Aldershot Town made it a festive double with the victory over Woking at Kingfield on New Year’s Day. The win moved the Shots up to 7th in the National League table and they’ll be hoping to further close the gap to the play-off places with three points at home to struggling Southport this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
It’s fair to say that everyone expected a closer game than the 4-0 win on Boxing Day and that’s exactly what transpired. The Cards started brightly and Fabio Saraiva should have done better in the eighth minute, but fired straight at Jake Cole. Similarly, Bernard Mensah shot wide from close range when unmarked ten minutes later. The deadlock was finally broken when Scott Rendell headed in his tenth goal of the season from Anthony Straker’s cross in the 63rd minute. However, the lead lasted just two minutes, with Max Kretzschmar finishing a fine move. Chances were traded late on as well, with Anthony Edgar fluffing a one-on-one with Cole in the 90th minute. Within sixty seconds, however, Straker’s cross found Idris Kanu, whose shot was half blocked and Jake Gallagher bundled in the winner at the back post.
Garry Waddock’s team were one of only two National League clubs (Solihull Moors were the other) to pick up all six points from their holiday fixtures. Not only did the wins over Woking end a run of four points from a possible 21, it also marked the first time that they’d played a side below 13th place in the division since beating Guiseley 1-0 at the end of October. It’s also worth noting that, whilst the Shots’ form at the EBB Stadium has slipped from the lofty highs of the first two months of the season, they’ve still got the third best home record in the league (nine wins and 28 points from 13 league games), whilst the Shots’ concession of nine home goals this season is only bettered by Barrow’s seven at Holker Street.
Southport have spent almost half of their 136-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 led to the dismissal of Andy Bishop, who had only taken charge in March 2016, and the appointment of the former Kidderminster Harriers and Chester boss Steve Burr, who became the club’s ninth manager in three years. In his 22 games in charge, Southport have won eight (including three of their last four), lost eight and drawn six, moving them up to 19th in the table. One area that hasn’t improved, however, is the defence, with no side having a worse record than their 54 goals conceded in 26 league games. They’ve also managed just one point from their last three away National League fixtures.
Former manager Liam Watson also returned to the club in September as Operations Director and he’s putting plans in place to progress the club. He told the club’s official website earlier this week: “We’ve had an offer accepted from a League One club. It’s the biggest offer I’ve ever made since I’ve been at Southport Football Club, which is really pleasing… we want to be a full-time club next season, a proper full-time club, not half-hearted, we want to do things right…. Also, what we’ve tried to do on the pitch with Steve (Burr) and Briggsy (assistant manager Keith Briggs) has obviously got the players playing with a bit more confidence and, as I said, September seems a long way off, but there’s still a long way to go.”
For just the fourth time this season, Gary Waddock named an unchanged line-up for the game against Woking on New Year’s Day. Former Cards stopper Jake Cole kept his place, thus making make his second appearance after missing six games with an ankle injury, whilst Ipswich Town loanee Kundai Benyu was chosen to partner Jake Gallagher in central midfield once again. Benyu’s initial one-month loan deal is scheduled to end after this weekend’s fixture, but the club are looking to extend it for a further month. After naming just four substitutes for the two Woking games, Waddock will have a new loan signing available for his squad to take on Southport. Jonny Giles has arrived from Oxford United until the end of the campaign and will hope to make his debut against the side for whom he played four games on loan last February.
The Shots boss was without just two players for the New Year’s Day game against Woking. Central midfielder Liam Bellamy is close to a return to the squad after missing the last ten games with a knee injury, but Nick Arnold will be out with an ankle injury until the end of January at the earliest.
Andy Bishop had overseen a large restructuring of his playing squad since the end of last season, with eleven new permanent signings, one season-long loan and a similar number of departures. However, of the new arrivals, only defender Ross White (Wrexham), winger James Caton (Shrewsbury Town) and the former Barrow pair of left back Neil Ashton and experienced forward Ashley Grimes now remain at the club. Steve Burr quickly decided the rest weren’t of the required standard, whilst last season’s thirteen goal top scorer Louis Almond was allowed to join Tranmere Rovers in September. Experienced midfielder Gary Jones signed for Altrincham on loan last month, whilst another summer signing, forward John Cofie, is now on loan at fellow National League North side Chorley. The only first-team players that have remained at Haig Avenue from the 2015-16 campaign are midfielders Liam Nolan and Andrai Jones, this season’s nine-goal top scorer Jamie Allen, and defender Josh Thompson.
The new manager now has twelve of his own signings on the playing staff, a total which includes three impressive loanees. Everton striker Delial Brewster scored on his debut in the 3-2 New Year’s Day victory against Wrexham after signing on loan until the end of the campaign, defender Jack Higgins is on a six-month loan from York City, whilst goalkeeper Magnus Norman arrived on loan from Fulham for the rest of the season in September. Norman made his debut in the first game against the Shots, as did defender Ryan Higgins (Chester) and midfielders Jordan Lussey (Bolton Wanderers) and Declan Weeks (Wolverhampton Wanderers). Burr has since added Liam Hynes (Stalybridge Celtic) and Ben McKenna (Bradford Park Avenue) to his midfield ranks, whilst Ruben Jerome (Northern Premier League Division One North side Brighouse Town) is an option in the attacking third. Defender Aaron Jones joined the Sandgrounders last month from Norwegian top flight side Raufoss, whilst former Northern Ireland Under-21 international Rory McKeown made his debut from the bench in the win over Wrexham after signing from Warrington Town. Goalkeeper Mason Springthorpe arrived from Northwich Victoria in November and has been the back-up to Norman.
Chris Doyle, who signed from Morecambe in the summer, is on the long-term injury list after injuring his knee ligaments in preseason. Midfielders Josh Hynes (serving the third game of a three-match suspension) and Jordan Lussey (leg injury) are unlikely to feature this weekend, whilst Jamie Allen went off injured on New Year’s Day, so could also be a doubt to face the Shots.
These two sides have met on eleven previous occasions, with Aldershot Town winning four, losing four and drawing the other three games. In the first game between these two sides this season on 17 September, Jake Cole was the busier keeper, but the Shots secured a point after Will Evans equalised James Gray’s earlier goal. There was also a 1-1 draw in the previous campaign’s game at Haig Avenue (Jim Stevenson netting for the visitors in October 2015), whilst the Shots lost 2-1 in their final home game of 2015-16, despite taking the lead through Dan Walker.
The Merseysiders also won 2-1 on their previous visit to the EBB Stadium in March 2015. Brett Williams scored in that game, but he also managed a hat-trick in a 5-1 Shots win in November 2013. The home side also won 2-0 in November 2005, thanks to goals from Matt Somner and Darren Barnard, whilst John Grant’s brace secured Aldershot Town a 2-2 draw twelve months later. Overall, however, none of the last five fixtures between these two clubs have been won by the home side.
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. Southport’s record at the EBB Stadium was less than impressive, however, with just one win (3-0 in September 1964), four draws and ten defeats.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Anthony Serrano from Hertfordshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 1-0 home victory over Guiseley in October. So far this season, he’s officiated in seven National League fixtures, showing 18 yellow cards and six 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