Aldershot Town slipped to a fourth straight league defeat, and their fifth in all competitions, after going down to a 2-0 home defeat against Cheltenham Town last weekend. Their tough run of fixtures run of fixtures continues with a trip to play-off-chasing Dover Athletic on Saturday. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Barry Smith’s side may have come away from their most recent contest empty-handed, but they put in their best performance since the home FA Cup draw against Bradford City. Once again they failed to take their chances, but that they created so many against the league leaders certainly gives cause for optimism. Cheltenham Town scored direct from two free kicks in the opening 27 minutes through Harry Pell and Jack Munns, plus substitute Andrija Novakovich hit the woodwork twice after half-time. However, Shots debutant Danny Carr struck the bar in the 73rd minute, whilst Dan Walker, who started up front alongside Richard Brodie, shot wide twice when well-placed and both Rhys Browne and Sean McGinty forced fine saves from Robins keeper Dillon Phillips.
Aldershot Town’s results across October and November show how quickly fortunes can turn in football. The former saw them win five, draw two and lose one (against then-leaders Forest Green Rovers) of their eight outings in all competitions. However, since then they’ve drawn one and lost five of their six fixtures, scoring just one goal in the process. Since relegation from the Football League in 2013, it’s the third time that the Shots have gone a month without registering a victory, following on from similar ‘feats’ in February 2014 and January 2015. They’ll be hoping that a new month will bring some positive results, especially in front of goal, with the team having gone four games and 370 minutes without a goal.
Dover Athletic were formed in 1983, following the demise of Dover FC, and they have had a rollercoaster history thus far. Two promotions from the Southern League’s Southern Division (1987-88) and Premier Division (1992-93) saw the start of nine seasons in the non-league top-flight, with a best finish of 6th in 1999-2000. However, financial difficulties saw three relegations in four seasons, which left the club in Ryman League Division One. Andy Hessenthaler led them to consecutive promotions in 2007-08 and 2008-09, which saw the Whites climb into Conference South. Promotion via the Play-Offs in 2013-14 (after finishing fifth in the league) preceded last season’s 8th place finish in the National League.
The Kent side are threatening to better that this season, currently sitting 6th with 40 points from 24 games. The most striking statistic about their campaign thus far is their home, which is the second best in the division. Only Forest Green Rivers have bettered their 24 points from eleven games, which features just one defeat. However, they have lost four of their last six games in all competitions (conceding thirteen goals in the process), which included a 2-1 home defeat to Northern League Premier Division side Stourbridge in the FA Cup. As well as that cup defeat, they also lost at the Crabble Athletic Ground last month to Eastleigh, but they did beat Barrow 3-1 in their last home game two weeks ago.
The most disappointing result and performance of the side’s recent run was Saturday’s 4-2 defeat at the National League’s bottom side FC Halifax Town. Speaking after the game, captain Jamie Grimes told the club’s official website “I don’t think anyone could say they played well. We started poorly, gave away two sloppy goals and we never recovered from it. It was a hugely disappointing display from us and it was one to forget. The key now is that we don’t dwell on it – it’s in the past now and there is nothing we can do to change it. We have got to get it out of our system, move on quickly and make sure we are ready to go again on Saturday.”
Barry Smith made three changes for the visit of Cheltenham Town, with the most notable seeing the return of Jack Saville after a three-game absence caused by a hamstring injury. He replaced Chris Barker in the centre of the Shots defence, whilst Rhys Browne and Tom Richards came in for the suspended Jake Gallagher and top scorer Charlie Walker, who dropped to the bench. The latter came on in the second half, as did recent loan signings Danny Carr (Cambridge United) and Marcus Harness (Burton Albion) for their debuts. Walker and Carr could both make a case for a start in order to freshen up a misfiring forward line.
Gallagher will definitely be unavailable for the trip to Kent as he serves the second game of a three-match suspension, as will Harness, who was sent off after a game on loan at Ilkeston Town and starts a two-match suspension this weekend. Luke Oliver (hip) and Damon Lathrope have missed the last two fixtures, but should be available to face Dover Athletic on Saturday, whilst Joe Oastler, who hasn’t played since 20 March and had a major ankle operation over the summer, is expected to be fit to return in the next week after resuming training in the last fortnight.
Chris Kinnear made fewer summer changes to his squad than most in the National League, with ten departures being offset by the same amount of new signings. The biggest loss was captain Connor Essam, who left for League Two side Leyton Orient, whilst fellow centre-back Sean Francis moved to Bromley. Those that also departed the Whites include former Shots Solomon Taiwo (Margate) and Adam Mekki (Tranmere Rovers), fellow midfielders Craig Stone, Barry Cogan and Christian Nanetti, plus forwards Nathan Elder and Jake Reid. Plenty of last season’s squad remained at Crabble though, including eighteen-goal top scorer Stefan Payne (scorer of eleven goals so far in this campaign), fellow striker Tom Murphy (twelve goals in 2014-15), midfielders Nicky Deverdics (ten goals last season), Ricky Modeste and Chris Kinnear Jr., defenders Richard Orlu, Tyrone Sterling and Sean Raggett, plus goalkeepers Mitchell Walker and Andy Rafferty.
The tough task of replacing Essam has fallen on the shoulders of ex-Kidderminster Harriers centre-back Jamie Grimes, whilst former QPR youngster Sam Magri has been the first-choice right wing-back, whilst Aswad Thomas joined from Woking to play opposite him on the left flank. Former Shot Jaydon Gibbs (five goals in 79 games over the previous two seasons) also arrived at the end of August. Naby Diallo, who played twelve times for Aldershot Town last season before moving to Bath City, adds depth to the midfield, as does former Woking player Jack Parkinson. Ricky Miller, who scored five times for the Whites last season whilst on loan, has signed permanently from Luton Town, whilst Duane Ofori-Acheampong and Toby Ajala both arrived from Torquay United to add attacking options to the Dover squad. Kinnear has recently captured forwards Mitchell Pinnock (Maidstone United) and Tomi Adeloye (Chelmsford City), but neither have featured for the Whites thus far.
However, Gibbs, who missed the last two months of the 2014-15 campaign with a back injury, is ruled out at the moment with a similar problem, whilst midfielder Liam Bellamy is out with a knee injury.
Saturday afternoon’s game sees the seventh meeting between Aldershot Town and Dover Athletic, with this being the fourth to take place in the league. The first game between the clubs this season ended in a 1-1 draw at the EBB Stadium. Back in August, Stefan Payne gave the Kent side an early advantage, before Richard Brodie’s first goal for the club ensured both teams finished with a point. Last September, the Shots trip to Crabble was a horror show from start to finish, with the visitors going down to a comprehensive 3-0 defeat. The reverse game back in March finished 3-1 to the home side, thanks to goals from Andre McCollin and a Jim Stevenson’s brace.
The three previous occasions saw the sides face off in the FA Cup. The most recent one of those saw two Adam Birchall goals give the Whites (then of Conference South) a 2-0 home win against Kevin Dillon’s team in a Second Round tie in November 2010. The Kent side also won by the same score in the only other meeting at Crabble, which was a Second Qualifying Round fixture in September 1996. Aldershot Town’s sole victory came courtesy of a Gary Abbott goal in a Fourth Qualifying Round game at what is now the Electrical Services Stadium on 31 October 2000.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is David Rock from Hertfordshire, who took charge of two Shots victories last season – the 1-0 home win over Nuneaton Town last November and the 2-1 win at Woking on 28 December. This season he’s officiated in three National League fixtures, showing five yellow cards and no red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM from 2.10pm for team news and pre-match interviews, followed by full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website and BBC Sport app 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