Preview: Lincoln City v Aldershot Town

Aldershot Town notched their fourth win in six games last Saturday with a battling 1-0 win at Welling United, but midweek results saw them drop to 14th in the table. The Shots will be on their travels again this weekend – for the third weekend in a row – as they make the trip to Play-Off-chasing Lincoln City. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.

Barry Smith’s side deserved their win at the weekend, but it was more for their second half performance. The game before half-time was relatively even, with Phil Smith making three routine saves, whilst Ross Lafayette was initially denied against his former side by Wings goalkeeper Marek Rodak. After the break, Aldershot Town upped their game with another former Welling United player, Jake Gallagher, forcing two excellent saves from Rodak, whilst Charlie Walker missed a glorious chance in the 55th minute. The game’s crucial incident occurred 21 minutes later, with Lafayette being brought down in the area by Rodak, before picking himself up to dispatch the penalty. Sahr Kabba missed the hosts’ best chance a minute later, whilst Alfie Pavey forced yet another good save from Rodak in stoppage time.

The game also saw the Shots’ tenth league clean sheet of the campaign, but it was the fifth in their last ten league games dating back to the home win against Guiseley on 19 December. Saturday’s victory also continued Aldershot Town’s excellent form against teams in the bottom half of the table, with 37 points from fifteen games and a goal difference of +15. With eight of their twelve remaining games against sides in the bottom half, hopes must be high for a top-half finish for the first time since 2011-12. More pertinently though, bearing in mind the status of their weekend opponents, they do have the second-worst record against top-half sides with just eight points from nineteen games and a -22 goal difference.

2015-16 sees Lincoln City’s fifth successive campaign in the Conference, following their relegation from the Football League in May 2011. It was a sorry demise for the Imps, who had spent all-but-one of the previous eighty seasons in the Football League and famously made the Play-Offs for five straight campaigns between 2002 and 2007, but failed to secure promotion to the third tier of the Football League on each occasion. The Lincolnshire side has failed to finish in the top half of the table in any of their campaigns back in non-league, finishing 17th, 16th, 14th and then 15th in 2014-15, where they finished thirteen points above the relegation zone.

The Imps are looking to buck that trend in this campaign and they currently sit 10th in the National League, with 52 points from their 35 games, and just five points from the Play-Off places. Either side of Christmas, they’d gone on a winless run of ten league games (picking up just four points), but recently they’ve won three and drawn one of their last four fixtures. All three of those victories have come at home against Guiseley, Eastleigh and a 3-1 win against Southport on 20 February, which was the side’s last league outing. Overall, the Lincolnshire side has the eighth-best home record in the division, whilst they’ve also managed ten goals in their four-game unbeaten streak.

Manager Chris Moyses, who took charge in November 2014, was delighted with his team’s most recent victory. He told the Lincolnshire Echo after the game: “I thought we were very good at times. They had a fifteen minute spell where they came into it and got a goal. However, we went at it again and I thought some of the football was top drawer. It was good to name an unchanged side… People who were watching us during that bad spell could see we were not playing badly… we were very close to winning or were getting beat by the odd goal. You have got to back yourself and believe in yourself. That’s what this group of players keep doing. They are a positive group and I am delighted for them.”

Barry Smith made two changes for last weekend’s game, with one enforced and one a tactical choice by the manager. Damon Lathrope was unavailable through injury, so Jim Stevenson made his first start since the fixture at Woking on 2 January, whilst Nathan Ralph made his full debut in midfield. Dan Walker dropped to the bench as the Newport County winger made his first start for the club after signing on loan for the rest of the season earlier in the month. Fellow loanee Ross Lafayette scored his first goal for the club last Saturday and should start at Sincil Bank this weekend.

Lathrope missed the game at Welling with a foot injury and is unlikely to feature this weekend. If that is the case, Stevenson should start once again in central midfield alongside the in-form Jake Gallagher.

