Aldershot Town’s poor run of results continued on Tuesday night with the home side going down to a galling 1-0 defeat against Eastleigh. The loss dropped them to 11th in the league table as they make the trip to last season’s National League South champions Sutton United this weekend. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Gary Waddock was quick to praise his side’s performance on Tuesday evening, but, once again, they came away from a game with less than they deserved. Matt McClure had a trio of opportunities in the opening 31 minutes, whilst Nick Arnold’s left wing free kick was deflected onto a post by an Eastleigh defender. At the other end, Mikael Mandron had been denied by a fine save from Mark Smith, before netting from Joe Partington’s low right wing cross in the second minute of first-half stoppage time. The second period saw Charlie Walker shoot wide from five yards when it looked easier to score in the 64th minute, whilst Iffy Allen and Bernard Mensah shot narrowly off-target from long range. Smith was kept busy in the closing stages, saving well from substitutes James Constable and Alefe Santos.
For Aldershot Town fans, however, the feeling was also a familiar one, with their teams missing a number of very good goalscoring opportunities. Only seven National League teams have a worse goalscoring record than the Shots’ record of 26 goals in 22 league games during the 2016-17 campaign. Only ten of those goals have come from their three main strikers, with too many of the forwards off form at the moment. Bernard Mensah and Matt McClure have both failed to score in their last nine games in all competitions, Charlie Walker has one goal in his last nine appearances (only three of which have been starts) and five-goal top scorer Scott Rendell has only managed one goal in his last seven league outings.
Sutton United were formed in 1898 and, after 43 years in the Athenian League, they were elected to the Isthmian League in 1964. Their third league title in 1985-86 earned them promotion to the Conference for the first time, where they stayed for five seasons. They spent another campaign in the non-league top flight in 1999-2000, before dropping back to the Ryman League Premier Division. They won that league in 2010-11, before twice making the National League South Play-Offs, losing at the semi-final stage to Welling United in 2011-12 and Dover Athletic in 2013-14. However, the Us were promoted back to the non-league top flight as Champions last season, six points clear of second-placed Ebbsfleet United.
The Us have had a solid start to their first season back in the non-league top flight, sitting thirteenth with 26 points from their 21 league games. Their home form has certainly been the most impressive facet of their campaign, with twenty of those points coming on the 3G pitch at Gander Green Lane. They’re unbeaten in six games at home, where they’ve beaten Forest Green Rovers, Tranmere Rovers and Dagenham & Redbridge this season. The Surrey side has also kept six clean sheets in their ten home National League fixtures so far in 2016-17. Overall, however, Sutton United have gone six league games without a win since a 4-1 home victory against Woking on 8 October.
Paul Doswell has led the Us to two promotions since taking charge in May 2008, and he was pleased with his side in midweek, despite going down to a 1-0 defeat at Boreham Wood. Speaking to the club’s official website, he said: “I couldn’t fault the effort. I wasn’t happy after Saturday’s (defeat) up at North Ferriby United, but I don’t think there was a lot wrong there tonight… at the moment, we’re not scoring the chances we’re creating… We have got a real strong group, a good group mentality… they’re backing themselves to do well for the club. If you’d offered me this nine months ago to be 13th in the National League, Second Round of the FA Cup, I think I’d have snapped your hand off.”
Gary Waddock made four changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Eastleigh, with two being enforced and two being of his own choosing. Mark Smith featured in goal in place of the injured Jake Cole, whilst Dion Conroy moved to centre back to take over from Callum Reynolds. Jim Kellermann, making his first start since being sent off against Eastbourne Borough in the FA Cup last month, replaced Conroy alongside Jake Gallagher in central midfield. Cheye Alexander missed his first league game since making his debut last April (a run of 71 consecutive National League appearances), with Nick Arnold shifting to the right side of the defence and Anthony Straker returning at left back. The fourth change saw Iffy Allen replacing Idris Kanu on the right of midfield. The latter came off the bench, as did Josh Wakefield, who featured for the first time since the win over Guiseley at the end of October.
