Aldershot Town’s 1-0 win against Sutton United last weekend took them into the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, where they’ll face a mouth-watering home tie against League One side Bradford City. Before that, however, the Shots return to league action with a trip to struggling Southport. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The game at the EBB Stadium on Saturday won’t live long in the memory, with Barry Smith’s side looking lacklustre for long periods against the industrious National League South outfit. Neither side had an effort on target in the first half; the hosts finally got the breakthrough thanks to Rhys Browne’s deflected effort in the 71st minute, after good work from substitute Dan Walker and Jim Stevenson. Phil Smith didn’t have a save to make all afternoon, with ex-Shot Dan Fitchett and fellow striker Craig Dundas missing good opportunities in the last fifteen minutes. In fact, it was Aldershot Town who came closest to the second goal of the game when Cheye Alexander’s late drive was brilliantly tipped over by Ross Worner.
The win, however scrappy, continued the Shots’ excellent recent form with four wins and four clean sheets from the six games in October thus far. Indeed, the clean sheet against Sutton United was their seventh of the campaign. During this month, Aldershot Town have also won both fixtures on their travels, against Torquay United and Boreham Wood, not conceding a goal in either game. Their run of five away wins in seven has led them to the fourth-best away record in the division – only Braintree Town, Cheltenham Town and Forest Green Rivers can better it – and another league victory on the road would equal their record of six away league wins during the whole of the previous campaign.
Southport have spent almost half of their 133-year history in the Football League. However, their 57-year League stay was ended in 1978, when they became the last team to be voted out by the other member clubs. The last decade has seen the Sandgrounders fluctuate between the Conference, in its various guises, and Conference North, with their most recent stay in the non-league top-flight now entering its sixth campaign. Hopes were high for a prolonged upturn in the club’s fortunes after a seventh-place finish in 2011-12 (five points from a play-off place), but the last three campaigns have seen the Merseysiders finish in 20th, 18th and 19th, and they were just six points above the relegation zone last season.
The Sandgrounders made a terrible start to this season, picking up just one point and one goal from their opening six games. They have improved, losing just four of the following eleven to move up to 22nd, but it’s easy to see why they’re struggling. Southport are the division’s lowest scorers with just fourteen league goals, whilst their home form is the third-worst in the National League. They’ve won just once at home this season – a 3-0 victory against Altrincham on 31 August – and haven’t won any of their last five games at Haig Avenue. In fact, they’ve lost their last three home games against Grimsby Town, Torquay United and Chester.
On Saturday, they also lost to Northern League Premier Division side Salford City in the FA Cup, with manager Paul Carden, who took charge in January, being very critical of his players. He told the club’s official website: “Ultimately today was down to about who wanted it most, and I think it was clear from the outset that our weak underbelly surfaced again and Salford came out deserved winners… I just thought we’ve shown a little bit of weakness, which we’ve seen in different stages this season, a little bit of softness about us… we didn’t look brave on the ball, we weren’t brave in the tackle, and ultimately that’ll cost you when you come to these types of places.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the visit of Bromley last weekend with Damon Lathrope coming back from injury to replace the suspended Jake Gallagher, whilst Sam Hatton came in for Tom Richards, who dropped to the bench. However, Hatton’s withdrawal after 32 minutes for tactical reasons must put his place in the starting line-up at Southport in doubt. Another player who’ll be desperate to feature is Richard Brodie, who scored fourteen goals in 41 games for the Merseysiders last season. He has been struggling with a back problem, plus he hasn’t found the net in his last nine Shots appearances, so the Aldershot Town manager may consider his options for a partner for top scorer Charlie Walker.
Gallagher serves the second game of his four-match ban this weekend, so will definitely be unavailable. Defender Joe Oastler’s long-term recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until the latter part of November.
Paul Carden had to rebuild his squad over the summer with a number of key players from last season’s relegation battle moving on from Haig Avenue. Richard Brodie, the Sandgrounders’ top scorer last season, moved south after playing in their opening game of this season against Eastleigh, whilst second-top scorer John Marsden (six goals) moved to Macclesfield Town, along with left-back David Fitzpatrick. Also leaving were fellow defenders Luke George (Chester) and Dom Collins (AFC Fylde), midfielder Micah Evans (Stockport County) and goalkeepers David Raya Martin (returned to Blackburn Rovers) and Daniel Lloyd-Weston (Worcester City). Defensive midfielders Joe Connor and Scott Kay have also failed to feature since the end of last season. Amongst those who have remained with the club are full backs Matty Challoner and Will Beesley, captain Luke Foster, midfielders Charlie Joyce and Paul Rutherford and striker Louis Almond, who has three goals so far in this campaign.
The Southport boss brought in a number of experienced players over the summer, most notably the former Rochdale, Bradford City and Notts County midfielder Gary Jones, goalkeeper Andy Coughlin from Wrexham and striker Andy Bishop, who arrived after a short spell at FC Halifax Town earlier this season following a haul of seventeen goals for Wrexham in 2014-15. Bishop will be assisted in the attacking third by Cole Stockton and Mike Phenix, who are on loan until January from Tranmere Rovers and Barnsley respectively, Jamie Allen (Fleetwood Town) and Jack Ryan, who signed from Preston North End last week on a youth loan until January. Liam Nolan (Crewe Alexandra), Courtney Cameron (Torquay United) and Michael Brewster (St Mirren) have been added to the midfield ranks, whilst Jon Viscosi is the back-up goalkeeper after signing a season-long loan deal from Chester. Andrew Wright (Morecambe) has been a regular starter at centre-back alongside Foster, whilst Andrai Jones (Gateshead), Josh Thompson (Tranmere Rovers) and Adam Blakeman (Ayr United) have featured less frequently for Carden.
Coughlin has missed the last two games through injury, so Oxford United loanee Max Crocombe should start in goal, whilst Andy Bishop went off against Salford City with a foot problem and Andrai Jones is struggling from an ankle injury. Jamie Allen and Courtney Cameron were also unavailable for the FA Cup defeat, so must be considered doubts for the visit of Aldershot Town.
These two sides have met on eight previous occasions, with the Shots triumphing on four occasions, with one draw and three Southport victories. The two fixtures last season were both won by the away side, with Aldershot Town winning 3-1 at Haig Avenue. Andre McCollin and Sam Hatton gave the visitors a 2-0 lead before Richard Brodie pulled one back just before half-time. However, Brett Williams’ 71st-minute goal secured the three points. He also scored in the second half of the return game back in March, but the Shots were already 2-0 down and couldn’t come back to secure a draw. Williams also scored a hat-trick in a 5-1 Shots win in November 2013 at the EBB Stadium.
Aldershot Town have won two and lost two of their previous visits to Southport. On 31 August 2013, Yamen Osawe scored the only goal of the game for the hosts, whilst they also won by the same score in February 2007. The Shots did manage the double over the Sandgrounders in 2005-06, with Darren Barnard scoring in the 1-0 away win in April 2006. Southport also faced Aldershot FC in thirty Football League fixtures between 1958 and 1978, the majority of which took place in the old Fourth Division, but there were two Third Division meetings in 1973-74. Again, the Shots held the advantage, winning fourteen, drawing nine and losing seven of the thirty ties between the two sides. They only had an average record in Merseyside, however, having won four, drawn five and lost six of their fifteen trips to Haig Avenue.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Ryan Johnson from Bolton, who took charge of Aldershot Town’s 1-0 defeat at Chester last October. This season he’s officiated in seven National League fixtures, showing nineteen yellow cards and three 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