Aldershot Town’s first home game of 2016 saw them defeat Chester 3-1 to record just their fifth home league win of the campaign, which lifted them to 15th in the table. After a free weekend, the Shots will go again on Saturday with a difficult trip to high-flying Macclesfield Town. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
In stark contrast to the terrible weather, Aldershot Town and Chester served up a thoroughly absorbing contest. The first half saw Sean McGinty hit the bar and have a shot cleared off the line, whilst Phil Smith was lucky to avoid a penalty concession and a red card after pulling down Craig Mahon after a defensive mix-up. McGinty (from Dan Walker’s corner) and debutant Alfie Pavey (from Charlie Walker’s cross) gave the Shots an early second-half 2-0 lead. The last fifteen minutes then saw John Rooney’s long-range strike halving the deficit, Charlie Walker and Jake Gallagher being denied by Chester keeper Dan Worsnop and substitute keeper Dan Thomas keeping the home side’s lead intact with a brilliant save from Johnny Hunt before Jim Stevenson fired in from Rhys Browne’s cross to secure all three points.
It was the first time since the 3-1 win at Barrow on 19 September (22 games in all competitions) that Barry Smith’s side had managed to score three goals in a game, whilst it was just the second occasion at the EBB Stadium in 2015-16. The three second half goals were as many as they’d managed in their previous six home league games. However, the victory against Chester, who started the day in 15th, shouldn’t have been a surprise. So far in this campaign, Aldershot Town have the second-best record in the National League against sides in the bottom half of the table (28 points from twelve games), but the second-worst record against sides currently in the top half of the standings (seven points from seventeen games).
Macclesfield Town were formed in 1874 and, for the fifteen years between 1997 and 2012, the Silkmen were held up as an example of how to survive in the Football League on small crowds and an uncompetitive playing budget. They even managed a solitary season in the third tier of English football in 1998-99. However, their relegation back to the top-flight of non-league football saw the Cheshire side encounter financial troubles. Over the summer of 2013, Macclesfield Town were nearly wound-up with debts to the tune of £500,000, but finished 15th in the Conference Premier. The Silkmen then showed a dramatic improvement last season with a superb sixth-place finish, just one point from the play-offs.
They’ve virtually matched that this season, sitting 7th in the standings with 47 points from their first thirty games. That’s especially impressive when you consider they lost seven of their first twelve league games. The side’s recent form hasn’t been great either, with three wins and four defeats in their last seven National League fixtures, with three of those losses coming in their last trio of games at Moss Rose against Eastleigh, Tranmere Rovers and FC Halifax Town. No team has drawn fewer than the Silkmen’s two National League games this season, whilst their defensive record of 33 goals conceded in thirty games is the sixth-best in the division.
Club legend John Askey (168 goals in 698 games over nineteen seasons) has been in charge since April 2013 and has helped create the positive mood around the club. Chairman Mark Blower told the Macclesfield Express earlier this month: “There is a real togetherness at the club at the minute and the supporters are playing a huge part in the success of this team. The ‘Crowdfunder’ that was launched in the autumn has significantly contributed to us being able to keep this squad together and we have some real momentum at the minute. We are in a great position going in to the final few months of the season and I am confident that we can make this a year to remember for the club.”
Barry Smith made four changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Chester, with the most notable seeing Millwall loanee Alfie Pavey make his first senior start in place of Danny Carr, who dropped to the bench. The other three changes all came in midfield with Rhys Browne, Dan Walker and Damon Lathrope coming in for Tom Richards, Sam Hatton and Jim Stevenson, who was left out of a National League starting eleven for the first time this season. Pavey and captain Sean McGinty scored their first senior goals in the game, whilst Stevenson’s fourth of the campaign came after the midfielder had spurned a number of excellent chances in recent weeks.
