Aldershot Town slipped to their fifth defeat in eight games on Tuesday night, going down to a gut-wrenching 4-3 home defeat against Grimsby Town. This weekend sees the Shots embark on their final long-distance away trip of the campaign as they visit relegation-threatened FC Halifax Town. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The fans at the EBB Stadium on Tuesday couldn’t have seen a more different game than the weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Barrow. However, the end result was another one goal defeat. The Shots were 2-0 up at the break (for the first time since 5 September) through Charlie Walker and Giorgio Rasulo’s first-ever senior goal, but the half-time introduction of Omar Bogle changed the game. He forced a brilliant save from Phil Smith, then set up Padraig Amond to make it 2-1 before scoring the equaliser himself in the 56th minute. Twelve minutes later Nathan Arnold volleyed in after Phil Smith missed a free kick, but ninety seconds later the hosts were level thanks to Rhys Browne’s run and bullet-like 25-yard drive. When it looked like honours would end even, Jon Nolan’s mis-hit 88th minute cross floated over Smith and into the net.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde defending from Barry Smith’s side against the Mariners (solid in the first half, calamitous in the second) was indicative of their defensive inconsistency in the 2015-16 campaign. Only eight teams have kept more clean sheers than the Shots’ thirteen this season, a total which include goalless games at Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rovers. However, Aldershot Town have conceded three or more goals in ten league games this season, a total which is only matched by Altrincham and Torquay United. As things stand, they have the fifth-worst defensive record in the National League, whilst their record of 40 away goals conceded is second only to Bromley’s 43.
The story of FC Halifax Town has been a brief and incredibly successful one. The club was founded eight years ago following the demise of their precursors, Halifax Town, who were wound up following their relegation from the Conference Premier in 2008, with debts of over £2 million. The West Yorkshire side secured three promotions in their first four years, winning the Northern Premier League Division One North (2009-10) and the Northern Premier League Premier Division (2010-11), before winning the 2013 Conference North Play-Off Final. Their first campaign at this level saw a Play-Off semi-final defeat to Cambridge United, before a 9th-place finish last season, thirteen points off the top five.
However, the Shaymen have had a very disappointing 2015-16. Long-serving manager Neil Aspin was sacked after picking up five points from the ten games, whilst his successor Darren Kelly was dismissed after matching those totals in his 47 days in charge, which left the side bottom of the table. The former Morecambe and Forest Green Rovers manager Jim Harvey took over on 17 November and has lifted the West Yorkshire side out of the relegation zone and to the final of the FA Trophy on 22 May. FC Halifax Town have also won their last three home league games (Grimsby Town 4-2, Altrincham 1-0, Boreham Wood 3-2), but do have the worst defensive record in the division (76 goals conceded in 40 games).
Harvey was delighted with his side’s late winner against Boreham Wood on Tuesday. He told the Halifax Courier after the game: “I was just waiting for the final whistle. I thought the game was all over and I wasn’t expecting that. I couldn’t believe it when it went in… It was probably the best 45 minutes in the first-half since I’ve been in charge. Then there were visions of what we were like when I first came, I thought some of the defending was really poor… Two-nil is always a dodgy scoreline and I was concerned we’d run out of steam a bit in the second-half. This team will go all the way for you and that’s what they’ve done again with the last kick of the ball virtually. It’s a brilliant feeling when you get that.”
Barry Smith made three changes for the visit of Grimsby Town, switching to a more attacking 4-4-2 formation. Charlie Walker came in to partner Ross Lafayette up front and scored his team-leading twelfth of the season on his first start since the end of February. Rhys Browne also scored on his return to the starting eleven, whilst Jack Saville lined up at centre-back alongside Omar Beckles. They replaced Sam Hatton, Tom Richards (who were both named amongst the substitutes) and Luke Oliver. After the second half collapse, any changes will most likely come on the defensive side of the team.
