Shots v Gateshead match preview – 20 February 2016
Aldershot Town made it four games unbeaten with last Saturday’s goalless draw at home to Tranmere Rovers. The Shots start a run of six away games in their next eight league fixtures with one of their longest trips of the 2015-16 campaign as they visit promotion-chasing Gateshead. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Extending their winning run to four games was always going to be a tough ask for Barry Smith’s side, but a deserved draw against the team in 4th-place in the table was a good return for their efforts. The main disappointment for the hosts was their failure to trouble Rovers goalkeeper Scott Davies, with Charlie Walker’s 33rd-minute effort being their only shot on target. Walker himself shot over four minutes later, Alfie Pavey missed the goal with two headed efforts either side of half-time, while Rhys Browne (on three occasions) and Nathan Ralph fired wide from distance in the second half. At the other end, Phil Smith made the best save of the day from Lois Maynard four minutes after half-time, whilst Jeff Hughes fired over from the inside-left channel in the 84th minute.
Saturday’s game saw the Shots keep their third consecutive league clean sheet, which is something they haven’t done since February 2013 when they played Torquay United (1-0), Fleetwood Town (2-0) and Chesterfield (0-0) in League Two. The Aldershot Town back four, which has remained the same for seven games in a row, haven’t conceded a goal for 282 minutes and will look to extend that this weekend. Their win at Macclesfield Town on 23 January was their first away win in seven competitive outings, but it was their sixth away league win of 2015-16, which matched their total for the whole of the previous campaign. They haven’t won more in a season since their eight victories on the road in the 2011-12 season.
Football has been played in Gateshead since 1889, but the original Gateshead AFC was formed in 1930 when neighbours South Shields FC moved to Gateshead because of financial difficulties. Despite being members of the Football League until 1960, that club folded in 1973, with new club Gateshead United suffering the same fate four years later. The current club – Gateshead FC – took their place and are participating in their seventh campaign in the top-flight of non-league football after promotion from Conference North in 2009. Following a Play-Off final defeat to Cambridge United in May 2014, the Heed slumped to a 10th-place finish last season, winning just one of their last nine games.
They are in the promotion shake-up again this season, sitting 6th in the table (one point outside the play-off places) with 51 points from their 32 games. They’re in good form as well, with four wins and two draws from their last seven national League outings. That stretch has also seen them keep four clean sheets, but they did suffer a 4-0 defeat at Dover Athletic last weekend. Gateshead lost six of their opening thirteen home league games, but their results at the Gateshead International Stadium have improved with ten points from their last four fixtures, which includes victories against Guiseley, Grimsby Town and Tuesday night’s 2-1 win against Eastleigh.
Despite that, former FC Halifax Town boss Neil Aspin, who took charge after Malcolm Crosby was sacked on 22 November, is looking to improve his squad at the end of the season. He told the Gateshead Chronicle on Monday: “Ironically, it was against Halifax at the International Stadium and Gateshead lost 4-1. Watching the video I suddenly realised the full extent of the task I faced. It was a joy to be given the chance to manage Gateshead, but I felt a rebuilding programme was required. We lost for the first time in eight matches against Dover at the weekend… but I haven’t budged from thinking I must overhaul the squad in the summer. The difficulty will be persuading the players I want to come to the North East”.
Barry Smith named an unchanged line-up for the fourth game in a row against Tranmere Rovers, with Jake Gallagher and Damon Lathrope continuing in the central midfield positions. Superb performances shielding the back four justified their inclusion ahead of Jim Stevenson, who came off the bench to make his 50th appearance for the club. Also making his bow as a substitute was new signing Nathan Ralph, who had arrived on loan from Newport County until the end of the season 24 hours earlier. The left-sided attacker came off the bench to replace Dan Walker after an hour and could make his first start for the club on Saturday.
The Shots boss had the luxury of a fully-fit squad last Saturday, but that may not be the case for the trip to Gateshead. Rhys Browne went off in stoppage time after taking a blow to the head, whilst strikers Alfie Pavey and Charlie Walker also went off with knocks. All three will be closely monitored this week and all will hope to be on the coach up to the North-East on Friday.
