Following the 1-1 draw in Essex on Saturday, Aldershot Town and East Thurrock United face each other once again on Monday evening for a chance to advance to the Second Round of the FA Trophy. The Shots will be favourites at the EBB Stadium, but their visitors will fancy their chances of an upset. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
As with so many games in recent months, the Shots will rue missed opportunities to pick up a crucial victory. The visitors started brightly at Rookery Hill, however Dion Conroy was forced to clear off the line from Reece Harris before Sam Higgins deflected free kick gave the hosts a 22nd minute lead. Five minutes later, however, Bernard Mensah turned in Idris Kanu’s cross to make it 1-1. Mensah and Fenelon missed good chances before break, whilst Cheye Alexander and Jim Kellermann forced decent saves from Lukas Lidakevicius. The home keeper was the second half’s star performer, saving from Conroy, Scott Rendell and twice from Matt McClure, whilst Mensah missed the target twice and Kanu had an effort cleared off the line by Michael Clark. Defensively, Shots keeper Mark Smith was relatively untroubled.
After doing so three times in the league at Boreham Wood, Southport and Lincoln City, Saturday was the fourth time that Aldershot Town have come from behind to avoid defeat this season. That equals their tally from the whole of the 2015-16 campaign, although last season saw them pick up two victories after trailing in games. The game at East Thurrock United on Saturday also saw the Shots score in the first half for the second game in a row after only managing it twice in their previous sixteen fixtures in all competitions. Gary Waddock will be hoping for his side to rise to the occasion at home again. His team had lost four of six outings at the EBB Stadium prior to last Saturday’s 2-0 victory against Boreham Wood.
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 9th with 28 points from their first twenty league fixtures. The Rocks have done particularly well against the sides in the top seven of the table, winning one and drawing six of those seven games. That includes a goalless home draw with the runaway leaders Maidenhead United. They’ve only lost one of their last fourteen games in all competitions, going down to a 1-0 defeat at Wealdstone on 3 December. East Thurrock United have only suffered three defeats in their eleven away games in 2016-17, plus they’ve scored in ten of them, tallying nineteen goals in the process. Their ten total draws are the most in National League South this season.
A win for East Thurrock United against the Shots in this FA Trophy First Round tie would be one of the biggest results in the club’s history, and the Essex side are certainly relishing the opportunity to humble higher-league opposition. Speaking to the Southend Echo before the first game, Rocks captain Sam Higgins said: “It is a really exciting one against a big club that was in the Football League not long ago. We are at home and we are confident we can progress. We have that advantage and last Saturday (against Wealdstone) was the first time we had lost in a while. Confidence in the camp is high and it should be as we are playing well.”
For just the third time this season, Gary Waddock named an unchanged starting line-up for the trip to Essex. That meant Idris Kanu, who’d signed his first professional contract earlier in the week, continued up front alongside Scott Rendell, whilst Dion Conroy and Jim Kellermann were selected once again in central midfield. Kundai Benyu, who’d signed from Ipswich Town two days earlier on an initial month-long youth loan deal, came off the bench to replace Kellermann to make his Shots debut, whilst Charlie Walker (illness) and Jack Saville (head injury) both returned to the matchday squad and were named as substitutes. Shamir Fenelon and Bernard Mensah provided the width at Rookery Hill, with the latter scoring his fifth goal of the campaign and his first goal in twelve games. With just 48 hours between the two fixtures, expect the Shots boss to make changes for the replay.
One player that will surely be happy with a replay is Jake Gallagher, who will serve the final game of his three-match suspension on Monday, whilst central midfield partner Liam Bellamy broke down with a recurrence of his knee injury in training earlier this month and is unlikely to be fit to face the National League South side. Nick Arnold will be out with an ankle injury until the New Year at the earliest, but first choice goalkeeper Jake Cole should return soon after missing the last four games with a similar issue.
Unsurprisingly, John Coventry, who took charge in October 2007 after previously spending time as the Rocks’ assistant manager to Lee Patterson, 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 only player to feature in all 26 games for East Thurrock United 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 Michael Clark, plus full backs Ryan Sammons, Teddy Nesbitt and Lee Burns, all seeing plenty of game time this season. Midfielder Matt Freiter featured at right back on Saturday and may play there again at the EBB Stadium.
The former Southend United and Peterborough United midfielder Kane Ferdinand is probably the most recognisable name in the East Thurrock United squad, but he didn’t make it off the bench on Saturday. Ben Wood, George Craddock, Ben Marlow and Joe Gardner were all preferred to him as 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 Tommy Wraight (eight goals in the 2016-17 campaign) will continue to provide the width. In the attacking third, Aldershot Town eyes should focus on 27-year old Sam Higgins. The Rocks’ all-time record goalscorer (he scored his 228th goal for the club on Saturday) 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 eleven goals in ten games since his return to the side, including a hat-trick in last Tuesday night’s 6-1 Essex Senior Cup win against Bowers & Pitsea. James Walker and Harry Honesty will be hoping they get the opportunity to partner Higgins on Monday evening.
The East Thurrock United boss was without 50% of his first-choice defence in the first game against the Shots, with Sammons (broken collarbone) and Burns both out through injury. Coventry will hope that the rest of his squad will be available for the upcoming replay.
Prior to Saturday afternoon, 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.
Monday evening’s referee is Neil Hair from Cambridgeshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 home win against Maidstone United in August, plus the 1-1 draw at Boreham Wood the following month. So far this season, he’s officiated in thirteen National League fixtures, showing 37 yellow cards and one red card.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Aldershot Town midfielder Jake Gallagher will be covering the game on Monday evening. Tune in to the BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport app from 7.35pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison