Aldershot Town secured the first win of Gary Waddock’s second spell in charge on Tuesday night with a 1-0 victory against Maidstone United. The home fans will be hoping for something similar on Saturday, although with maybe not quite as much late drama, as they welcome Wrexham to the EBB Stadium. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
The Shots certainly deserved their victory against their Kent opponents, but the game should have been settled long before Bernard Mensah’s 88th minute winner. Matt McClure, Shamir Fenelon, Iffy Allen and Jake Gallagher all had efforts beaten away by Stones goalkeeper Lee Worgan in the opening 27 minutes, whilst Fenelon missed the best second-half opportunity in the 53rd minute, volleying over from Scott Rendell’s knock-down. At the other end, Jake Cole made two decent saves – from Tom Murphy late in the first half and substitute Dumebi Dumaka after the break – to keep the match scoreless and set up the game’s crescendo. In the 88th minute, Bernard Mensah won the ball from Bobby-Joe Taylor, played a one-two with McClure before firing a shot into the East Bank goal to send the home fans into rapture.
The game on Tuesday wasn’t only noticeable for the Shots’ first home win since Easter Monday, but also in the way it was achieved. The home side started very brightly, played some excellent, positive football, before finishing strongly for the second game in a row. During the entire 2015-16 campaign, Aldershot Town scored an almost unbelievably paltry two goals after the 85th minute mark – Richard Brodie’s winner at Braintree Town last August and Jim Stevenson’s strike in a 3-1 home win over Chester in January – so to get one so early in this season was a very welcome sight. Whether the late show was down to fitness or attitude, or more likely both, it reflects well on both manager and players.
After 87 years as a Football League side, Wrexham were relegated to the Conference Premier in 2008. They came close to promotion earlier in this decade, finishing fifth in 2012-13, before losing that season’s Play-Off Final against Newport County. The North Wales club was also beaten by Luton Town at the Play-Off Semi-Final stage in the previous two campaigns, with the loss in 2011-12 coming after finishing runners-up to champions Fleetwood Town. After finishes of 17th and 11th in the previous two campaigns, the Dragons improved last season, their first under manager Gary Mills, to finish 8th with 69 points, 11 points from the Play-Off places.
Wrexham have started their ninth season at this level with four points from their first two games. The midweek 3-2 win at Guiseley was sealed with an outstanding late winner, and it followed a goalless draw with Dover Athletic on the opening day of the campaign. Their improvement in 2015-16 was mainly down to their improved goalscoring prowess, with only Cheltenham Town, Grimsby Town and Dover Athletic bettering their 71 league goals. In fact, they failed to score in just nine league fixtures all season. Their away form was poor, however, with the Dragons managing just seven wins and 26 points on the road in the National League last season.
Gary Mills, who took over as manager in April 2015 after guiding Gateshead to the National League Play-Offs twelve months earlier, was very pleased with his side’s performance on Tuesday. He told the North Wales Daily Post: “To get your first win is always nice, it makes Saturday’s result even better… Yes there is little things we can do better, and we will, but certainly as a team we seem to have gelled well together… We had to (grit it out), I just felt we stopped passing the ball, I thought we passed it excellent, and then second half we dropped off that a little bit. We stopped passing it, and ultimately for me it cost us the equaliser, which looked very, very soft.”
Gary Waddock made two changes on Tuesday, as well as a change in the formation of his starting eleven. The switch to 4-4-2 meant Callum Reynolds moved into the back four alongside Jack Saville, Scott Rendell started upfront alongside Matt McClure, whilst Will Evans dropped to the bench. The other change was a straight swap with Iffy Allen preferred to Bernard Mensah on the left-hand side of midfield. Mensah may well regain his place in the first eleven after his goal on Tuesday, but the Shots boss could just as easily stick with the side that played so well against Maidstone United. That’s especially true from a defensive perspective, where Aldershot Town kept their first clean sheet of the campaign.
The only absentee this weekend will be last season’s top scorer Charlie Walker. Whilst he won’t need surgery after damaging his ankle ligaments in pre-season, he will be unable to take part in any footballing activity for at least six weeks, meaning it’s looking unlikely that he’ll feature for the first team until mid-October at the earliest.
The squad overhaul at the Racecourse Ground has been extraordinary, with 22 players leaving and eighteen others joining the club. Amongst those who have left are Club Captain and fourteen-goal top scorer Connor Jennings, who signed for Tranmere Rovers; defenders Jamal Fyfield and Manny Smith, plus winger Wes York (eleven goals last season), have all moved to Gateshead, whilst another centre-back, Blaine Hudson, has joined Chester. In midfield, Adriano Moke (Boreham Wood), Javan Vidal (Guiseley), Simon Heslop (York City), Louis Briscoe (Tamworth) and Lee Fowler (AFC Telford United) have all left Wrexham, whilst first-choice goalkeeper Rhys Taylor returned to Newport County after the completion of his loan spell. Young forwards Kayden Jackson (Barnsley) and Jonny Smith (Bristol City) have moved into the Football League, whilst James Gray (seven goals in 2015-16), Jonathan Royle and Ross White have all joined Southport. The only players to have remained at club are full-back Sean Newton and midfielders Adam Carrington and Rob Evans.
The attacking ranks have been replenished with former Chester forward John Rooney (ten goals last season), Jordan White (Livingston), