Shots v Gateshead match preview – 21 January 2017
Aldershot Town made it three wins on the bounce with a 2-1 home win against Southport on 7 January. The win moved the Shots to within four points of the National League play-off places, but they’ll face a sterner test this weekend as they make the long trip to fellow promotion hopefuls Gateshead. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The Shots’ first half against Southport was arguably one of their best 45 minutes of the campaign. Anthony Straker and Bernard Mensah forced fine saves from Magnus Norman, whilst Shamir Fenelon and Scott Rendell both missed good opportunities, with the former finally making the breakthrough in the 45th minute, firing in from 15 yards after Kundai Benyu’s cross was parried by Norman. The visitors threatened briefly, but Ryan Higgins and Andrai Jones failed to trouble Jake Cole with close-range efforts. Rendell forced another good stop from Norman before Mensah’s cross found Jake Gallagher, who scored with a deflected effort with twenty minutes to go. As the hosts looked odds-on to secure a twelfth league clean sheet of the season, Jones converted a left wing cross with a dinked finish to make it 2-1.
The Shots’ third consecutive victory against Southport gave them such a streak for the second time this season. Remarkably, that’s as many as the club managed in the previous four seasons combined. The last time Aldershot Town managed a longer winning run in the league was when they won six on the bounce in League Two from 28 January to 3 March 2012 under Dean Holdsworth. The current winning streak has seen Gary Waddock’s side score eight goals, which is equal to the amount they’d managed in their previous ten league fixtures. They’ve managed that whilst also maintaining the division’s fourth best defensive record, conceding just 28 goals in as many league games in 2016-17.
Football has been played in Gateshead since 1889, but the original Gateshead AFC was formed in 1930 when neighbours South Shields FC moved to Gateshead because of financial difficulties. Despite being members of the Football League until 1960, that club folded in 1973, with new club Gateshead United suffering the same fate four years later. The current club – Gateshead FC – took their place in 1977 and are participating in their eighth campaign in the top-flight of non-league football after promotion from Conference North in 2009. Following a heart-wrenching Play-Off Final defeat to Cambridge United in May 2014, the Heed have finished in 10th and 9th places in their last two National League campaigns.
Gateshead have had a similar campaign so far, sitting 9th once again with 42 points from 28 games. They’ve lost just three of their last sixteen league games, with the Heed sitting 6th in both the divisions’ goalscoring and goals conceded standings. They can be inconsistent in the former category, however, failing to score in ten league games this season, but averaging 2.5 goals in the other eighteen. They’ve only lost two National League fixtures at the Gateshead International Stadium in 2016-17 (against North Ferriby United and Tranmere Rovers), but they’ve drawn seven of their other twelve home outings. Overall, the North-East are unbeaten in four league games, winning the last two.
Former FC Halifax Town manager Neil Aspin, who took over in November 2015, was furious after his side’s 3-1 FA Trophy defeat at Lincoln City last weekend. He told the club’s official website after Saturday’s game: “The second half was extremely poor and all three goals were the result of lacklustre defending. In recent weeks we’ve defended well, but today we most certainly didn’t… It’s hard to criticise other parts of the team when you let in three goals like we did. It’s disappointing and there are no excuses so now we know we’ve got a big game coming up against Aldershot, who are three points ahead of us in the league, and we’ve got to prepare properly for that because we must be a lot better”.
For the first time this season, Gary Waddock named an unchanged line-up for a third consecutive game against Southport. The settled side has looked increasingly competent, with the decision to play Shamir Fenelon up front with Scott Rendell looking particularly inspired. The former Crawley Town player has scored two goals in three games since making the switch, with Rendell netting four times in the same period. They’re also getting scoring assistance from Jake Gallagher who, after managing just three goals in his first 60 Shots appearances, has scored the winner in both games so far in 2017. Oxford United loanee Jonny Giles made his Aldershot Town debut from the bench against Southport and looked very lively, whilst Kundai Benyu has extended his loan spell from Ipswich Town until 4 February. His central midfield partnership with Gallagher has been outstanding in the three-game winning streak.