For the second closed season in a row, Gateshead made a number of changes to their playing squad in the summer of 2015, with eleven players arriving and fourteen leaving the Tyneside club. Three of those departures moved into the Football League, including eleven-goal top scorer, and former Shot, Alex Rodman (Newport County), goalkeeper Adam Bartlett (Hartlepool United) and eighteen-year old striker Jake Orrell (Chesterfield). Their midfield looked to have been depleted with long-serving Phil Turnbull returning to part-time football (Darlington 1883) to pursue a career in teaching and the retirement of former Welsh international John Oster. In the attacking third, another ex-Shot, striker Michael Rankine, moved to Altrincham, whilst Carl Finnigan joined Township Rollers in Botswana. However, several first-teamers have remained at the Gateshead International Stadium, including defenders Craig Baxter, Ben Clark and James Curtis; midfielders Rob Ramshaw (seven goals last season), Jamie Chandler (five goals) and Matty Pattison (five goals), plus striker Jon Shaw, who notched ten goals in 2014-15.
Malcolm Crosby certainly strengthened his side’s attacking options, most notably with the arrival of Torquay United top scorer Ryan Bowman (nineteen goals last season, seventeen goals in this campaign already). Fellow striker Danny Johnson has joined from Cardiff City and scored nine times in 2015-16, whilst James Marwood (Forest Green Rovers, fourteen goals for Gateshead in the 2013-14 play-off season) and Josh Gillies (Carlisle United, fifteen goals for the Heed in 2012-13) both returned to the club. Another summer signing from Forest Green Rovers, Sam Russell, has been the new first-choice goalkeeper, whilst defenders Simon Ramsden, Nathan Buddle and Jordan Cranston arrived from Motherwell, Carlisle United and Notts County respectively. Cranston, however, moved to National League leaders Cheltenham Town last month. The manager’s midfield reinforcements were Jimmy Phillips (Burton Albion), Patrick McLaughlin (Grimsby Town) and Gus Mafuta (Bristol City). Since Aspin’s arrival, he’s signed defender Darren Holden from Ross County and a quartet on loan – attacking midfielder CJ Hamilton (Sheffield United), defenders Alex Whitmore (Burnley) and Andre Bennett (Middlesbrough), plus reserve goalkeeper Brendan Pearson (Newcastle United).
Marwood has been out since mid-October with an ankle problem, so will not be available for the home game against the Shots. Simon Ramsden (groin) and Adam Wrightson (shoulder) also have long-term injuries and aren’t expected to feature this weekend, whilst Phillips joined Macclesfield Town on loan earlier this week.
Aldershot Town and Gateshead have played each other on five occasions, with the Shots yet to register a victory. Both games in the North-East have finished all square, with the sides drawing 1-1 in September 2014. The visitors led through a Joe N’Guessan goal, but Danny Wright headed home an 88th-minute equaliser to ensure the spoils were shared. In January of the same year, the game finished goalless, with Glenn Morris saving a 93rd-minute penalty from the home side’s Colin Larkin. However, the three games in North-East Hampshire have all finished 2-1 to the Heed. On the opening day of this season, Rhys Browne opened the scoring on his Shots debut, before Ryan Bowman netted twice on his debut to earn the win. In November 2014, Rob Ramshaw’s second goal of the game – a stoppage time winner – gave the North-East side all three points after Dan Holman had equalised for the Shots, whilst on 25 March 2014 at the EBB Stadium, the home team led at the break thanks to a Josh Scott goal. Brett Williams’ 53rd-minute red card changed the game, with Jack Lester and JJ O’Donnell scoring afterwards to secure the victory for the visitors.
There were also five meetings between the North-East club and Aldershot FC. All five games were won by the home side, which included an 8-1 win for the Shots in the old Division 4 in September 1958 (the club’s record Football League victory) and a 3-2 victory twelve months later. The Tynesiders won 1-0 and 4-1 in a pair of league fixtures in January 1959 and September 1959 respectively, while also defeating the Shots 3-1 in an FA Cup Third Round tie at their old Redheugh Park ground in January 1949.
If Sean McGinty features against Gateshead on Saturday, the Shots captain will be making his 50th career appearance.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Jason Whiteley from West Yorkshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-1 win at Southport in November 2014. This season – his fourth on the National Referee’s list – Whiteley has officiated in ten National League games, showing 21 yellow cards and two red cards.
Steve Gibbs 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 @bbcsurreysport.