Aldershot Town made it eight league games unbeaten for the first time in five-and-a-half years as they won 1-0 at York City on Saturday afternoon. The three points also lifted them to 5th place in the National League table. However, they face one of their toughest tests so far on Tuesday evening as they welcome Forest Green Rovers to the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Sides that win promotion always talk fondly of scrappy, 1-0 away wins and that’s exactly what Gary Waddock got from his players at the weekend. They had the better of the first half at Bootham Crescent, with Jake Gallagher forcing a save from Kyle Lethren and Shamir Fenelon ballooning over from Bernard Mensah’s cross in the opening sixteen minutes. However, it was Mensah who broke the deadlock in the 29th minute. Matt McClure’s sublime flick set the forward away and he gleefully fired into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the campaign. The second 45 minutes saw the hosts in the ascendency, with the Shots struggling to create anything of note. Jake Cole saved well from Danny Galbraith and substitutes Matty Dixon and Richard Brodie to preserve Aldershot Town’s clean sheet and the three points.
The Shots are currently on their longest unbeaten streak since they went ten League Two games without defeat between 1 March and 16 April 2011, whilst only Tranmere Rovers can equal their tally of just nine goals conceded in thirteen National League games. Aldershot Town also has the best home record in the league, with sixteen points from a possible eighteen and just one goal conceded. It’s extra remarkable because, since they made the League Two Play-Offs, Aldershot Town’s home record has been ranked 17th (in 2010-11), 12th, 24th, 13th, 19th and 20th in their respective divisions. This is their best start to a campaign at the EBB Stadium since 2003-04 (eight wins and one draw from their first nine games).
Forest Green Rovers are the longest-serving members of the National League, with their promotion in 1998 starting a run of nineteen consecutive campaigns in the top-flight of non-league football. However, the Gloucestershire side actually finished in the relegation zone in 2004-05 and 2009-10, but were saved by the financial failings of others. That led to green energy tycoon Dale Vince taking over the club and becoming its chairman in October 2010. The Gloucestershire side finished 5th, but lost to Bristol Rovers in the Play-Off semi-finals, in 2014-15, whilst last season’s 2nd-place finish preceded a Play-Off semi-final aggregate win against Dover Athletic and a 3-1 defeat to Grimsby Town in the Final at Wembley.
Rovers have had an excellent start to the campaign, sitting one point and one place below league leaders Dagenham & Redbridge after thirteen games. They’re unbeaten in their last four games and, like the Shots, they’ve only been defeated once since the opening day of the season. They’ve been impressive on their travels so far, with no National League team bettering their tally of twelve points and four wins on the road, whilst only Dagenham & Redbridge and Eastleigh have scored more than their eleven away goals. In total, only three teams have scored more than their 22 league goals this season, whilst only four have conceded fewer than Rovers’ eleven goals.
Manager Mark Cooper, who started in the role the week before the Play-Off Final loss, hinted that personnel changes could be afoot after the weekend’s goalless draw against Barrow. He told the Gloucestershire Echo: “We’ve got three clean sheets in a row, we’ve just got to make sure we’re firing at the other end… if players continually don’t produce in the final third then only one thing has to happen. The players we’ve got around the team have got enough to produce and maybe I have to look at changing things a bit. I think once we get in the areas we got in we need to produce the final pass. We got in behind them so many times and didn’t open or create the final pass… we can’t keep doing that.”
Saturday’s game at York marked the first time this season that Gary Waddock named an unchanged starting eleven. Nick Arnold was preferred to Anthony Straker at left-back once again, whilst Iffy Allen, Shamir Fenelon and Bernard Mensah all played from the start. Scott Rendell and Charlie Walker were named amongst the substitutes once again. Mensah’s goal set him atop the Aldershot Town scoring charts, with all four coming in his previous ten games. Having scored five goals in the three seasons prior to this one (all during loan spells at Barnet and Braintree Town), the 21-year old former Watford forward has settled in superbly at the EBB Stadium. Remarkably all four of his goals have opened the scoring for the Shots, and they’ve won all four of those fixtures.
The Shots boss has had the luxury of choosing from a fully-fit squad in the last two games, but a number of players took knocks at York City and may not be risked with two home games to come this week. Dion Conroy, who played well after come on at the weekend, could be a fresh option in midfield, as could Josh Wakefield. Straker could return, as could Rendell if Waddock decides to return to a 4-4-2 formation.
