Aldershot Town dropped to 10th in the National League table after a disappointing 2-1 home defeat against Macclesfield Town at the weekend. On top of that, their run of tough National League fixtures continues on Tuesday evening as big spending Eastleigh visit the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
After the high of the performance at Lincoln City, Gary Waddock was right to assert his side deserved nothing from their game at the weekend. They started flatly, but still could have taken the lead when Nick Arnold’s free kick was well saved by Craig Ross in the Macclesfield Town goal. The visitors took the lead in the 27th minute through Chris Holroyd’s near-post header, with Jake Cole denying Jack Mackreth two minutes later. Matt McClure wasted a good opportunity at the start of the second half, before Holroyd got his second of the game in the 49th minute. Will Evans’ close range header from Nick Arnold’s free kick halfway through the second period finally gave the Shots’ fans something to cheer, but the closest they came to an equaliser saw Ross deny Scott Rendell’s shot on the turn in the 77th minute.
The defeat continued a disappointing trend of late, with Aldershot Town managing just one win and one clean sheet in their last six games in all competitions. The loss on Saturday was also their third loss in five games at the EBB Stadium after previous defeats to Forest Green Rovers and Eastbourne Borough in the FA Cup last month. Despite that, the Shots overall home record is very strong, with 22 points from a possible 30 at home being good for the second best home record in the National League. The late goal against Macclesfield Town also continued their run of scoring late goals in recent weeks, with twelve of their last eighteen strikes in all competitions coming after the hour mark.
Eastleigh were formed in 1946 as Swaythling Athletic, and then played as just Swaythling, before settling on their current moniker in 1980. The club first rose to prominence with three successive promotions (Wessex League Premier Division to Southern League Eastern to Ryman Premier Division) between 2002 and 2005, which started a nine-year stint in Conference South. 86 points was enough to give them a triumphant championship title in 2013-14. The Spitfires finished 4th in their maiden campaign in the non-league top flight, before a 5-1 aggregate defeat to Grimsby Town in the Play-Off semi-finals. However, last season saw them under-achieve to finish 7th in the final league standings.
Just four points from their first four games of this season saw Chris Todd’s sacking, with Ronnie Moore replacing him as manager on 19 August. Since then, the Spitfires have lost just twice, but seven draws from sixteen league games has left them 11th in the National League, a point below the Shots. Eastleigh have only won one of their last six league games (a 3-0 victory against Torquay United last month), whilst they’ve failed to win any of their last four league outings on the road. Their record of ten points from ten away games is the 12th-best in the division. They’ve not has any problems scoring goals, with only four National League sides bettering their tally of 32 goals from twenty league games.
The former Rotherham United and Tranmere Rovers boss has also led his team to the Second Round of the FA Cup (beating Swindon Town along the way), but he’s been disappointed by the recent league form. Speaking to the Daily Echo after Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Gateshead, he said: “We haven’t played well today. You’d never have believed it was the same team that moved and passed the ball so well (at Swindon). We were very lucky we never lost the game. Every time they attacked us, I thought their two strikers battered our back four. We were so naïve and so brittle… We were a shambles at the back and too kick and rush second half. I’m disappointed because we’re better than that.”
For just the second time this season, the Aldershot Town manager named an unchanged starting eleven, which meant Chelsea loanee Dion Conroy continued in central midfield, Nick Arnold was preferred once again to Anthony Straker at left back and Matt McClure partnered Scott Rendell up front. However, it would be extremely surprising if the disappointing performance against Macclesfield Town didn’t lead to some changes. Jack Saville, Iffy Allen (who both came on as substitutes at the weekend), Straker and Charlie Walker (who made his 50th league appearance for the Shots after coming off the bench to face the Silkmen) could all come in on Tuesday evening, as could Josh Wakefield and Shamir Fenelon, both of whom have been left out of the last two matchday squads.
Captain Callum Reynolds went off on Saturday after taking a blow to the head, so his fitness will be assessed closer to kick-off. Waddock will hope that both he and midfielder Liam Bellamy, who has missed the last two games with a knee strain, will be fit to face their Hampshire visitors on Tuesday evening.
