Aldershot Town suffered their most disappointing defeat of the season last weekend, going out of the FA Cup to National League South side Eastbourne Borough. After three consecutive home games, the Shots are back on the road on Saturday with a trip to South Devon to take on Torquay United. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Once again Gary Waddock was bemoaning a refereeing decision at the weekend, with Jim Kellermann’s debatable 25th-minute red card putting his side a man down. Despite that, Bernard Mensah came the closest to breaking the deadlock with his right wing free kick hitting a post. The second half saw more chances, with a twelve minute spell seeing Jamie Taylor open the scoring for the visitors, Charlie Walker hitting the crossbar and both Matt McClure and Nathaniel Pinney missing excellent opportunities. After 69 minutes, Aldershot Town were level after Idris Kanu turned in Mensah’s cross, and Mensah himself was denied by Sports goalkeeper Lewis Carey, but Eastbourne Borough certainly finished the stronger. Taylor forced a pair of saves from Mark Smith before Pinney finished smartly in the 90th minute to win the tie.
This weekend, the Shots will look to keep their run intact of winning the next game after a defeat, which they’ve achieved on the first three occasions it happened this season. Whilst a lot of talk has focused on their outstanding home form this season, which is still the best in the National League, their record away from the EBB Stadium has also been very solid. After losing two of their first three on the road, Aldershot Town are unbeaten in their last four away games. That run includes wins at Dover Athletic and York City, plus draws at Boreham Wood and Southport, with only three goals conceded in that sequence. The last away game at York City also saw Gary Waddock’s side keep their first clean sheet on the road.
Formed in 1899, it took Torquay United 28 years to initially reach the Football League, and that’s where they stayed until their first relegation from League Two in 2007. The Gulls were promoted two years later (one year after the Shots) and managed to reach the League Two play-offs in consecutive seasons. In 2011, they lost 1-0 to Stevenage in the final at Wembley, whilst twelve months later; they lost 4-1 on aggregate to Cheltenham Town in a Play-Off semi-final. They finished bottom of the Football League again in 2013-14, five points from safety, before a 13th-place finish in 2014-15. Last season, they slumped to an 18th-place finish, just three points above the National League relegation zone.
“The South Devon side is currently 18th once again, with seventeen points from their fifteen league games. They come into this weekend’s fixture with five defeats and just one victory from their last eight games in all competitions, although that did come in their last home league game against Dagenham & Redbridge at the start of this month. One issue has been scoring goals, with only four sides scoring fewer than their fourteen league goals. The Gulls have also only managed four clean sheets in 2016-17, although three of them have come at home. However, their overall form at Plainmoor this season has been good, with four wins and thirteen points from their seven home league fixtures.”
Manager Kevin Nicholson, who took charge last September, was disappointed with his side’s midweek FA Cup defeat at Woking. He told the Torquay Herald Express after the game: “You are only going to get better making mistakes and it’s a hard process that players have to go through… It is for me to breed a group of players that are going to make mistakes and push on and go again… They need to grow up quickly because we had three targets this season – an FA Cup run, a good strong league campaign, and a run in the FA Trophy – one of those targets has now gone… I want them to improve, they are a good group, but first of all they have got to stop being too nice. And they have got to react to mistakes better.”
Gary Waddock made five changes to his starting line-up for the visit of Eastbourne Borough on Saturday, with the return of Liam Bellamy after missing two games with a hamstring problem arguably being the most significant. He replaced Josh Wakefield in centre-midfield, with Jim Kellermann slotting in alongside him for the suspended Jake Gallagher. Strikers Charlie Walker and Scott Rendell were replaced by Matt McClure and Shamir Fenelon, whilst Cheye Alexander, who remained unused on the bench, had his run of 66 straight starts in all competitions ended. Nick Arnold was preferred at right-back at the weekend. Rendell (13 goals in 41 games for Torquay United in 2009-10 whilst on loan from Peterborough United), Wakefield (one goal in ten games as a loanee at the start of the 2014-15 campaign) and Iffy Allen (three goals in thirteen games at the end of last season) will hope to face their former club. There could also be a first start for Idris Kanu, who scored his first senior goal last weekend at the tender age of 16 years and 315 days.