The Shots boss could find his selection choices limited for the trip to Gander Green Lane, with as many as six players potentially being unavailable for the game. Centre back Will Evans will definitely miss the game as he serves a one-game ban for picking up five yellow cards, whilst Cole is going to be out for a couple of weeks with an ankle injury. Reynolds was unable to face Eastleigh due a head injury, Arnold limped off at the end of the Eastleigh game, Liam Bellamy has missed the last three games with a knee strain, whilst Shamir Fenelon has also been out for the same length of the time.
Unsurprisingly, Paul Doswell has kept the vast majority of his playing squad intact since last season’s promotion. The main departure over the summer was thirteen-goal midfielder Tom Bolarinwa, who joined League Two side Grimsby Town, whilst strikers Stuart Fleetwood (Bath City) and Tommy Wright (season-long loan deal to Salisbury City) also left the club. During the season, however, England C left back Daniel Wishart and six-goal top scorer Ross Stearn have made big-money moves to Forest Green Rovers and Eastleigh respectively. A quartet of former Shots have remained at Gander Green Lane – goalkeeper Ross Worner (26 games between 2011 and 2013), defensive midfielder Jamie Collins (33 scoreless appearances in the first half of the 2011-12 campaign), Simon Downer (thirteen games on loan at the end of the 2003-04 season) and striker Dan Fitchett (one goal in 23 games in 2014-15), who top scored for Sutton United last season with 22 goals. Collins was a member of the National League South Team of the Year, as were defenders Dean Beckwith and Craig Eastmond, who have also stayed with the Us. Amongst those to have also stayed at the club are defenders Kevin Amankwaah, Dan Spence and Louis John, midfielders Bedsente Gomis, Nicky Bailey and Ryan Burge, plus forwards Craig Dundas (eleven goals last season) and Craig McAllister.
The majority of Doswell’s signings since the end of last season have been in the attacking third. Roarie Deacon, who has five goals this season, arrived from Crawley Town, whilst Maxime Biamou (French fourth tier side AS Yzeure) and Chris Dickson (Ermis Aradippou of the Cypriot top flight) have also featured prominently this season. Doswell also secured the signing of Wealdstone striker Bradley Hudson-Odoi, but he’s since joined Maidstone United on loan. At the other end of the pitch, left backs Ben Jefford (Forest Green Rovers) and George McLennan (Cheltenham Town) have been brought in to fill the void left by Wishart’s departure, whilst midfielder Adam May has joined on a one-month loan deal form Portsmouth. However, that was scheduled to end earlier this week.
Jamie Collins will be available to the Sutton United manager after serving a one-match suspension at Boreham Wood in midweek, but Dean Beckwith will serve his own this weekend after picking up a fifth yellow card. Apart from that, Doswell should have a fully fit squad from which to choose this weekend.
Saturday afternoon sees the twelfth meeting between these two sides with the Shots winning five, losing three and drawing three. Eight of those games took place in the Ryman Leaguer Premier Division between 1998 and 2003. Aldershot Town are unbeaten in their last five games against the Us, which includes an FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round victory at the EBB Stadium last October. Winger Rhys Browne scored the only goal of the game. The Shots also managed a four point haul in their 2002-03 promotion-winning season. Roscoe D’Sane’s scored twice in the 3-2 home win on Boxing Day 2002, whilst he also netted in the 1-1 draw at Gander Green Lane on 21 March 2003 that secured the Shots’ promotion to the non-league top flight for the first time.
Aldershot Town have failed to win any of their four Ryman League Premier Division games at Gander Green Lane, with the home side’s biggest win coming courtesy of a 5-0 victory in April 1999. The Shots drew 1-1 in April 2001 thanks to a goal from Lee Protheroe, whilst they also succumbed to a 2-0 loss in October of that year. There were also two First Round FA Cup games between Aldershot FC and Sutton United, both at Gander Green Lane. The Shots won 4-0 in November 1963, whilst the Us caused the upset with a 3-0 home victory 24 years later.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is David Rock from Hertfordshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 2-2 draw at Bromley in August. He also oversaw Aldershot Town’s 2-1 home loss against Boreham Wood in April and the 5-2 drubbing at Dover Athletic last December. So far this season, he’s officiated in eleven National League fixtures, showing 32 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