Aldershot Town got back to winning ways on Saturday with a comfortable 2-0 win against Boreham Wood at the EBB Stadium. Whilst they might have preferred another league game to continue the momentum, instead the Shots face a tough tie at East Thurrock United in the First Round of the FA Trophy. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After winning just one point from a possible fifteen in November, the Shots trebled that total in their first game of December. It was a deserved victory in a game of few chances, but the hosts certainly had the better of them. Bernard Mensah had already tested Grant Smith in the visitors’ goal when his left wing cross was turned in by Scott Rendell in the 35th minute. It was his sixth of the campaign and his 100th in the National League. Dion Conroy’s right-footed curler forced a superb save from Smith just after the hour mark, so it was left to Idris Kanu to wrap up all three points, cutting in from the right wing to fire in with his left foot fourteen minutes from time. At the other end, Mark Smith had a routine save to make from Conor Clifford in the 25th minute, whilst Bruno Andrade twice fired wide from long-range in the first half.
For Aldershot Town, Saturday’s game marked just the third time in the last seventeen league and cup games where they’ve scored in the first half, and the difference in attitude and crowd support after the opening goal was noticeable. Incredibly, it was also the first time in over two months (the Shots led 1-0 at the break away to York City on 1 October) where Waddock’s men have managed a half-time lead. That game in York also marked the last time the Shots won away from home, suffering a run of two draws and three defeats since that victory. The win over Boreham Wood was especially impressive when you factor in the number of missing players and that the average age of the starting eleven was just 22.9 years old.
East Thurrock United was formed in 1969 and spent their early years in the Southern Essex Combination, London Spartan League and the Essex Senior League, before winning promotion to the Isthmian League in 1992. The Rocks’ second stint in the Premier Division started in 2011, after winning Division One North in the previous campaign, and that’s where they remained for five seasons. The 2015-16 campaign saw them finish 3rd in the table, just four points behind champions Hampton & Richmond Borough, before beating Tonbridge Angels 2-0 in the Play-Off semi-final, and then defeating Dulwich Hamlet 3-1 in the Final. The latter game saw a club record attendance of 1661 at their Rookery Hill home.
The Essex side has taken to life in National League South very impressively, sitting 8th with 28 points from their first twenty league fixtures. The Rocks have done particularly well against the sides currently above them in the table, winning one and drawing six of those seven games, including a goalless home draw with the runaway leaders Maidenhead United. However, they did have their ten-game league unbeaten streak ended at the weekend, losing 1-0 at Wealdstone. East Thurrock United haven’t lost at home in the league since the opening day of the campaign, winning two and drawing seven of the resulting nine home fixtures. Their ten total draws are the most in National League South this season.
Gary Waddock made three changes to his starting line-up for the game against Boreham Wood, with two of the three changes coming in the centre of defence. Will Evans returned after serving a one-game suspension, whilst Captain Callum Reynolds came in to face his former side after missing two games with a concussion. They replaced Jack Saville and Jake Gallagher, with Chelsea loanee Dion Conroy moving back into centre midfield alongside the impressive Jim Kellermann. The third change saw Shamir Fenelon returning from a month out with an ankle problem, with Matt McClure dropping to the bench. For the second time in a week, the Shots boss could only name three substitutes, but McClure’s introduction in the 65th minute was crucial as his pass to release Idris Kanu, who scored his third senior goal two days before his 17th birthday, to make it 2-0 was a sublime piece of play. It moved McClure level with Bernard Mensah and Cheye Alexander (all with four) at the top of Aldershot Town’s assists table. 18-year old midfielder Kundai Benyu signed from Ipswich Town on Thursday for an initial month-long loan and could feature for the Shots this weekend.
Waddock was doubtful whether any of the six players unavailable to face Boreham Wood would be in his squad for the FA Trophy tie this weekend. Jake Gallagher will definitely be out as he serves the second game of his three-match ban, whilst central midfield partner Liam Bellamy broke down with a recurrence of his knee injury in training during the week. Jack Saville (head injury) and Charlie Walker (illness) are the most likely of the sextet to return to the playing squad, but Nick Arnold and Jake Cole will miss the trip to East Thurrock with ankle problems.
