Shots – Altrincham match preview – 9 August 2014
After a turbulent twelve months that saw the Club days away from folding and endure both a points deduction and a nine-month long battle against relegation, Shots fans will be hoping for something a little less hair-raising this season. Their second consecutive season in the Conference Premier sees them host promoted Altrincham in their opening fixture. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After going into administration last May, only being allowed to sign players and compete in the Conference Premier once a takeover had been completed eight days before the season started, and beginning with a ten-point deduction, it was certainly an achievement for Aldershot Town to avoid relegation on their own merit, albeit on goal difference. With the news last week that the Club had completed their CVA and exited administration two years early, as well as making a small profit for the last financial year, Aldershot Town seem to be on their soundest financial footing for some time. The next step is to improve the situation on the pitch, which has certainly been aided by Andy Scott’s ability to prepare and hold a proper preseason this summer.
Last season, the Shots’ survival was based on their excellent home form, with eleven wins and six draws from their 23 home games, whilst only Luton Town, FC Halifax Town and Cambridge United bettering the Shots’ 48 goals at the Electrical Services Stadium. Aldershot Town were also a highly resilient club, with Andy Scott’s team having the seventh-best second-half record in the division. This weekend the Shots are also able to draw comfort from their outstanding record in opening league games since their formation in 1992. In their previous 22 campaigns, Aldershot Town have won sixteen, drawn four and lost two of their first league encounters. Both of those defeats have come at home (against Chertsey Town and Tamworth), but they’ve also won ten and drawn one at what is now the Electrical Services Stadium.
Previous long-term spells in the Conference Premier, from 1979 to 2000 and 2005 to 2011, plus two FA Trophy triumphs and their longstanding record of beating sixteen league teams as a non-league team in the FA Cup, mean that many Altrincham fans will feel they’ve returned to their rightful level after three seasons in Conference North. Last season saw the Robins finish 3rd in the table, four points below champions AFC Telford United, before defeating Hednesford Town and Guiseley in the playoffs. The latter 2-1 victory came via a 121st-minute winner from Greg Wilkinson in front of 4632 jubilant home fans.
It’s easy to see why Alty were so successful last season. Their 95 goals in 42 league games was the best record in the division (they scored in all but two of their Conference North fixtures in 2013-14), whilst only Brackley Town conceded fewer goals than Altrincham’s 51. The Robins also had the best away record in Conference North, securing 37 points from 21 games on their travels, with twenty of those points coming in the nine league outings after 7 January. Altrincham only lost one of their last fifteen league and playoff games, with that lone defeat coming at AFC Telford United at the start of April.
The former Port Vale and Farsley Celtic manager, Lee Sinnott, is the man who’s taken the Robins back to the top flight of non-league football. Speaking to the Altrincham Messenger at the end of July, Sinnott said: “This is now the strongest squad I’ve had at Altrincham… you can see the balance is there, and the players are going to have to take their A game on to the pitch every time, because there is so much quality in all areas. There are decisions to be made about the starting XI, but that is a nice conundrum to have. The players who face Aldershot Town have to do enough to make sure they stay in, because there will be people pushing in every position.”
Andy Scott was able to re-sign nine players over the summer, ensuring a decent degree of continuity from the 2013-14 campaign. They include Fans’ Player of the Year Chris Barker, Players’ Player of the Year Joe Oastler, fellow defenders Anthony Tonkin and Jaydon Gibbs, 24-goal top scorer Brett Williams and strike partner Josh Scott, plus attacking midfielders Mark Molesley, Jordan Roberts and Tristan Plummer. The same amount have also departed the Electrical Services Stadium since the end of April, including last season’s captain Craig Stanley (Eastleigh), fellow midfielders Martin Rowlands and Adam Mekki and first-choice goalkeeper Glenn Morris, who joined Gillingham.