Gallagher will available for the trip to South Devon, but two players definitely unavailable for the Shots on Saturday are Will Evans, who will serve the final game of a three-match ban, whilst Kellermann starts his own three-match ban this weekend. The game will come too soon for Chelsea loanee Dion Conroy (badly cut foot), but Jake Cole (hamstring) and Scott Rendell (thigh strain) could feature against Torquay United.
Due to the financial constraints placed on the club, Nicholson has had to change the vast majority of his playing squad over the summer. Amongst those who have left Plainmoor since the end of the previous campaign are defenders Angus MacDonald (Barnsley) and ex-Aldershot Town loanee Dan Butler (Newport County), who both moved into the Football League, whilst Nathan Smith returned to League One side Port Vale after a lengthy loan spell with the Gulls last term. As mentioned above, Iffy Allen joined the Shots, whilst fellow attackers Shaun Harrad (Wrexham), Toby Ajala (Gateshead) and Danny Racchi, plus giant centre-back Exodus Geohaghon also left the club. A number of key players have stayed with the South Devon side, including defenders Ben Gerring and Durrell Berry, midfielders Luke Young (missed most of 2015-16 with a serious knee injury) and Courtney Richards, plus last season’s eight-goal top scorer Nathan Blissett. Kevin Nicholson is also still registered as a player and he made his first start of the campaign at left back on Tuesday night.
There are three very familiar faces amongst the Gulls’ new arrivals. Striker Brett Williams (43 goals in 102 appearances in 2013-14 and 2014-15), midfielder Damon Lathrope (two goals in 49 games between 2014 and 2016) and Sean McGinty (41 games, one goal from February 2015 to May 2016) have all featured for Aldershot Town since relegation to the National League. Brendan Moore, who’s saved three penalties this season, arrived from Fleetwood Town to act as the first-choice goalkeeper, whilst Gibraltarian international Jamie Robba has been backing him up. Attacking midfielder Dan Sparkes joined from Braintree Town, whilst defenders Aman Verma and Lathaniel Rowe-Turner signed from Kidderminster Harriers. The defensive corps has been bolstered by the capture of former A-League player Giancarlo Gallifuoco (Melbourne Victory), whilst Joe Ward (West Bromwich Albion) and forward Jamie Reid (Exeter City) are on loan until January.
Reid is available to return to the squad after his parent club forbade him from featuring in the FA Cup, but the Torquay United boss will definitely be without Ben Gerring, who is serving the fifth game of a six-match suspension, and Durrell Berry, who broke his leg on 26 March. However, Rowe-Turner (groin) and Blissett (dead leg) may be available to face the Shots.
Aldershot Town and Torquay United have faced each other on fifteen previous occasions, with the Shots having the edge by seven wins to five, plus three draws. Their first meeting last season resulted in a 2-0 win for the visitors at Plainmoor, with Sam Hatton and Charlie Walker getting the crucial first-half goals; whilst the game at the EBB Stadium in March saw the two sides play out a tedious 0-0 draw. Last season saw a further pair of 2-0 home wins. Those two results stretched Aldershot Town’s unbeaten run against the Gulls to six games (four wins, two draws), conceding just one goal in that streak. In fact, the last time the South Devon side beat the Shots was at Plainmoor in in October 2012. A nineteen-minute Craig Reid hat-trick had given the visitors a 3-0 lead, but the hosts rallied to win 4-3, with Rene Howe netting the 89th minute winner.
Last season’s win means Aldershot Town have picked up eleven points from their seven trips to Plainmoor. Of course, their first game there, a Blue Square Premier tie in March 2008, saw Scott Davies’ famous winner in the run-in to the Blue Square Premier title, whilst a Marvin Morgan goal saw the trick repeated in September 2010. Morgan also scored in a 1-1 draw between the two sides in September 2009 in South Devon, whilst that score was repeated in August 2014. As well as the 4-3 win, Torquay United’s other home win against Aldershot Town came in March 2012. Howe scored the winner once again. Aldershot FC had many largely forgettable trips to Plainmoor, with ten victories, 23 defeats and seven draws in 40 visits.
If he features on Saturday, Bernard Mensah will make the 50th senior appearance of his club career.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Adrian Quelch from Dorset, who is his first campaign on the National Referees’ list. So far this season, he’s officiated in six National League fixtures, showing thirteen 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