Aldershot Town’s 4-0 loss at Altrincham last weekend was their fourth successive league game without a win. It was a result that keeps them 15th in the table – and nine points above the relegation zone – with eight games to go. A tough pair of Easter fixtures starts this Friday with a trip to promotion-chasing Forest Green Rovers. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After the encouragement of the point and clean sheet at home to Torquay United seven days earlier, the Shots resorted back to their bad habits with an insipid performance at Moss Lane on Saturday. They started and ended the first half brightly, with Giorgio Rasulo’s ninth-minute shot clipping the outside of the post, whilst Alfie Pavey’s header from Nathan Ralph’s cross in the 45th minute was firm, but straight at goalkeeper Tim Deasy. That was Aldershot Town’s only shot on target, whilst the home side scored with all four of theirs. Damien Reeves gave the host the lead in the 32nd minute, whilst Josh Ginnelly’s 70-yard run and finish gave the Shots a mountain to climb two minutes into the second half. Jake Moult made it 3-0 from the penalty spot after an Omar Beckles push, before Jordan Sinnott hammered in the fourth.
The loss was Aldershot Town’s third consecutive defeat on the road, during which time they’ve conceded an extraordinary fourteen goals, Barry Smith’s side have given up forty goals in twenty National League games away from the EBB Stadium, with only Bromley (42) having conceded more in 2015-16. The Shots dip in form can be attributed to consistent slow starts in games. In their first nineteen league games, fifteen of their 25 goals came in the first half, but in the second nineteen fixtures, the number drops to five (all away from home) of seventeen. In the entire season, Barry Smith’s side have only scored four goals in the opening fifteen minutes of league games, which is a consistently poor return for their efforts.
Forest Green Rovers are the longest-serving members of the National League, with their promotion in 1998 starting a run of eighteen consecutive campaigns in the top-flight of non-league football. However, the Gloucestershire side actually finished in the relegation zone in 2004-05 and 2009-10, but were saved by the financial failings of others. Green energy tycoon Dale Vince took over the club and became its chairman in October 2010, with Rovers finishing 20th in that season, before three consecutive 10th-place finishes. Last season, though, the Gloucestershire side reached the Play-Offs for the first time, finishing 5th in the standings before losing 3-0 on aggregate to Bristol Rovers at the semi-final stage.
They started this season by winning a National League record nine games in a row, and have continued that promotion form into the season’s final furlong. With seven games to go, Rovers sit one point behind league leaders Cheltenham Town and all but guaranteed a play-off place at the minimum. They currently have the best home form in the league, securing 46 points from a possible 57, and winning nine home league games in a row before a 1-0 defeat to Grimsby Town earlier this month. They’ve had success at both end of the pitch, with nine clean sheets in their last seventeen league games, whilst the Gloucestershire side have only failed to score in three National League fixtures in 2015-16.
Manager Ady Pennock, who took charge in November 2013, was pleased with last Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Tranmere Rovers. He told the Gloucester Citizen after the weekend’s game: “Under the circumstances with (midfielder Darren) Carter getting sent off that’s a fantastic point for us here. It’s a great place to play football. Their fans are very good. Tranmere are on a good run themselves, so it’s a very good point. With Braintree beating Cheltenham it’s been a very good weekend for us… This is a fantastic point for us. We’re that little village team on top of the hill and to get a point at a club like Tranmere with all their history – we’re a small acorn and we want to grow a forest and we’re getting there… It’s fantastic.”
Barry Smith named an unchanged starting eleven for the game at Altrincham as he kept faith with the side that secured a goalless draw with Torquay United the previous week. It’s safe to say changes will be made for the visit to Forest Green Rovers, with top scorer Charlie Walker a prime candidate for the starting eleven. The 26-year-old came off the bench on Saturday after three games out with an ankle injury and could replace either Alfie Pavey or Ross Lafayette. Jim Stevenson, Dan Walker and skipper Sean McGinty could also get recalls on Friday.
The Shots boss will 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. Both will be big losses as the Shots try to turn around their poor form. Rhys Browne’s call-up to the Antigua & Barbuda squad means he will miss both Aldershot Town games over the Easter weekend. 18-year-old midfielder Louis McGrory signed on loan from Forest Green Rivers earlier this week, but is ineligible to face his parent club on Friday.
