Aldershot Town extended their unbeaten run to five games with Tuesday evening’s 1-1 draw at Boreham Wood. The point keeps them 6th in the embryonic National League table as they prepare to make the long trip to Southport on Saturday, their second away game in four days. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
As with Saturday’s game against Chester, the draw was a fair result on Tuesday. A frenetic first half saw few chances, with Matt McClure’s close-range header in the 44th minute being the best chance for either side. The second period was more open and Dion Conroy’s 35-yard drive in the 48th minute was well saved by home keeper Grant Smith. His opposite number, Jake Cole, made a stunning save to deny Conor Clifford just after the hour, but he couldn’t keep out Morgan Ferrier’s 64th-minute effort. Two minutes later, the visitors equalised when McClure’s back-heeled volley from Josh Wakefield’s cross found the net. For the hosts, Ferrier, Angelo Balanta (twice) and Daniel Uchechi all failed to beat Cole from good positions, whilst Scott Rendell’s 95th minute header from three yards was deflected behind.
Aldershot Town’s current unbeaten streak is their longest since they went six fixtures without defeat in February and March 2015, a run which included three wins and three draws. Two of the current five game stretch have been on the road, with the win at Dover Athletic on Bank Holiday Monday preceding Tuesday night’s draw. The five points from their five away games this season leaves the Shots with the 14th-best away record in the division. The goal they conceded in Hertfordshire took them off the top of the National League’s defensive standings, but the eight goals they’ve conceded in the first ten league games is a total the club haven’t bettered since they were promoted to the Conference in 2003.
Southport have spent almost half of their 135-year history in the Football League. However, their 57-year stay in the League was ended in 1978, when they became the last team to be voted out by the other member clubs. The last two decades have seen the Sandgrounders fluctuate between the National League and Conference North, with this being their seventh consecutive campaign in the non-league top-flight. Hopes were high for a prolonged upturn in the club’s fortunes after a seventh-place finish in 2011-12 (five points from a play-off place), but the last four campaigns have seen the Merseysiders’ finish in 20th, 18th, 19th and then 16th last season, where they were a point and a place below the Shots.
The Sandgrounders made a dreadful start to this campaign, picking up just four points from their first eight games. That saw the dismissal of Andy Bishop, who had only taken charge in March, and the appointment of the former Kidderminster Harriers and Chester boss Steve Burr, who became the club’s ninth manager in three years. Overall, Southport have the worst defensive record (26 goals conceded, no clean sheets kept) and second worst scoring record (seven goals) in the division. They’re winless in seven since they secured their only win of the season, a 2-1 home victory against Woking on 13 August, whilst they’ve managed to go behind in the opening fifteen minutes of six of their ten fixtures in 2016-17.
Southport suffered a dispiriting 4-1 home defeat against Barrow on Tuesday to remain 23rd in the table. Burr told the club’s official website after the game: “I’m not one for excuses, but our defence was decimated tonight after the good performance that we got on Saturday (a 1-1 draw at Eastleigh)… then we lost our skipper (Gary Jones), so it was very difficult tonight. I’ve just said to the lads in there, injured lads can’t help you. It’s up to you to show that you’re good enough to go in at this level and be strong enough to compete and that wasn’t the case tonight… it was disappointing because they did so well on Saturday and it gave me a lot of belief for improvement and how well we did.”
Gary Waddock made four changes to his side on Tuesday night, whilst also reverting to the 4-3-3 formation that he’s used on occasion away from home. At left back, Anthony Straker was preferred to Nick Arnold, whilst Josh Wakefield and 20-year old Chelsea loanee Dion Conroy (who was making his senior debut) came in to play in the midfield trio, with Liam Bellamy and Scott Rendell missing out. Iffy Allen started on the left of midfield in place of Bernard Mensah, with goalscorer Matt McClure the lone striker. Rendell came on in the first half for Shamir Fenelon, whilst Arnold was an unused substitute. Last season’s top scorer Charlie Walker came off the bench for his first appearance in almost two months after injuring his ankle ligaments in pre-season, whilst Jack Saville was back in the squad as well. The centre-back had missed four games with a hamstring strain, but failed to make it off the bench on Tuesday evening.
