Preview: Torquay United v Aldershot Town

For the first time this season, Aldershot Town have suffered consecutive defeats following last Saturday’s disappointing 3-0 home loss to Macclesfield Town. The Shots start yet another stretch of five games in two weeks with a trip to struggling Torquay United on Saturday afternoon. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.

The stand-out feature of the Shots’ defeat last weekend was just how surprising it was. Barry Smith’s side had performed impressively over the previous few weeks, but they never got going against the Cheshire side, with the manager questioning their work rate after the match. The visitors got their first goal in the third minute before they doubled their advantage four minutes before the break. Rhys Browne came on at half-time and grazed the crossbar with a right-footed effort, but Jake Gallagher’s red card set Aldershot Town even further onto the back foot. Macclesfield Town made it 3-0 in the 69th minute, whilst the hosts failed to unduly trouble visiting goalkeeper Shwan Jalal all afternoon.

The defeat dropped the Shots to 15th in the National League standings, with questions once again being asked about their defensive prowess. For the third time in five games, Aldershot Town conceded at least three goals, whilst only Kidderminster Harriers, FC Halifax Town and Torquay United have conceded more than their 22 league goals. Despite the defeat at Tranmere Rovers on 22 September, Barry Smith’s players have been better away from the EBB Stadium so far this season, with ten points from seven away games, which is the 8th-best record in the division. They’ve won three of their last five fixtures on the road, with all seven of their away fixtures coming against sides currently above them in the table. They’re also the fifth-highest scorers on the road in 2015-16 thus far.

Formed in 1899, it took Torquay United 28 years to reach the Football League, and that’s where they stayed until their first relegation from League Two in 2007. The Gulls were promoted two years later (one year after the Shots) and managed to reach the League Two play-offs in consecutive seasons. In 2011, they lost 1-0 to Stevenage in the final at Wembley, whilst twelve months later; they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Cheltenham Town in a Play-Off semi-final. They finished bottom of the Football League again in 2013-14, five points from safety, before their 13th-place finish last season.

However, the club has suffered massive upheaval over the last few months, with the club being taken over by a consortium of local businesspeople after millionaire owner Thea Bristow left. The club have been forced to operate on a reduced budget, the youth academy has been closed and part of the training ground has been leased to Plymouth Argyle’s youth team. On the pitch, the Gulls are in the relegation zone after ten games without a win, a run in which they’ve managed just four points. They’ve only managed one point from their last five home games and their record of 29 goals conceded in thirteen league games is the worst tally in the division.

The consortium’s new manager, Paul Cox, resigned in mid-September stating that he wouldn’t be paid in the immediate future, but the club’s fans got a boost on Monday with the announcement of former left-back Kevin Nicholson as their new player-manager. He told the club’s official website: “I always knew that I would eventually return to the club; it has played such a big part of my life and, whilst my return has maybe come a little sooner than I expected, I am delighted to be back… I want everyone pulling in the same direction. I don’t care what has gone on before, that’s in the past now. Everyone is on a fresh start and I will be looking for the lads to enjoy their football and put in winning performances for this club.”

Barry Smith made two changes for the visit of Macclesfield Town with Phil Smith returning from a three-game absence due to a calf injury, whilst Dan Walker started after a trio of impressive substitute appearances. Dan Thomas and Rhys Browne both dropped to the bench, alongside Charlie Harris, who failed to get on in the final game of his one-month loan from Brighton and Hove Albion. One player hoping to start this weekend is Damon Lathrope, who played 124 games for the Gulls between 2010 and 2014. He’s certainly the favourite to come in for the suspended Jake Gallagher, although captain Sam Hatton could also move from right- to central-midfield.

The Shots boss will be without Gallagher as the midfielder starts a three-match ban after his fourth red card since 11 November 2014. Smith expected Luke Oliver to have a full week of training this week, so he may be available for this weekend’s trip to South Devon. Fellow defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty, however, are long-term absentees. The former’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until late October, whilst McGinty should return in the next fortnight after suffering a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town.