Oliver missed Tuesday’s game after picking up the virus that’s gone through the squad, joining Nathan Ralph and Dan Walker on the Aldershot Town sick list. It’s questionable if any of that trio will be available to make the trip to West Yorkshire. Saville limped off in midweek with an ankle injury, so must also be a doubt to face FC Halifax Town. The Shots boss will definitely be without midfielder Damon Lathrope, who suffered a fractured foot last month, and Joe Oastler, who picked up a knee injury at Chester, for the rest of the campaign.
The Shaymen’s struggles this season can be explained, to some degree, by a reduced playing budget and the key players that have departed the club last summer. Neil Aspin lost captain Marc Roberts (Barnsley), fellow centre-backs Matty Pearson (Accrington Stanley) and Steve Williams (Barrow), thirteen-goal top scorer Scott Boden (Newport County), midfielders Lois Maynard (Tranmere Rovers, twelve goals in 2014-15), Ross Dyer (Tamworth), Paul Marshall and Danny Schofield (both Bradford Park Avenue), plus forwards Adam Smith (Wrexham) and Jamie Jackson (Alfreton Town). Long-serving goalkeeper Matt Glennon joined Buxton in November, whilst summer arrival Shaun Tuton joined Barnsley after scoring eleven times in the first half of the campaign. Amongst those players who have remained are defenders James Bolton, Kevin Roberts and Scott McManus, plus striker Richard Peniket, who scored twelve goals in the last campaign.
The two most eye-catching of the eleven permanent arrivals at FC Halifax Town over the summer were the former Lincoln City pair, defender Hamza Bencherif and striker Jordan Burrow, who scored ten goals last season for the Imps, but has netted nineteen times this season for his new club. Midfielder Kingsley James (eleven goals in 2015-16) and centre-back Matty Brown have been good captures from Chester, whilst attacking midfielder Connor Hughes arrived from Hyde. Fellow midfield additions include Sam Walker (captained Curzon Ashton to promotion to National League North last season) and Josh MacDonald (Marske United). Jim Harvey has gone for experience with his signings, including midfielders Nicky Wroe (Notts County), Tommy Miller (Hartlepool United) and Dino Fazlic (Kidderminster Harriers), plus forward Waide Fairhurst (Torquay United). The new boss has also picked up goalkeeper Sam Johnson (Port Vale) and Shaq MacDonald (Derby County) on loan for the rest of the season.
Harvey has a largely fully-fit squad from which to choose from this weekend, although Matty Brown has missed recent games with an ankle injury, so must be a doubt to face the Shots.
Aldershot Town have met FC Halifax Town on five previous occasions, with a win and two draws at the EBB Stadium, plus two Shots defeats in West Yorkshire. Earlier this season, the home team raced into a 3-0 lead thanks to a Charlie Walker brace and another from Jim Stevenson, before goals from Danny Hattersley and David Brooks ensured a nervy finish at the EBB Stadium. Aldershot Town’s last trip to the Shay was in September 2014, with Ross Dyer scoring the only goal of the game for the hosts. Ten months earlier, FC Halifax Town won again at home in this fixture, thumping the Shots 4-0.
Aldershot Town’s overall record at the Shay is less than impressive, with just five points from their seven visits and no victories from the last six trips to the ground. The club’s only win came courtesy of a Tim Sills brace in a 2-1 away win in February 2004. Those seven fixtures also saw just fourteen goals (eleven for the hosts, three for the Shots), so we’ll be hoping for a bit more goalmouth action this weekend. Aldershot FC’s record at this ground wasn’t much better, winning four, drawing eight and losing ten of their 22 fixtures in Halifax.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Ruan Johnson from Bolton, who took charge of Aldershot Town’s 1-1 draw at Southport in October, as well as their 1-0 defeat at Chester in October 2014. This season he’s officiated in fourteen National League fixtures, showing 41 yellow cards and four 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 or DAB 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 @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport