Aldershot Town secured their first point of the season on Tuesday night with a battling 0-0 draw at Cheltenham Town. Their tough opening week concludes with a trip to North Wales on Saturday afternoon, when they’ll aim for the first win of the campaign against Wrexham. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
A look at the scoreline would suggest that it was a fairly uneventful evening in Gloucestershire, but Barry Smith’s first point in charge of the Shots was anything but dull. An excellent, end-to-end advert for National League football somehow remained scoreless over 90 minutes, with the home side hitting the woodwork three times (the last of which was via the fingertips of Phil Smith), having two goals ruled out for offside and another effort cleared off the line. The visitors grew into the game after a rough opening fifteen minutes, when they again struggled to defend set-pieces, with Rhys Browne to the fore once again. A couple of slaloming runs were spoiled by wayward finishing, whilst Charlie Walker forced a decent late save. The Shots deserved the point for their desire to win the game to the final whistle.
After securing their third clean sheet in their last 28 league games, there was plenty of focus on the positive defensive aspect of Aldershot Town’s performance. However the zero on the side of the scoreboard was more familiar. The Shots have managed just four goals in their last six games and failed to score in 13 of their 46 league games last season. If they can improve on their goalscoring record, which saw only Alfreton Town, Southport, Dartford and Nuneaton Town score fewer than the Shots’ 51 league goals in 2014-15, then a move into the top half of the table isn’t out of the question. If the attacking intensity of the first two games continues, then goals should certainly come more freely this season.
After 87 years as a Football League side, Wrexham were relegated to the Conference Premier in 2008. They came close to promotion earlier in the decade, finishing fifth in 2012-13, before losing that season’s Play-Off Final against Newport County. The North Wales club were also beaten by Luton Town at the play-off semi-final stage in the previous two campaigns, with the loss in 2011-12 coming after finishing runners-up to champions Fleetwood Town. After a 17th-place finish in 2013-14, just eight points above the relegation zone, they improved last year to finish 11th with 66 points, whilst also losing the FA Trophy Final, a defeat which cost manager Kevin Wilkin his job.
They finished last season strongly, winning four and losing one of their last eight games under caretaker manager Carl Darlington. Defensively, the Dragons were very strong with only Bristol Rovers, Grimsby Town, Barnet and Macclesfield Town bettering their record 52 goals conceded, whilst they managed sixteen league cleans sheets. Wrexham’s home form was less than exemplary, taking 35 points at the Racecourse Ground, compared to 31 on their travels. However, they haven’t lost at home since a 4-0 defeat to AFC Telford United on 17 January, winning six and drawing six of their last twelve fixtures in North Wales.
After opening the season with a 3-1 loss at Bromley, Wrexham won by the same score at home to Torquay United on Tuesday night. It was the first win under former York City and Gateshead boss Gary Mills, who took over at the end of April. Speaking after the game, he told the Wrexham Leader: “A very special feeling. What an atmosphere, it was fantastic. I thought we played well first half, and then we don’t pick up from a corner again and give away another goal. We have got to stop that… so to come out and show a lot of character to be 1-0 down at half-time at home after what happened on Saturday, I thought we came out on the front foot.”
Barry Smith made two changes for the trip to Cheltenham Town, with debuts for Preston North End left-back Nick Anderton and former Welling United midfielder Jake Gallagher. Anderton, who’d signed the previous day, and had loan spells with Gateshead and Barrow last season, had a solid game alongside his defensive counterparts after replacing Tom Richards, who dropped to the bench. Gallagher had an eventful first hour in a Shots shirt, clearing a fourth-minute effort off his own line, getting booked, going on a barn-storming run that brought about a booking for the hosts’ captain Aaron Downes and having a shot saved by Robins goalkeeper Dillon Phillips. Both players will expect to keep their places in the starting line-up for Saturday’s game at the Racecourse Ground.
