldershot Town on Tuesday, whilst Tom Shaw has come back from a bruised foot and was an unused substitute at the weekend.

Saturday sees the sixth meeting between Aldershot Town and Chester, all of which have been in what is now the National League. The most recent was on 9 January of this year, with Sean McGinty and Alfie Pavey (on his debut) getting their first goals for the club. Jim Stevenson got the clincher in a 3-1 win as John Rooney’s cracker proved merely a consolation for the visitors. The Cheshire side won both games last season by the score of 1-0. Rooney scored the only goal at the EBB Stadium last April, whilst Matty Hughes was the game-winner in this corresponding fixture in October 2014. Seven months earlier, a Brett Williams brace gave the Shots a comfortable 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium, with Jaydon Gibbs’ 90th-minute goal securing a point for the Shots in that campaign’s away fixture in November 2013.

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. However, their overall record against the Blues was very much in their favour thanks to a string of excellent results at home. Of those 45 games, Aldershot FC won nineteen, drew thirteen and lost thirteen.

If Jim Stevenson features on Tuesday evening, he’ll make his 50th league appearance for the club, whilst Jake Gallagher will make his 150th career appearance if he plays in the same fixture.

Tuesday night’s referee is Karl Evans from Greater Manchester, who took charge of the Shots’ 4-1 win at Alfreton Town in April 2014, as well as the 3-1 loss at Wrexham in November of that year. This season he’s officiated in thirteen National League fixtures, showing 29 yellow cards and five red cards.


BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Surrey website and BBC Sport app from 7.35pm for full commentary of the game.

You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport