Aldershot Town suffered their eighth loss in nine games in all competitions on Boxing Day, going down to a 1-0 home defeat against local rivals Woking. Things don’t get any easier on Monday, with a trip to promotion-chasing Eastleigh, a team that has already defeated the Shots twice this season. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Having picked up a valuable three points at home to Guiseley the previous Saturday, the Shots returned to some of their less welcome traits on Boxing Day. They had their chances against Woking, but failed to take them, going down to their eighth home league defeat of the season. In the first half, Danny Carr put a close range header straight at visiting keeper Jake Cole, before Johnny Goddard gave the Cards the lead in the 40th minute. Matt Robinson should have doubled their lead in the 64th minute, but blazed over from ten yards, but it was the hosts who had the better of the second half chances, with Richard Brodie, Charlie Walker and Omar Beckles (in stoppage time) all failing to work Cole with headed opportunities.
Earlier on in this campaign, the Aldershot Town players may have taken some comfort from having their next two games away from the EBB Stadium. However, after a stretch where they won five of seven league games on the road, they’ve now lost three on the spin against Bradford City, Kidderminster Harriers and Dover Athletic. Their overall away record is the ninth best in the division with seventeen points from twelve outings. They’ve also managed seventeen league goals on the road compared to the meagre total of twelve at home. Barry Smith’s side have only managed to score more than one goal on one occasion across their last fourteen league and cup games, with that occurring at Dover earlier this month.
Eastleigh were formed in 1946 as Swaythling Athletic, and then played as just Swaythling, before settling on their current moniker in 1980. The club first rose to prominence with three successive promotions (Wessex League Premier Division to Southern League Eastern to Ryman Premier Division) between 2002 and 2005, which started a nine-year stint in Conference South. 86 points was enough to give them a triumphant championship title in 2013-14. The Spitfires finished 4th in their maiden campaign in the non-league top flight, ten points behind champions Barnet. However, their promotion hopes were dashed by a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Grimsby Town in the Play-Off semi-finals.
They’ve been equally impressive in this campaign, sitting 3rd with 47 points from their opening 25 games. However, after winning five and drawing two of their first seven in the league, a run of one point from five games resulted in the dismissal of manager Richard Hill on 23 September. Chris Todd, the former Eastleigh defender and Hill’s assistant, took over and has led the club to thirteen wins and just two defeats in seventeen games in all competitions. Their home record is the 7th-best in the National League, with twelve points from their last five outings at the Silverlake Stadium. However, they’ve only kept one clean sheet in their last nine league games at home.
Having performed so well in the 2015-16 campaign thus far, Chairman Stewart Donald has promised funds to continue the promotion push. In response, Todd told the Southern Daily Echo last week: “If there is any movement in January, it will be for the right reasons. We’re trying to better the squad and that’s difficult because we’ve got such good players. I’ve always got players in mind that I like, and myself and the staff are working all the time to find the right candidates. We’ve got a great team spirit here and sometimes character is more important than playing ability. We don’t want to upset the apple cart. We need players who can blend in straight away.”
Barry Smith made four changes for the visit of Woking on Boxing Day, with the three players who made such a positive impact off the bench against Guiseley – Tom Richards, Jake Gallagher and Richard Brodie – all starting. They came in for Dan Walker, Damon Lathrope and Charlie Walker, who all dropped to the bench, as did Luke Oliver. The former Woking defender was replaced in the starting eleven by Omar Beckles after the completion of his one-match ban. Beckles played alongside Joe Oastler in the centre of defence, with Oastler making his second consecutive start after eight months out with a serious ankle injury.
Jack Saville and Rhys Browne both missed the Guiseley and Woking games through illness, so the game at Eastleigh may come too soon for their respective returns to the matchday squad. If they are available, the Shots boss will have a full squad from which to choose.