The Eastleigh squad has seen a massive overhaul since the end of last season with fourteen players arriving permanently (plus one that has signed on a long-term loan deal) and fifteen others leaving the Silverlake Stadium. Somewhat surprisingly, only two of those departures have moved into the Football League with ex-Shots midfielder Josh Payne and defender Jamie Turley joining Crawley Town and Newport County respectively. Twice as many players – defenders Dan Harding and Paul Reid, midfielder Ben Strevens and goalkeeper Ross Flitney – joined National League South outfit Whitehawk, whilst fellow keepers Michael Poke (Woking) and Lewis Noice also left the club. Strikers Ross Lafayette (Dover Athletic), Yemi Odubade (Maidstone United) and Jack Midson (Braintree Town) left for fellow National League clubs, as did centre back Will Evans who, of course, signed for Aldershot Town after four goals in 103 games for the Spitfires. Forwards Lee Cook, Kaid Mohamed (Kettering Town, then Weston-super-Mare) and Matt Fanimo (Margate) were also informed that their services were no longer required. Amongst those who have remained at the club are last season’s seventeen-goal top scorer James Constable, midfielders Andy Drury, Josh Coulson and Jai Reason, plus defenders Michael Green and former Aldershot Town loanee Joe Partington (ten games, one goal in January and February 2014).
As you’d expect, a number of Eastleigh’s captures have significant Football League experience, especially in the defensive third. Reda Johnson (Coventry City), Ryan Cresswell (Northampton Town), Adam Dugdale (Morecambe) and Connor Essam (Leyton Orient), plus goalkeeper Ryan Clarke (AFC Wimbledon) are all high-profile signings at this level. Goalkeeper Ryan Huddart (season-long loan from Arsenal) and full back Ayo Obileye (Charlton Athletic) should also feature this season. The midfield corps has been strengthened by the arrivals of Jake Howells (Luton Town), Jason Taylor (Northampton Town), David Pipe (Forest Green Rovers), whilst earlier this month, wingers Ross Stearn (six goals for Sutton United this season) and Derby County loanee Alefe Santos arrived to give the squad additional options. Upfront, Mikael Mandron (Sunderland, leading the team with nine goals this season), Ryan Bird (Yeovil Town, eight goals in the 2015-16 campaign), Jamie Cureton (Farnborough, scored nine times for Dagenham & Redbridge last season) and Scott Wilson (Weston-super-Mare) should all assist the Spitfires’ promotion push this season. On Monday, Moore also secured the capture of the experienced Wycombe Wanderers goalkeeper Scott Brown on a 28-day loan deal.
Ronnie Moore was without Ryans Clarke (elbow) and Cresswell (knee) for the weekend’s game at Gateshead, so both will struggle to face the Shots, as could Andy Drury, who went off with a groin strain on Saturday. Reda Johnson will definitely miss the game as he serves a one-match ban for picking up five yellow cards. Bird, Howells and Dugdale have also missed games in recent weeks, so may also be unavailable for the trip to the EBB Stadium.
Whilst the first five fixtures between Aldershot Town and Eastleigh took place in the Hampshire Senior Cup, they’ve also met five times since the latter’s most recent promotion. The Spitfires won the first four, including two victories in North-East Hampshire last season. In August 2015’s league game, Lee Cook’s late goal secured a 2-1 win for Eastleigh, whilst in the First Round of the FA Trophy three months later, another close affair was won by Ross Lafayette for the visitors with ten minutes to go. Sixteen days after that game, penalties from Josh Payne and Sam Hatton ensured a point apiece following a 1-1 draw at the Silverlake Stadium. In August 2013, in front of the TV cameras, the two clubs played out a dour encounter decided by a 90th-minute goal from home striker Ben Wright, with the Spitfires completing the double three months later, as goals from Craig McAllister and Stuart Fleetwood secured a 2-0 win at the EBB Stadium.
Of the aforementioned quintet of Hampshire Senior Cup ties, Aldershot Town won four and lost one, with both sides triumphing once at what is now the EBB Stadium. A Lee Charles brace in January 2003 gave the home side a 2-1 victory in a quarter-final match-up, whilst Eastleigh got a measure of revenge twelve months later, triumphing 1-0 in a 4th Round game in North-East Hampshire. The Shots had won their first three games at the Silverlake Stadium, including the most recent Hampshire Senior Cup tie in March 2007 when Kirk Hudson got the only goal in a quarter-final match.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Rob Whitton from Essex, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 loss at Dagenham and Redbridge last month, as well as five Aldershot Town games in the 2015-16 campaign – the away wins at Boreham Wood and Welling United, the home victory over FC Halifax Town and the home defeats against Cheltenham Town and Barrow. So far this season, he’s officiated in twelve National League fixtures, showing 38 yellow cards and one red card.
BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Sport website 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