In contrast to the summer of 2013, the Shots boss has been able to bring in players in good time prior to the start of the campaign. Former Swindon Town and Crawley Town goalkeeper Phil Smith was signed from Portsmouth, whilst another ex-Red, Glenn Wilson, was snapped up from Salisbury City after their demotion from the Football Conference. Striker Dan Fitchett (thirteen league goals in 2013-14) also arrived from the Whites, whilst Sam Hatton (Grimsby Town), Damon Lathrope (Torquay United) and Kieron Forbes (six-month loan from Forest Green Rovers) provide plenty of options in central midfield. The versatile Naby Diallo was snapped up from Weston-super-Mare, whilst 19-year old Joseph N’Guessan joined on loan from Stevenage until 2 January 2015. Thursday also saw the arrival of goalkeeper Dan Thomas (Poole Town) and striker Tom Derry (Gillingham) on non-contract deals to bolster Scott’s squad.
Hatton will definitely be missing for the visit of Altrincham as he serves a one-game ban after a red card against Gateshead in last season’s play-off semi-final. Fitchett and Plummer picked up knocks in preseason, but both are nearing their return from hamstring injuries, whilst Wilson should be available despite missing the friendly with AFC Wimbledon through illness.
Altrincham have been able to keep the vast majority of their promotion-winning squad intact, including veteran goalkeeper Stuart Coburn, who has made 647 appearances for the Robins. Last season’s first choice defence – Shaun Densmore, Adam Griffin, Gianluca Havern and Scott Leather – all return, as do midfield quartet Jake Moult, Simon Richman, James Lawrie and Nicky Clee. Strikers Damian Reeves (22 goals) and Kyle Perry (fourteen goals) have also returned to Moss Lane, but James Walshaw, the top scorer in Conference North last season with 29 goals, has been unable to commit to the extra travel of a national league schedule and joined Harrogate Town.
Despite remaining part-time, Lee Sinnott has been able to bring in some strong additions to the Club. Peter Cavanagh, who can play in defence or midfield, arrived at Alty after leading Rochdale to promotion from League Two last season, whilst former Cheltenham Town and Colchester United striker Steven Gillespie joined after being released by Bristol Rovers in the summer. Goalkeeper Dave Barton (Newcastle Town of the Northern Premier League Division 1 South), plus midfielders Ryan Crowther (FC Halifax Town) and Sean Williams (Conference North club Colwyn Bay) also arrived at the Greater Manchester side.
Saturday afternoon sees the seventh meeting between Aldershot Town and Altrincham, with the Shots winning two, drawing two and losing two of the previous sextet of fixtures. The last time the two clubs met was in the Shots’ promotion-winning season, with the North-East Hampshire club securing a pair of 2-1 wins. Jonny Dixon and Louie Soares scored for the visitors in the game at Moss Lane in September 2007, whilst Anthony Charles and Scott Davies notched for the hosts in the return game six months later.
The 2006-07 season saw a pair of goalless draws between the two sides, but Altrincham managed to complete an emphatic double over the Shots in 2005-06. James Olsen and Colin Little got the goals in a 2-0 win in North-East Hampshire on 27 August 2005, whilst the Shots were battered 5-1 in the away game in January 2006.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Chris Powell from Dorset, who’s starting his first season as a Conference Premier referee. Last season he took charge of sixteen games in Conference South, including a playoff semi-final tie between Sutton United and Dover Athletic.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison, with guest summariser Stuart Griffiths, will be covering the game on Saturday afternoon. Tune in to 104.0 & 104.6 FM for team news just after 2pm, followed by pre-match interviews and full match commentary via the BBC Surrey website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/bbc_radio_sussex) at 2.55pm.
We also want your thoughts on how you think the Shots will do in this game. Let us know on the day via the following methods:
Text: 81333 (please start your text with the word ‘Radio’)
Plus, we want your reaction to the game between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday in ‘The Final Whistle’. Win, lose or draw, we want to hear from you throughout this season. Call us on 03459 57 00 57 and let your voice be heard.