Bellamy was left out by the Shots because of a combination of Achilles and ankle problems, but he’s hoping to be fit for the trip to Southport. Mensah was unavailable because he was suffering from tonsillitis, whilst Allen and Fenelon both played despite struggling with illness themselves. All three could be doubts for the weekend, as could midfielder Jim Kellermann, who has been absent for the last three games with an ankle injury.
Andy Bishop had overseen a large restructuring of his playing squad since the end of last season, with eleven new permanent signings and one season-long loan. The majority of the departures from Haig Avenue where in defence, with Alex Whittle (York City), Adam Blakeman and Matt Challoner (both Chorley), Andy Wright (took up a coaching position in the USA) and Michael Brewster all departing Southport. Midfielder Paul Rutherford joined Wrexham and forward Mike Phenix went to Salford City, whilst goalkeepers Max Crocombe (returned to Oxford United after the completion of his loan spell), Andy Coughlin (Barrow) and Jon Viscosi also left the club. Amongst those key players that have remained on Merseyside are Club Captain Gary Jones, fellow midfielders Liam Nolan and Jamie Allen, thirteen-goal top scorer Louis Almond (who has scored three times to start this campaign) and defenders Josh Thompson and Andrai Jones.
The former manager’s signings included a trio from his old club Wrexham – striker James Gray, midfielder Jonathan Royle and defender Ross White – and a pair from Barrow in left back Neil Ashton and experienced forward Ashley Grimes. Tyrell Belford, who’s on a season-long loan from Swindon Town, is the new first-choice goalkeeper, with Ryan Crump (Blackburn Rovers) as his back-up. The defensive ranks were added to with the arrivals of Chris Doyle (Morecambe), Keil O’Brien (Bury) and Joe Kearns (Crewe Alexandra), whilst winger James Caton (Shrewsbury Town) and striker John Cofie (AFC Telford United) should provide impetus in attacking areas. However, O’Brien, Kearns and Royle have already been sent out on loan to National League North sides. Bishop did manage to add former Shots midfielder Craig Stanley (three goals in 58 games between 2012 and 2014) and defender Callum Howe from Lincoln City on one-month loan deals, whilst Steve Burr’s first capture was Luton Town defender Mark O’Brien for a three-month loan spell. This was swiftly followed by the arrival of left back Bobby Moseley from Solihull Moors earlier this week.
Chris Doyle is on the long-term injury list after injuring his knee ligaments in preseason, whilst fellow defenders Josh Thompson (Achilles) and Neil Ashton missed the midweek defeat through injury. Captain Gary Jones went off after 24 minutes of that game, whilst Mark O’Brien was replaced at half-time because of an ankle problem. All four must be considered doubts to face the Shots.
These two sides have met on ten previous occasions, with Aldershot Town triumphing on four occasions coupled with two draws and four Southport victories. This fixture last season, which was on 31 October, saw Jim Stevenson give the visitors the lead before Luke Foster’s goal ensured the points were shared at Haig Avenue. The Shots then lost 2-1 in their final home game of 2015-16, despite taking the lead through Dan Walker. Liam Nolan and Andy Wright replied for Southport to give them all three points.
Prior to last season, Aldershot Town had won two and lost two of their previous visits to Southport. In November 2014, goals from Andre McCollin, Sam Hatton and Brett Williams gave the visitors a 3-1 win, whilst the previous August saw Yamen Osawe get the only goal of the game for the hosts. The home side also won by the same score in February 2007. The Shots did manage the double over the Sandgrounders in 2005-06, with Darren Barnard scoring in the 1-0 away win in April 2006.
Southport also faced Aldershot FC in thirty Football League fixtures between 1958 and 1978, the majority of which took place in the old Fourth Division, but there were two Third Division meetings in 1973-74. Again, the Shots held the advantage, winning fourteen, drawing nine and losing seven of the thirty ties between the two sides. They only had an average record in Merseyside, however, having won four, drawn five and lost six of their fifteen trips to Haig Avenue.
If he plays on Saturday afternoon, Liam Bellamy will be making his 100th National League appearance.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Anthony Backhouse from Cumbria, who last took charge of the Shots back in February 2014, when he oversaw a 2-2 draw at Hyde. He also oversaw a goalless draw at Gateshead the previous month. So far this season he’s officiated in four National League fixtures, showing six 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