Aldershot Town got back to winning ways on Saturday with a solid 2-0 victory over newly-promoted Solihull Moors. It was a win that lifted them to 6th in the National League table ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round, with the Shots facing Eastbourne Borough of National League South at the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Gary Waddock would have expected a positive reaction from his players after the midweek home defeat against Forest Green Rovers, and that’s exactly what he got. His side started with a good tempo and Charlie Walker had a hat-trick of first half chances without unduly testing visiting goalkeeper Nathan Vaughan. At the other end, Mark Smith made a routine stop from Akwasi Asante, but he should have been beaten two minutes into the second half when centre back Jordan Fagbola headed wide from a free kick. The Shots made the breakthrough just after the hour mark when Shamir Fenelon fired in after Cheye Alexander’s mazy run, whilst Scott Rendell bundled in Jim Kellermann’s cross in the 82nd minute to make it 2-0. There was also still time for Anthony Straker to force Vaughan into a save in stoppage time.
Aldershot Town’s home win, their sixth in eight outings at the EBB Stadium in 2016-17, returned them to the top of the National League home record standings. The weekend’s result also saw them keep their sixth home clean sheet, with Jake Cole and Mark Smith keeping three apiece. The home run is especially remarkable when you consider they only won seven home games in the whole of the 2015-16 campaign. Overall, the Shots have the fifth-best defensive record in the division, whilst only Chester and Dagenham & Redbridge have bettered their total of seven league clean sheets. The Shots also kept their run intact of winning the next game after a defeat, which they’ve achieved on all three occasions this season.
Eastbourne Borough were formed in 1964 as Langney FC, before being elected into the Sussex County League in 1983. Three promotions lifted them into the Southern League before a change of name to their current moniker in 2001. Three years later, the Sports were founder members of what is now National League South, with a promotion out of that division (beating Braintree Town and Hampton & Richmond Borough in the Play-Offs) coming in 2008. However, the stay in the non-league top flight lasted just three seasons with a best finish of 13th in their debut campaign. Since then they’ve largely remained in the bottom half of National League South, finishing 17th last season, three points above the relegation zone.
The Sussex side are currently 13th in their division with sixteen points from their thirteen league games, but they’ve failed to win any of their last five National League South fixtures, drawing twice and losing on three occasions. However, it’s worth noting that during that spell they have successfully navigated two qualifying rounds of the FA Cup. Eastbourne Borough have been solid on the road with just one defeat and three draws in their last six games in all competitions away from Priory Lane. They’ve only failed to score in two of their sixteen games during this campaign, whilst they’ve kept five clean sheets this season. However, only one of those has come on their travels.
Manager Tommy Widdrington, who’s been in charge of the club since February 2012, has overseen a period of footballing stability, but the Sports have made a big investment off the pitch. The club’s new 3G pitch was unveiled in July, with local MP Caroline Ansell writing: “This will be transformative for the club, and is an excellent step forward. It was amazing to see the new all year round pitch that meets FIFA standards. This investment is great for Eastbourne and for Eastbourne Borough, because it puts the club on a strong commercial footing, and improved facilities is vitally important to its future ambitions. I’m delighted to support the club, proud of its success and its service to local people.”
Gary Waddock made six changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Solihull Moors on Saturday, with three being enforced and three down to managerial decision. Mark Smith made his first start in goal since the end of August due to Jake Cole’s injury, whilst Jack Saville made his first appearance since the loss at Braintree Town on 20 August. Charlie Walker made his first start of the campaign after suffering ankle ligament damage in preseason, whilst Anthony Straker, Josh Wakefield and Scott Rendell all made their first appearances in the starting eleven for four games. The strength of Waddock’s squad was further demonstrated by the impact of his bench. Shamir Fenelon scored the opening goal after replacing Iffy Allen, Jim Kellermann set up the second for Rendell after coming on for Walker and Idris Kanu looked a real prospect on his eight-minute senior debut. At 16 years and 308 days, the former West Ham United Academy prospect became the youngest player to feature in a league game for Aldershot Town just 24 hours after signing for the club.