Eastleigh were able to keep the vast majority of last season’s play-off squad intact as they aim to mount a similar charge in this campaign. Former Shots captain Craig Stanley (five goals last season) moved to a National League rival in the form of Lincoln City, whilst fellow midfielder Harry Pell did likewise when he joined Cheltenham Town. Veteran striker Deon Burton left the Silverlake Stadium for Brackley Town, whilst four players joined National League South side Sutton United. Defenders Dean Beckwith and Dan Spence, plus forwards Craig McAllister (eleven goals in 2014-15) and Stuart Fleetwood all made the trip to Gander Green Lane. Amongst those to have remained with the Spitfires are goalkeeper Ross Flitney; defenders Paul Reid, Jamie Turley, Michael Green and Will Evans; midfielder Jai Reason (eleven goals last season) and forwards James Constable (top scorer in the previous campaign with nineteen goals, twelve already this season), Jack Midson (eleven goals in the previous campaign), Yemi Odubade (six goals this season) and Ben Strevens (eight goals in 2014-15).
Two former Shots were amongst Richard Hill’s six permanent summer signings, with midfielder Josh Payne (three goals in 35 games between January and December 2012) and defender Joe Partington (ten games, one goal in a loan spell during January and February 2014) arriving from Woking and Bournemouth respectively. The most eye-catching signing was left-back Dan Harding, who made 28 appearances in the Championship last season for Nottingham Forest and Millwall (on loan). Andy Drury (Luton Town) and Lee Cook (Barnet) add experience to the midfield ranks, whilst striker Ross Lafayette (Luton Town) will hope to recapture the form that saw him score seventeen times for Welling United in 2013-14. Hill also snapped up Portsmouth goalkeeper Michael Poke on loan until January 2016. In the week before the loan window closed, Chris Todd brought in midfielder Matty Fanimo (Bishop’s Stortford) and winger Robbie Willmott (on loan from Ebbsfleet United), but defender Wes Atkinson was recalled by Notts County earlier this month after the completion of his loan spell.
The Eastleigh boss may be without Harding after he suffered a recurrence of his calf injury during the FA Trophy game at Aldershot earlier this month, whilst fellow defender Jamie Turley could make the squad after recovering from a hamstring problem.
Whilst the first five fixtures between Aldershot Town and Eastleigh took place in the Hampshire Senior Cup, they’ve met four times since Eastleigh’s most recent promotion. The Spitfires have won all four, including two victories in North-East Hampshire this season. In August’s league game, James Constable gave the visitors the lead, Charlie Walker equalised on his full debut, before Lee Cook won it for Eastleigh with a fine goal in the 93rd minute. Earlier this month in the First Round of the FA Trophy, another close affair was won by Ross Lafayette’s close-range tap-in for the visitors with ten minutes to go. In August 2013, in front of the TV cameras, the two clubs played out a dour encounter decided by a 90th-minute goal from home striker Ben Wright, with the Spitfires completing the double three months later, as goals from Craig McAllister and Stuart Fleetwood secured a 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium.
Of those five Hampshire Senior Cup ties, Aldershot Town won four and lost one, with the Shots winning all three at the Silverlake Stadium. In January 1996, a Mark Anderson brace and one from Jamie Horton gave the visitors a 3-2 win in a Second Round tie, whilst goals from Roy Young and Darren Brodrick gave them a 2-1 victory at the quarter-final stage two years later. The most recent Hampshire Senior Cup tie in March 2007 saw Kirk Hudson get the only goal in another quarter-final match. Meanwhile, the two ties at the EBB Stadium saw a win for either club. A Lee Charles brace in January 2003 gave the home side a 2-1 victory in a quarter-final match-up, whilst Eastleigh got a measure of revenge twelve months later, triumphing 1-0 in a 4th Round game in North-East Hampshire
Monday afternoon’s referee is Richard Martin from Somerset, who took charge of Aldershot Town’s 1-0 home win over Sutton United in the FA Cup in October. He also oversaw two Shots games last season – the 2-1 home defeat against Gateshead last November and the goalless draw at Macclesfield Town in March – plus the 6-0 home win over Tamworth in December 2013. This season he’s officiated in nine National League fixtures, showing 23 yellow cards and three red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and former Aldershot FC player and manager Ian McDonald will be covering the game on Monday 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