Aldershot Town extended their unbeaten run to six games with Saturday afternoon’s 1-1 draw at Southport. The draw – their third in a row – saw the Shots slip to 7th in the early National League table as they prepare to host Gateshead this weekend at the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
On the balance of play, a draw was a fair result last weekend, but the Shots will have bemoaned a sluggish performance. Southport had the better of the first half, with Jake Cole saving from Liam Nolan and Anthony Straker clearing off the line from Andrai Jones. At the other end, Matt McClure spurned Aldershot Town’s two best chances. The visitors improved after the break with Charlie Walker and Straker forcing excellent saves from home keeper Magnus Norman. However, in between those, the hosts opened the scoring through James Gray in the 70th minute. Ten minutes later, the Shots were level. A move started in his own half by Will Evans was finished by the big centre-back as he fired in from Shamir Fenelon’s cross. In the final six minutes, Cole saved well from Ashley Grimes and Jamie Allen.
On the plus side, it was another point gained and another game to be added to Aldershot Town’s unbeaten streak. If they can avoid defeat this weekend, then it would be the club’s longest such stretch since they also went seven games without a loss between 21 January and 3 March 2012. The players will be confident of doing so on Saturday as they currently boast the National League’s best home record, with their four wins and a draw from the club’s opening five fixtures. Defensively, they’ve also been very strong this season, with only Tranmere Rovers and Boreham Wood bettering their total of nine league goals conceded. Only one of those nine has gone in at the EBB Stadium.
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 and are participating in their eighth campaign in the top-flight of non-league football after promotion from Conference North in 2009. Following a 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.
The North-East side have had an inconsistent start to this season, sitting 10th with seventeen points from eleven games. They won three of their first four games, but their last two games against newly-promoted sides North Ferriby United and Solihull Moors have seen them manage no goals and just one point. As a general rule, however, Gateshead haven’t struggled to score with only the division’s top three teams bettering their twenty league goals this season. It’s worth noting that 75% of then have come in the second half. Away from home, the Heed, unlike their hosts this weekend, have won at Southport and Braintree Town, but they’ve lost their three other fixtures away from the Gateshead International Stadium.
Manager Neil Aspin, who took over in November 2015, is looking for an improvement from his players this weekend. He told the club’s official website after Saturday’s game: “We’re all disappointed, nobody more so than me, because you’d expect to get a better return this week. We were unlucky not to get a break in front of goal, which I think would have won us the game. There were a few chances, but again, we’ve not scored in a home game, which is disappointing… it’s easy to blame forwards when they’re not scoring, and it’s easy to have a go at the defence when they’re letting them in, but it’s a team game. We’ve gotten into some good areas in both games this week… (but) we need to get better all over.”
Gary Waddock made one change for the game at Southport, with Iffy Allen dropping to the bench to be replaced by Scott Rendell. The Aldershot Town manager thus continued his run of not having named an unchanged starting eleven so far in this campaign. That switch also meant a change in the Shots’ formation to 4-4-2, with Rendell partnering Matt McClure upfront once again. Charlie Walker came off the bench for a second consecutive substitute appearance after missing almost two months with ankle ligament damage and, having started (and scored twice) against Bashley in the midweek Hampshire Senior Cup tie, he could be in contention for a first league start of the campaign this weekend.
After four games out with an ankle injury, Jim Kellermann also started the game at Bashley, so he could come into the squad against Gateshead. However, Liam Bellamy, who has missed the last two games with a combination of Achilles and ankle problems, and Bernard Mensah, who’s recovering from tonsillitis, may be more serious doubts to take the field on Saturday.
Neil Aspin has overseen a huge overhaul of his playing squad since the end of last season, with fifteen players leaving the Heed and the same number arriving at the club, including two loanees. 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 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 2015-16 to still be at the club are fifteen-goal striker Danny Johnson, 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 (four goals to lead the Heed this season) also arrived from the North Wales club to add some attacking nous, as do strikers Reece Styche (Macclesfield Town), Rhys Oates (a month-long loan deal from Hartlepool United) and Nyal Bell (Rochdale). Sam Johnson (season-long loan from Port Vale) and Dan Hanford (Carlisle United) will be contesting the goalkeeping spot, with the latter coming in for Gateshead’s most recent game against Solihull Moors. The midfield ranks have been bolstered by the arrivals of Mitch Brundle (Braintree Town), Sam Jones (nineteen goals for Alfreton Town last season) and Toby Ajala (Torquay United).
Ajala (broken foot) and Fyfield (hamstring) look likely to be unavailable for the trip to the Shots, but otherwise Aspin will have a fully-fit squad from which to choose this weekend.
Aldershot Town and Gateshead have played each other on six occasions, with the Shots yet to register a victory. Remarkably, all three games in North-East Hampshire have finished 2-1 to the Heed. On the opening day of last season, Rhys Browne opened the scoring on his Shots debut, before Ryan Bowman netted twice to earn the win. In November 2014, Rob Ramshaw’s second goal of the game – a stoppage time winner – gave the North-East side all three points, whilst on 25 March 2014 at the EBB Stadium, the home team led at the break thanks to a Josh Scott goal. Brett Williams’ 53rd-minute red card changed the game, with Jack Lester and JJ O’Donnell scoring afterwards to secure the victory for the visitors.
Gateshead completed the double over Aldershot Town last season with a 3-2 victory back in February. Paddy McLaughlin scored what proved to be the winner after Rhys Browne and Jake Gallagher had netted for the visitors. The previous two games in the North-East finished all square. The sides drew 1-1 in September 2014 with Danny Wright heading home an 88th-minute equaliser for the hosts. 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.
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.
If he plays on Saturday afternoon, Liam Bellamy will be making his 100th National League appearance.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Adam Bromley from Plymouth, who took charge of three Shots games last season – the 2-1 home win against Braintree Town in March, January’s 1-0 victory at the EBB Stadium against Kidderminster Harriers, plus the 3-0 defeat at Wrexham last August. So far this season he’s officiated in four National League fixtures, showing nine yellow cards and no red cards.
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