Unsurprisingly, John Coventry chose to retain the majority of last season’s promotion-winning squad and they’ve rewarded his faith with that impressive start to their National League South campaign. The one ever-present this season has been goalkeeper Lukas Lidakevicius, who is a former Lithuanian Under-21 international and played in his native country’s top-flight for FK Zalgiris. The defence in front of him has been very consistent, with centre backs Joe Ellul (who has three goals so far in this campaign) and Ben Wood, plus full backs Ryan Sammons, Teddy Nesbitt and Lee Burns, all seeing plenty of game time this season. Midfielder Matt Freiter is also a defensive option if required.
The former Southend United and Peterborough United midfielder Kane Ferdinand is probably the most recognisable name in the East Thurrock United squad, but Ben Marlow, Michael Clark, George Craddock and Joe Gardner also provide options in the middle of the pitch. Reece Harris, who spent last season with Welling United as they were relegated from the National League, and joint-top scorer Tommy Wraight (seven goals) will most likely provide the width this weekend. In the attacking third, Aldershot Town eyes should focus on 27-year old Sam Higgins. The Rocks’ all-time record goalscorer (he notched his 200th goal for the club in February of this year) managed 38 goals in all competitions last season, with a further 44 in all competitions in 2014-15. He missed most of the first three months of this campaign as a result of a hamstring injury, but has managed ten goals in nine games since his return to the side, inclusing a hat-trick in Tuesday night’s Essex Senior Cup win against Bowers & Pitsea. Harry Honesty and James Walker will be hoping they get the opportunity to partner Higgins this weekend.
The East Thurrock United boss was without 50% of his first-choice defence against Wealdstone at the weekend, with Sammons (broken collarbone) and Burns both out through injury. Coventry will hope that the rest of his squad can keep a clean bill of health before taking on the Shots this weekend.
The only previous meetings between these two teams took place in Aldershot Town’s debut season, with the Shots winning both of the Ryman League Third Division fixtures. In just the eleventh game of their rookie campaign, Dave Osgood’s goal gave the visitors a 1-0 win at Rookery Hill on 3 October 1992, whilst a Mark Butler strike ensured a win by the same score in the reverse fixture on 19 December of the same year.
FA Trophy history
Aldershot Town’s last two forays into the FA Trophy have been ultimately rather forgettable, going down 1-0 at the EBB Stadium to both Ryman League Division One South side Burgess Hill Town in 2014 and fellow National League side Eastleigh twelve months ago. However, they did manage a trip to the quarter-finals in 2013-14, beating Weston-super-Mare (after a replay), Worcester City and Guiseley before going down to a 4-1 defeat at Havant & Waterlooville in the last eight. The Shots’ best performances in this competition came in 2003-04 and 2007-08 (under Gary Waddock), when they reached the two-legged semi-final stage before losing to Hednesford Town and Ebbsfleet United respectively.
East Thurrock United have made it to the First Round Proper of the FA Trophy four time in the last six seasons, going out at the First Round stage last year against Maidenhead United after a replay. Their best performance in this competition came in the 2011-12 season, when they knocked out Bedford Town, Faversham Town, Redbridge and Welling United before losing, again after a replay, to Hampton & Richmond Borough in Round 2. Another replay saw them negotiate the Third Qualifying Round in this campaign, defeating fellow National League South side Margate 2-0 at Rookery Hill after a 1-1 away draw.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Alan Young from Cambridgeshire, who took charge of three Shots game at the EBB Stadium last season – the 1-0 win against Welling United, the 2-1 loss to Lincoln City in November and the goalless draw with Torquay United in March of this year. So far this season, he’s officiated in six National League fixtures, showing 26 yellow cards and two red cards.
BBC Surrey’s Mitch Mansfield 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 or DAB 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 @gavindenison and @bbcsurreysport