Two players definitely unavailable for the Shots on Saturday are Will Evans, who will serve the second game of a three-match ban, whilst Jake Gallagher has his own one-match suspension after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Solihull Moors. Cole and Liam Bellamy both have hamstring injuries, so may not be risked this weekend, whilst Chelsea loanee Dion Conroy suffered a badly cut foot at training on Friday and won’t be available to face Eastbourne Borough.
Tommy Widdrington has assembled a squad that mixes youth and experience over the last couple of seasons. It’s also one that has been quite stable during the 2016-17 campaign, with nine of the players having played in at least fourteen of Borough’s sixteen fixtures in all competitions. One of those is ever-present goalkeeper Lewis Carey, who’s been a stable presence in goal during his two-and-a-half years at the club. The inexperienced Charlie Horlock is his current back-up. The defensive corps is made up of centre backs Brian Dutton (formerly of Salisbury City and Havant & Waterlooville), Kiran Khinda-John and the former Shots loanee Ian Simpemba (ten scoreless appearances in March and April 2006), plus full backs Josh Hare, Daniel O’Reilly and Alex Smith.
The former Chester and Barnet midfielder Mark Hughes is the most experienced member of the squad, but fellow midfielder Craig Stone (formerly of Ebbsfleet United and Dover Athletic) runs him close. Youngsters Ryan Worrall, Michael Aziaya and Ryley Tate also provide options in the middle of the park. In the attacking third, the star of Borough’s season so far has undoubtedly been Elliott Romain, who has ten goals in sixteen games so far after managing just four league goals in the previous campaign. He’s taken over the role of the side’s attacking spearhead from Nathaniel Pinney, who managed eighteen league goals last season and was the side’s Player of the Year. Ex-Shot Jamie Taylor (twelve goals in 37 games between July 2002 and February 2004), Gavin McCallum (formerly of Hereford United, Lincoln City and Woking), Miguel Baptista and Josh Street will also provide competition in the attacking positions.
Dutton and Baptista missed last Saturday’s draw at Bath City and could be available to face the Shots this weekend, as could Jamie Taylor, who came off the bench in that game after recovering from a hamstring injury.
FA Cup history
Aldershot Town’s recent history in the world’s oldest cup competition has been the proverbial rollercoaster ride, with two highs and one extraordinary low in their last four campaigns. In 2014-15, the Shots knocked out Portsmouth in the First Round before losing to League One side Rochdale in a Second Round replay, whilst they reached the Fourth Round in 2012-13. They eventually lost to an injury-time winner against Championship side Middlesbrough, having beaten fellow League Two clubs Fleetwood Town and Rotherham United in their two previous ties. In between those seasons, Aldershot Town suffered the worst FA Cup result in their history, being knocked out in the Fourth Qualifying Round by Shortwood United of the Southern League Division One South & West, a side 65 places below them in the football pyramid at the time. Last season saw a Fourth Qualifying Round win against eventual National League South champions Sutton United, before drawing 0-0 at home to League One side Bradford City. The televised replay at Valley Parade was a hard-fought affair with the Shots eventually succumbing to a 2-0 loss. Overall, though, the Shots’ record in the FA Cup has been excellent, reaching at least the Second Round in ten of the previous thirteen seasons.
Eastbourne Borough have reached the First Round of the FA Cup on three occasions, all whilst being managed by long-serving boss Garry Wilson. The first occasion was during the 2005-06 campaign, with the Sussex side facing League Two side Oxford United. A battling 1-1 draw at Priory Lane preceded a 3-0 loss in the replay. Borough also reached the same stage in 2007-08 and 2008-09, losing on both occasions. In this season’s competition, the Sports got a 2-1 home win over Met Police of the Ryman League Premier Division in the 2nd Qualifying Round before eventually overcoming Spartans South Midlands League Premier Division side Hadley in the Third Qualifying Round. The first game finished goalless in Sussex, with a Nathaniel Pinney brace helping the away side to a 4-1 win in the replay.
This weekend will see the first meeting between Aldershot Town and Eastbourne Borough, who also never played a competitive fixture against the old Aldershot FC.
If he features on Saturday, Charlie Walker will make his 50th appearance for the Shots.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Savvas Yianni, who has refereed in National League South since the summer of 2014. This season he’s officiated in ten National League South fixtures, including Eastbourne Borough’s 3-1 loss at Hampton & Richmond Borough in August.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Kevin Anderson of the Eastbourne Borough 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