After last season’s disappointing campaign, Chris Moyses made a major overhaul of his playing squad last summer. Nine key players moved on from Sincil Bank, including the team’s four leading goalscorers from 2014-15. Fourteen-goal top scorer Ben Tomlinson moved into the Football League with Barnet, Jordan Burrow (ten goals) joined FC Halifax Town, whilst eight-goal pair Delano Sam-Yorke and full-back Sean Newton moved to Forest Green Rovers and Wrexham respectively. The Imps also lost defenders Hamza Bencherif (six goals, to FC Halifax Town), Jake Caprice (Woking) and Tony Diagne (season-long loan to Macclesfield Town), midfielders Tom Miller (League Two side Carlisle United) and Arnaud Mendy (Whitehawk), plus winger Marcus Marshall, who returned to Morecambe after the completion of his season-long loan. Midfielder Jon Nolan left the club to join Grimsby Town in January, but amongst those who remained with the Club were goalkeeper Paul Farman, defender Nat Brown (who’s now on loan at National League North side Harrogate Town) and midfielder Alan Power, who scored seven goals last season.

The Lincoln City boss re-stocked his squad largely from Mansfield Town and Scunthorpe United, with the former being from where he secured his two leading scorers this season. Matt Rhead has 22 goals, including nineteen in the National League, whilst Liam Hearn has scored eleven times so far this season. Right-back Lee Beevers also arrived from the Stags as part of a new look back four, where he’s lined up alongside centre-backs Chris Bush (Welling United), Luke Waterfall (Wrexham) and Callum Howe (Scunthorpe United), plus right-back Bradley Wood (six goals for Alfreton Town in the previous campaign). Defensive midfielder Matt Sparrow also arrived from Scunthorpe United, as did winger Terry Hawkridge. The midfield ranks have been supplemented with the arrivals of former Shots captain Craig Stanley (three goals in 58 games between 2012 and 2014) from Eastleigh and Greg Tempest (Notts County), whilst Jack Muldoon (Rochdale) adds depth in the attacking third. Since the turn of the year a further centre-back, Jamie McCombe, has arrived from Stevenage, whilst Moyses has snapped up four loanees: defender Courtney Wildin (Sheffield Wednesday), winger James Caton (Shrewsbury Town) and forwards Robbie McDaid (Leeds United) and George Maris (Barnsley).

Stanley could miss the rest of the campaign after fracturing a metatarsal against Guiseley on 30 January, whilst Hearn could be fit for the visit of the Shots after recovering from a hamstring injury he picked up earlier that month.

Saturday sees the twelfth meeting between Aldershot Town and Lincoln City, with the North East Hampshire side having a slight superiority, winning six, drawing one and losing four of the previous eleven meetings. Four of the last six games have been won by the away side, with the Imps winning 2-1 at the EBB Stadium earlier in this campaign. Loanee Kyle Wootton gave the visitors the lead before Dipo Akinyemi scored on his Shots debut in the 65th minute. However, Lincoln City finished the stronger, with Jack Muldoon netting a deflected winner with ten minutes to go. The only two home wins in that stretch came last season. Brett Williams got the only goal of the game at the EBB Stadium in September 2014, whilst the Lincolnshire side got their revenge last January with a 3-0 victory thanks to goals from Charlee Adams, Ben Tomlinson and Arnaud Mendy.

Williams also got the only goal of the game on Aldershot Town’s visit to Sincil Bank in the 2013-14 campaign, when his second-half penalty earned all three points on 12 October 2013. That was one of the Shots’ excellent run of results at the ground, with Aldershot Town winning on three of their five trips. The Lincolnshire side’s only other win came in October 2009, when Sergio Torres scored the only goal of the game. Incredibly, those are the Imps’ only home wins over a side from Aldershot in fourteen fixtures dating back to April 1969, as Aldershot FC managed four wins and five draws in their last nine visits to Sincil Bank. Aldershot FC’s overall record against Lincoln City saw them win thirteen, draw eleven and lose nine of the 33 ties.

If Damon Lathrope features on Saturday, he’ll make his 50th appearance for the club.

Saturday afternoon’s referee is Joseph Johnson from Liverpool, who took charge of the Shots’ 2-0 win at Macclesfield Town in January. This season he’s officiated in thirteen National League fixtures, showing 38 yellow cards and five 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