Goalkeeper Phil Smith was replaced at half-time by Dan Thomas after suffering a concussion, but he should be fit for the game at Macclesfield Town. Sam Hatton missed the game with a slight ankle knock, whilst Carr has returned to Cambridge United after a loan spell consisting of eight scoreless appearances for the Shots. Richard Brodie was an unused substitute after missing two games because of a back spasm and could feature this weekend.
After such an outstanding campaign, it’s no surprise that the Silkmen lost a number of key players over the course of the summer. Their two top scorers – eleven-goal Waide Fairhurst and Matthew Barnes-Homer, who tallied on nine occasions – joined Torquay United and Aldershot Town respectively, whilst ever-present goalkeeper Rhys Taylor and midfielder Scott Barrow both joined League Two side Newport County. Adriano Moke moved to Wrexham, defender Alex Grant returned to Stoke City after the completion of his long-term loan and Thierry Audel signed for Notts County after the expiration of his short-term deal. Will Haining and Arthur Gnahoua also left Moss Rose. Macclesfield Town’s midfield, however, remained largely intact with Danny Whitaker (six goals in 2014-15), Paul Turnbull (five goals), Paul Lewis (four goals), Chris Holroyd (four goals) and Danny Rowe all remaining at the club, as did defenders George Pilkington, Andy Halls and Dan Cowan.
John Askey has made some astute signings to replenish his playing staff since the end of last season, with Kristian Dennis being the main success story. Signed on a season-long loan from Stockport County, for whom he scored twelve Conference North goals last season, the striker already has twenty league goals this season, and 26 in all competitions. John Marsden (six goals for Southport in the previous campaign), Jack Sampson (Morecambe) and Theo Bailey-Jones (Wrexham) were also signed to bolster the forward line, but Marsden has already moved on and Bailey-Jones has missed most of the season through injury. Shwan Jalal is the new first-choice stopper after arriving from Northampton Town, whilst centre-backs Neill Byrne (AFC Telford United) and Tony Diagne (season-long loan from Lincoln City), plus left-back David Fitzpatrick (Southport), have been excellent signings. Former Accrington Stanley midfielder Danny Whitehead also joined the Silkmen over the summer, but his excellent form earned him a move to League One side Wigan Athletic. The Latics have loaned him back to the Silkmen for the rest of this season, along with defender Adam Anson and striker Louis Robles. Askey has also recently secured the loan signing of Oldham Athletic striker Rhys Turner until the end of January.
The Macclesfield Town boss was only able to name three substitutes in Tuesday night’s 2-0 home win against Truro City in their FA Trophy Second Round replay, with Turner one of those unavailable after picking up an ankle knock in training. Jalal has missed the last three games through injury. If he’s not fit, Ritchie Branagan should deputise in goal once again.
Aldershot Town and the Silkmen have faced each other on thirteen occasions, with the Shots winning just two, losing five and drawing six of those encounters. Back in September, the visitors claimed a comfortable 3-0 win at the EBB Stadium thanks to a Danny Rowe brace and another from Kristian Dennis. In this fixture last season, the two sides played out a goalless draw in March 2015 at Moss Rose, whilst midfielder Danny Whitaker scored eleven minutes into the second half to give Macclesfield Town all three points three months earlier. The low scores in the games aren’t uncommon, with the Shots scoring just eight times in those thirteen fixtures. The Silkmen’s 4-2 home win over the Shots in October 2008 looks like more of an anomaly with each passing season.
The Shots have got a decent record at Macclesfield, having won one and drawn three of their six games at Moss Rose. As well as last season’s draw, which stretched their unbeaten run on this ground to three games, the two teams also drew 1-1 in April 2014. Brett Williams’ stoppage-time penalty gave the visitors a crucial point in their ultimately successful battle for Conference Premier survival. That score was a repeat of the game in Cheshire in April 2010, whilst Aldershot Town’s sole victory at this ground came in February 2012 thanks to a goal from Aaron Morris.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Joseph Johnson from Liverpool, who is in his first season on the National Referees List. This season he’s officiated in ten National League fixtures, showing 33 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 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