Mark Cooper lost a number of key players from last season’s squad over the summer, but they’ve arguably been replaced with those of a higher quality. The Gloucestershire side lost last season’s top two scorers to Football League clubs, with Jon Parkin (thirteen goals) moving to Newport County and twelve-goal Kurtis Guthrie signing for Colchester United. Defenders James Jennings (Cheltenham Town) and David Pipe (Eastleigh) also left the club, whilst first-choice goalkeeper Steve Arnold moved to Dover Athletic. Amongst the fringe players who departed the New Lawn were former Aldershot Town striker Brett Williams (Torquay United), fellow forward Delano Sam-Yorke (Woking), defensive midfielder Clovis Kamdjo (York City) and goalkeepers Lenny Pidgeley (Hastings United) and Dale Eve. Amongst those who have remained at the club are forwards Keanu Marsh-Brown (eleven goals in the 2015-16 campaign), Kieffer Moore and Elliott Frear; defenders Aarran Racine, Charlie Clough, Ben Jefford and Dale Bennett; midfielders Sam Wedgbury, Darren Carter, ex-Shots loanee Rob Sinclair and Marcus Kelly, plus goalkeeper Jonny Maxted, although he’s currently on loan at Guiseley.
As seems to be traditional, Rovers’ most impressive captures were in the attacking third. They include this season’s six-goal top scorer Rhys Murphy notched thirteen Football League goals last season (three for his parent club Oldham Athletic, nine on loan at Crawley Town and one on loan at AFC Wimbledon), Christian Doidge scored nine goals last season for Dagenham & Redbridge in League Two, whilst Matt Tubbs arrived from Portsmouth. However, the latter signed on loan for Woking last week. The midfield ranks were supplemented by the arrivals of Liam Noble (ten goals for Notts County last season), Drissa Traore and Fabien Robert (both Swindon Town) and Mohamed Chemlal (Le Havre), whilst Sam Russell returned to the New Lawn from Gateshead to become the first-choice goalkeeper. Simon Lefebvre signed from French Ligue Un side Bordeaux to act as his back-up. Ethan Pinnock has started every game since signing from Isthmian League Premier Division side Dulwich Hamlet, whilst fellow defender Jon Moran (Nantwich Town) was signed as a prospect for the future.
The Rovers manager will be without Sam Wedgbury, who’s missed the whole season this far with a knee problem, whilst Rob Sinclair has also been out injured since mid-August.
Tuesday sees the 21st meeting between the two clubs with the Shots winning six, drawing five and losing nine of the previous twenty games. Aldershot Town have only won one of the last seven meetings, a run which includes a 3-0 home defeat last October. Darren Carter, Kurtis Guthrie and Aaron O’Connor got the goals in a comfortable win for the visitors in front of the TV cameras. On Good Friday 2016, the two sides played out an entertaining goalless draw at the New Lawn. The only win in that stretch also came at The New Lawn (and also on Good Friday) in 2015. Three goals in eight second-half minutes from Brett Williams, Tristan Plummer and Jordan Roberts gave the visitors all three points. Williams also scored in the previous game at the EBB Stadium in August 2014, but Lee Hughes equalised in the second half to ensure the points were shared.
Aldershot Town have a poor home record against the Gloucestershire side, having three victories, three draws and three defeats from their nine home games against Rovers. The Shots haven’t won any of the last four, with their most recent victory occurring on Boxing Day 2006. Darren Barnard’s late winner gave the home side a 2-1 victory, whilst Aldershot Town won by the same score in November 2005. On that occasion, it was Tobi Jinadu who netted the decisive goal. Prior to last season, Forest Green’s previous win at the EBB Stadium had come in January 2008, when Rovers inflicted Aldershot Town’s last home defeat of their promotion-winning season. Mark Beesley scored the only goal in a 1-0 win.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Constantine Hatzidakis from Kent, who took charge of the Shots’ 2-1 win at Dover Athletic at the end of August. He also oversaw three Aldershot Town home defeats last season – the 3-0 loss against Macclesfield Town in September, the 1-0 defeat against Wrexham two months later and the 1-0 reverse against Woking on Boxing Day. In the first two of those games, he dismissed Shots midfielder Jake Gallagher. This season he’s officiated in eight National League fixtures, showing 24 yellow cards and two red cards.
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