The Shots boss was without just two players for the home win against Southport. The latest report is that there’s no timetable for the returns of central midfielder Liam Bellamy, who has missed the last two-and-a-half months with a knee injury, and Nick Arnold, who’s been out of action since late November with an ankle problem. However, Waddock has been able to add Bournemouth defender Callum Buckley to his squad. The 21-year old has arrived on loan until the end of the 2016-17 campaign.
Neil Aspin has overseen a huge overhaul of his playing squad since the end of last season, with fifteen players leaving the Heed and seventeen replacements arriving at the club. The biggest loss was striker Ryan Bowman, who joined Scottish Premiership side Motherwell after 21 goals last season and three goals in seven games to start this campaign. Veteran defender Ben Clark retired to take up a coaching role, whilst midfielder Anthony Sweeney did the same in September despite only arriving from Carlisle United in the summer. First choice goalkeeper Sam Russell returned to Forest Green Rovers; Jon Shaw, Josh Gillies and Craig Baxter moved to Darlington 1883; James Curtis, Rob Ramshaw and Jamie Chandler all moved to Spennymoor Town, whilst Simon Ramsden, James Marwood, Jimmy Phillips, Darren Holden and Matty Pattison have also left the club. The only key players from the 2015-16 campaign to still be at the club are striker Danny Johnson (ten goals so far this season), plus midfielders Gus Mafuta and Paddy McLaughlin.
The Gateshead boss has brought in a number of defensive reinforcements including Liam Hogan (Tranmere Rovers), James Bolton (FC Halifax Town), George Smith (Barnsley), Jamal Fyfield and Manny Smith (both Wrexham). Forward Wes York (six goals) also arrived from the North Wales club to add some attacking nous, but fellow strikers Reece Styche (Macclesfield Town) and Nyal Bell (Rochdale) have failed to hit similar goalscoring levels. As a result, Aspin signed Jordan Burrow from FC Halifax Town in November after he managed eighteen goals for the Shaymen last season, a total which couldn’t save them from relegation. Dan Hanford (Carlisle United) has been the first-choice goalkeeper, whilst the midfield ranks have been bolstered by the arrivals of Mitch Brundle (Braintree Town), Sam Jones (Alfreton Town, the club’s top scorer with eleven goals in 2016-17), Toby Ajala (Torquay United) and Luke Hannant (Northern League Division Two side Northumbria FC).
Brundle, who’s been out for the last month with knee and ankle injuries, should be available for selection, so Aspin will have a fully-fit squad from which to choose this weekend.
Aldershot Town and Gateshead have played each other on seven occasions, with the Shots registering their first victory in September. The game finished 3-0 to the Shots (Iffy Allen, Matt McClure and Charlie Walker with the goals), but the visitors missed a number of good opportunities. The previous six meetings saw four wins for the Heed, including a double in 2015-16. The North-East side won 2-1 at the EBB Stadium on the opening day of the season, despite Rhys Browne opening the scoring, whilst they also came from behind to win 3-2 at home last February. Browne netted first again, finishing off a wonderful passing move, whilst Jake Gallagher made it 2-2 just before half-time. However, Paddy McLaughlin’s 53rd-minute strike ended up being the winning goal. Both previous games in the North-East had finished all square, with the sides drawing 1-1 in September 2014. The visitors led again through a Joe N’Guessan goal, but Danny Wright headed home an 88th-minute equaliser to ensure the spoils were shared. In January of the same year, the game finished goalless, with Glenn Morris saving a 93rd-minute penalty from the home side’s Colin Larkin. Prior to this season, all three meetings at the EBB Stadium had finished 2-1 to Gateshead.
There were also five meetings between the North-East club and Aldershot FC. All five games were won by the home side, which included an 8-1 win for the Shots in the old Division 4 in September 1958 (the club’s record Football League victory) and a 3-2 victory twelve months later. The Tynesiders won 1-0 and 4-1 in a pair of league fixtures in January 1959 and September 1959 respectively, while also defeating the Shots 3-1 in an FA Cup Third Round tie at their old Redheugh Park ground in January 1949.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Martin Coy from County Durham, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 away win at York City in October, as well as the 3-3 draw at Lincoln City the following month. So far this season, he’s officiated in eleven National League fixtures, showing 44 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 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