With such financial hardship hitting the Gulls, it’s no surprise that the squad has seen a massive overhaul since the end of last season. The biggest loss was eighteen-goal top scorer Ryan Bowman, who moved to Gateshead, but they lost key players from other areas as well. Defenders Aaron Downes (Cheltenham Town, seven goals in 2014-15), Krystian Pearce (Mansfield Town), Tom Cruise, Dale Tonge (Chester) and young left-back Levi Ives (Bristol City) all left Plainmoor, as did first-choice goalkeeper Martin Rice (Truro City). They’re also without attacking midfielders Jordan Chapell (Chester), Toby Ajala (Dover Athletic, six goals), Courtney Cameron (Southport) and striker Duane Ofori-Acheampong, who, like Ajala, scored six goals in the previous campaign before joining Dover Athletic. Amongst those players who did remain were ten-goal winger Louis Briscoe, midfielders Luke Young (seven goals) and Courtney Richards, plus new team captain, centre-back Angus MacDonald.

Paul Cox brought in a number of signings after taking charge in June, with the key signings coming in the attacking third. Macclesfield Town’s top scorer Waide Fairhurst (eleven goals) joined the Gulls, as did fellow strikers Tyrone Marsh (nine goals on loan at Welling United last season) and Alex Fisher (Mansfield Town, four goals so far in this campaign). James Hurst (Hednesford Town) has one more goal than that to lead Torquay United, whilst Simon Heslop (Mansfield Town), Fergus Bell (Yeovil Town), Shepherd Murombedzi (Southern League Premier side Banbury United) and loanees Josh Carmichael (Bournemouth) and Harry Hickford (MK Dons) also add numbers to the midfield ranks. Former Notts County stopper Fabian Spiess is first-choice goalkeeper, with Cox also building a new back-four. Former Shots loanee Dan Butler (fifteen appearances in two loan spells in 2013-14) has made the left-back spot his own, whilst Exodus Geohaghon (Northern League Premier side Stourbridge), Durrell Berry (Cheltenham Town) and Nathan Smith (three-month loan from Port Vale) have also been regulars since moving to Plainmoor.

However, it is a squad beset by injuries, most notably with Luke Young scheduled to miss the entire campaign after damaging knee ligaments in July. Geohaghon came off on Saturday with a groin problem; Fairhurst has been out for six weeks with a knee injury, whilst Courtney Richards (hamstring) will also miss the visit of Aldershot Town. However, Kevin Nicholson will have Simon Heslop available for selection after the midfielder completed a three-game suspension.

Aldershot Town and Torquay United have faced each other on thirteen occasions, with the Shots having the edge by six wins to five. They took the historical advantage thanks to a pair of 2-0 home wins last season. A Josh Scott brace gave the hosts the win in an FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round tie last October, whilst Tristan Plummer and Glenn Wilson got the goals on Easter Monday, when Aldershot Town secured their non-league status for another season. The other game last season saw a 1-1 draw at Plainmoor on a wet August Bank Holiday Monday. Courtney Cameron’s long-range free kick was misjudged by the visitor’s defence for the opener, but Joe N’Guessan equalised with twenty minutes left to ensure the spoils were shared.

That draw means Aldershot Town have picked up eight points from their sextet of trips to Plainmoor. Of course, their first game there, a Blue Square Premier tie in March 2008, saw Scott Davies’ famous winner, while a Marvin Morgan goal saw the trick repeated in September 2010. Morgan also scored in a 1-1 draw between the two sides in September 2009 in South Devon, whilst Shots fans will want to forget the 4-3 defeat in October 2012 when a Craig Reid hat-trick gave them a 3-0 lead. Aldershot FC had many largely forgettable trips to Plainmoor, with ten victories, 23 defeats and seven draws in 40 visits.

If he plays this weekend, Sam Hatton will make his 50th league appearance for Aldershot Town, whilst Richard Brodie will play his 300th National League game if he features at Plainmoor on Saturday.

Saturday afternoon’s referee is Craig Hicks from Sutton, who took charge of the Shots’ 2-1 win at Braintree Town in August. He also refereed the corresponding fixture in the previous campaign (a 1-1 draw in April) and last December’s 1-0 home loss to Macclesfield Town. So far this season, he’s overseen six National League games, showing twenty yellow cards and one red card.

BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town defender Joe Oastler 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