Gallagher had come into the side for Sam Hatton, who was rested after taking a bump to the kidney during last Saturday’s defeat at home to Gateshead. He may be available for the game at Wrexham, but Smith will continue to be without two key defenders, with Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty both unavailable. Oastler has only played once since Valentine’s Day because of an ankle injury, whilst McGinty suffered a broken metatarsal in the pre-season win over Basingstoke Town.
Since his arrival from Gateshead at the end of April, Gary Mills has overseen a dramatic overhaul of the playing squad, with sixteen departures being replaced with ten new permanent signings, plus two loanees. Their two top scorers, Louis Moult (23 goals) and Andy Bishop (seventeen goals) have moved to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell and FC Halifax Town respectively, whilst first-choice goalkeeper Andy Coughlin joined Southport. The midfield departures included Dean Keates (Rhyl FC), Jay Harris (Tranmere Rovers), Joe Clarke (Kidderminster Harriers), Kyle Storer (Cheltenham Town) and Elliott Durrell (Tamworth), whilst they’ve also lost some key defenders. Luke Waterfall has gone to Lincoln City, Neil Ashton joined Barrow and fellow full-back Steve Tomassen made the move to Tamworth. Some key players have remained at the Racecourse Ground, however, including forwards Connor Jennings (nine goals) and Wes York (seven goals), midfielders Mark Carrington and Rob Evans, plus centre-backs Manny Smith and Blaine Hudson.
Mills most impressive signings have come in restocking his midfield ranks with Dominic Vose (five goals at Welling United in 2014-15), Adriano Moke (Macclesfield Town), Lee Fowler (who split last season between Nuneaton Town and Crawley Town) and former Shot loanee Adam Smith (FC Halifax Town). On the defensive side of the ball, Sean Newton, who scored eight goals for Lincoln City last season, former Welling United defender Jamal Fyfield and ex-Tamworth full-back Javan Vidal should feature prominently this season, whilst goalkeeper Cameron Belford, who finished the last campaign at Swindon Town, will be the new number one. Upfront James Gray (Accrington Stanley) and Kayden Jackson (Tamworth) will look to replace Moult and Bishop. Prior to the season, the Wrexham boss also added Stoke City right-back Mason Watkins-Clark and Rochdale midfielder Joel Logan to his squad on one-month loan deals.
Adam Smith should be available for the visit of the Shots after recovering from a heel problem, whilst midfielder Mark Carrington (groin) and young defender Ross White are suffering from long-term injuries.
Saturday afternoon will see the fifth meeting between Aldershot Town and Wrexham, with the Shots losing both games at the Racecourse Ground. Last November, the home side won 3-1, despite Dan Holman giving the Shots the lead after 14 minutes. On 4 January 2014, the game finished 2-1, with Jay Harris thumping a superb winner three minutes from time to secure all three points after Brett Williams had notched an excellent equaliser. Aldershot Town’s one victory was a 2-0 home win in September 2013, where Mark Molesley got the opening goal of the game and Jordan Roberts came off the bench to net his first senior goal. The two sides also played out an entertaining 1-1 draw back in April.
The Welsh side did face Aldershot FC on 34 occasions between 1961 and 1991, and the Dragons had the edge with sixteen wins to Aldershot’s eleven, plus seven further draws. Most of those fixtures occurred in the old Fourth Division, but six games took place in the old Third Division between 1973 and 1976. It’s also worth noting that the Shots had a terrible record at the Racecourse Ground, failing to win on any of their seventeen visits, drawing on only four occasions and conceding 42 goals in the process.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Adam Bromley from Plymouth, who took charge of the Shots’ 2-0 win against Alfreton Town last October and the 2-1 home defeat against Southport in March. He also oversaw four Aldershot Town games in the 2013-14 campaign, including the 1-1 FA Cup draw with Shortwood United. Last season, he’s officiated in seventeen Conference games, showed 43 yellow cards and three red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and the Shots record goalscorer, and current Commercial Manager, Mark Butler will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2.15pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Sport website 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