Aldershot Town’s consistently inconsistent season continued last weekend with an excellent 2-2 draw against high-flying Bristol Rovers last Saturday. It was a point that kept the Shots in 15th place in the Conference table, with the short trip to struggling Dartford to come this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Bearing in mind the Shots’ results this season, the inevitability of last Tuesday’s limp defeat at Chester was almost matched by the knowledge that Andy Scott’s team would out on a vastly improved home performance against a Bristol Rovers side that came into the game on an eight-match unbeaten run. Brett Williams gave the hosts from a dubiously-awarded penalty, before Rovers went in front through a deflected shot and an even-worse penalty decision. However, Jordan Roberts’ exquisite free kick made it 2-2 in the 77th minute, before hitting the bar eight minutes later. Either side of that, Steve Mildenhall made excellent saves from Williams and Mark Phillips, whilst stoppage time saw a second yellow card for Roberts and a “Save-of-the-Season” contender from Phil Smith.
It was an exhilarating contest and highly reminiscent of a number of the Shots’ displays in the opening month of the campaign. However, it did stretch the club’s run to just two wins from their last ten league games, whilst Aldershot Town visit Dartford without a win in their last six away games. On top of that, they’ve only manage five goals in their eight fixtures away from the Electrical Services Stadium, which is the third-worst record in the division. The Shots have generally started games well – they’d be 6th in the Conference if league games ended at half-time – but half of their eighteen league goals have been conceded after the 67th-minute.
After spending most of their 126-year history in the Kent and Southern Leagues, Dartford secured three promotions in six seasons by winning the Ryman League Division One North in 2007-08, finishing on the top of the Ryman League Premier two years later and then advancing from the Conference South, via the play-offs, in 2012. Their first season in the non-league top-flight saw the Darts finish 8th, but the 2013-14 campaign was a disastrous one, with the Kent side finishing 22nd, seven points from safety. However, a reprieve came in June after Salisbury City’s expulsion from the Conference for financial irregularities.
Tony Burman, who made over 300 appearances for the Kent side, has overseen the Club’s rise through the leagues, having started his third spell in charge of Dartford in January 2005. He told the BBC Sport website following the Conference’s decision: “Mentally it is good for us. We want to stay at the highest level of non-league football… We run a very tight ship and we try to keep within our budgets. I’ll speak to the players we have signed, (as) some of them found the Conference Premier difficult with the travelling and work commitments. We are trying to put a good squad together and have signed some excellent players so far this summer. I will listen to what they have got to say and I will try and persuade them to stay. I will say ‘let’s give it one more go’.”
The Kent side have struggled again this season, currently sitting 19th in the table, with just three league wins and fifteen points. The Darts have gone four without a win, although they have been denied by late equalisers in their last two home games against Grimsby Town and Macclesfield Town last weekend. Only two teams (Alfreton Town and Nuneaton Town) have scored less than Dartford in this campaign, but the most extraordinary statistic concerning the team is that they have failed to lead at half-time in any of their sixteen league games in 2014-15. However, they have picked up eleven points from losing positions, a figure that is only bettered by Gateshead in this season’s Conference.
Andy Scott made one change for the visit of Bristol Rovers, with Josh Scott coming in for his first start since the defeat against Braintree Town on 16 September. That meant Tom Derry moved back to right midfield with Damon Lathrope dropped to the bench, although the former Torquay United midfielder came on as a substitute for Sam Hatton in first half stoppage time. Saturday could see a third Aldershot Town debut for Brentford loanee Manny Oyeleke, who scored six goals in forty appearances for the Shots last season. Scott could also give a debut to 29-year-old striker Andre McCollin, who arrived in North-East Hampshire after scoring ten goals in sixteen games this season for Ryman League Premier side Kingstonian.
Molesley’s return after six weeks out with tendonitis made up for the Shots losing Sam Hatton to a knee injury, which could keep the 26-year-old out for a few weeks, whilst left-back Anthony Tonkin missed his second straight game with a calf problem. That means Joe Oastler is likely to continue to deputise in that position this weekend. The Aldershot Town manager will definitely be without Jordan Roberts for the trip to Dartford after the new England C international picked up two yellow cards in the draw against Bristol Rovers.
Quite unusually for a relegated side, Dartford’s squad doesn’t look too different from that which finished in the bottom three of the division last season. Amongst the first-team regulars to depart in the summer were goalkeeper Alan Julian (Sutton United), defenders Kenny Clark (Ebbsfleet United) and Tyrone Sterling (Dover Athletic), plus midfielders Ben Swallow (Havant & Waterlooville) and Alex Woodyard (Concord Rangers). However, a number of key personnel have remained at Princes Park, including defenders Mat Mitchell-King and Lee Burns, midfielders Max Cornhill, Nathan Collier, Lee Noble and Ryan Hayes, striker Danny Harris and last season’s ten-goal top scorer Elliot Bradbrook, who leads the Darts with four goals in this campaign.
Nine players have arrived on permanent deals since the end of 2013-14, including ex-Cambridge United pair – centre back Rory MacAuley and winger Andy Pugh – signing a full deal after loan spells in Kent last season. Jason Brown arrived from Sutton United to replace Julian as the first-choice goalkeeper, whilst Deran Ibrahim joined gtom Leatherhead as his back-up. Former Woking left-back Adam Green was snapped up from Basingstoke Town, whilst Peter Sweeney (AFC Wimbledon) and Luke Daley (Braintree Town) have added quality to the midfield. In the attacking third, Elliot’s brother Tom Bradbrook arrived from Leatherhead and Harry Crawford joined after his release by Barnet.
Tony Burman has a couple of injury concerns for this weekend, especially with Tom Bradbrook, who went off after eleven minutes against Macclesfield Town with a hamstring injury. Lee Burns (rib) and Peter Sweeney (groin) may also struggle to make Saturday’s game.
The first-ever league meetings between Aldershot Town and Dartford took place last season, with the Shots winning 3-0 in their first home game of the season. Brett Williams’ first goal for the club gave them the lead, with Manny Oyeleke and Arron Wickham scoring in the second period to ease the Shots to a three-point haul. The reverse fixture at Princes Park in February of this year was much closer, with the hosts leading at the break after a Williams’ defensive mistake resulted in a penalty for the Darts and a red card for Glenn Morris. However, Williams redeemed himself with a thundering 30-yard volley two minutes from time to ensure a share of the spoils.
The Kent side also met Aldershot FC on three occasions, all of which took place in the FA Cup, with both sides coming out on top on one occasion. In the 1st Round of the 1964 competition, the Shots drew 1-1 in Kent before winning the replay 1-0 three days later. Four years later, however, it was the Southern League side that triumphed, winning 3-1 in another 1st Round tie at the Darts’ old Watling Street ground.
If he plays on Saturday, Mark Molesley will make the 150th appearance in the top-flight of non-league football.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Nigel Lugg from Surrey, who is in his first campaign as a Conference referee. So far this season, he’s taken charge of five league games, showing 22 yellow cards and two red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website at 2.55pm.
We also want your thoughts on how you think the Shots will do against Dartford. Let us know on the day via the following methods:
Text: 81333 (please start your text with the word ‘Radio’)
Plus, we want your reaction to the game between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday in ‘The Final Whistle’. Win, lose or draw, we want to hear from you throughout this season. Call us on 03459 57 00 57 and let your voice be heard.