After last year’s Play-Off campaign, it was a case of making minor adjustments to his playing squad for manager Ady Pennock. Six permanent signings arrived at The New Lawn over the summer, including former Aldershot Town defender Darren Jones and striker Aaron O’Connor (nine goals for Rovers this season), who both came from Newport County. However, Jones has since returned to the Welsh side, whilst O’Connor is now on loan at Stevenage. Keanu Marsh-Brown (Barnet, nine goals in this campaign) has had a strong season, whilst recent arrivals Brett Williams (Stevenage, 43 goals in 102 games for the Shots between 2013 and 2015) and Kieffer Moore (Norwegian side Viking FK) give the Gloucestershire side their usual plentiful options in attack. Midfielder Darren Carter was signed in September after two seasons with Northampton Town, whilst goalkeeper Jonny Maxted joined from Hartlepool United. Centre-back Ben Jefford (Welling United) and goalkeepers Dale Eve (Stoke City) and Lenny Pidgeley (Leatherhead of the Ryman League Premier Division) add depth to the squad, whilst winger Anthony Jeffrey was signed from Boreham Wood and immediately loaned back to the Hertfordshire side, where he lines up alongside fellow Forest Green loanees Delano Sam-Yorke and Clovis Kamdjo.
Rovers were able to keep up a number of their key signings from last season, including thirty-goal top scorer Jon Parkin, who has thirteen so far in this campaign, and fellow striker Kurtis Guthrie (ten goals this season). Midfielders Elliott Frear, David Pipe, Sam Wedgbury, Marcus Kelly and former Shots loanee Rob Sinclair (eleven scoreless appearances in two loan spells in 2012) are also still at the club, along with defenders Dale Bennett, Aarran Racine, James Jennings and Charlie Clough, plus goalkeeper Steve Arnold. Amongst those who did move on at the end of 2014-15 were goalkeeper Sam Russell (Gateshead), defenders Chris Stokes (Coventry City), Luke Oliver (Aldershot Town), Danny Coles; midfielders Anthony Barry (Accrington Stanley) and Kieron Forbes (Maidenhead United), plus forwards James Norwood (Tranmere Rovers, thirteen goals last season) and James Marwood (Gateshead).
Darren Carter will be suspended on Good Friday after being sent off at the weekend, whilst Dale Eve is away on international duty with Bermuda. Maxted is out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, so Steve Arnold will deputise once again in goal.
Friday sees the twentieth meeting between the two clubs with the Shots winning six, drawing four and losing nine of the previous nineteen games. Aldershot Town have only won one of the last six meetings, a run which includes a 3-0 home defeat in October. Darren Carter, Kurtis Guthrie and Aaron O’Connor got the goals in a comfortable win for the visitors to the EBB Stadium. The most recent encounter at The New Lawn took place on Good Friday last year and was the Shots’ one win since being relegated. Also in front of the TV cameras, Elliott Frear gave Forest Green Rovers a half-time lead, before three goals in eight minutes from Brett Williams, Tristan Plummer and Jordan Roberts gave the visitors all three points. Williams also scored in the game at the EBB Stadium in August 2014, but Lee Hughes equalised in the second half to ensure the points were shared.
Aldershot Town don’t have a great record in Gloucestershire, losing five and winning just three times in ten visits. As well as last season’s victory, the Shots also picked up a 3-2 win during their Conference Premier promotion-winning campaign thanks to two goals from John Grant and another from Jonny Dixon, whilst October 2003 saw a 3-1 victory for the visitors. Rovers’ last home win came on Boxing Day 2014, when a Marcus Kelly brace helped them to a 3-1 victory. Fans should expect goals on Friday with the previous nineteen games between the two clubs producing 65 goals at an average of 3.42 per game.
Friday afternoon’s referee is John Brooks from Leicestershire, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-0 defeat at Dover Athletic in September 2014. This season he’s officiated in sixteen National League fixtures, showing 35 yellow cards and no red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison will be covering the game on Friday afternoon. Tune in to 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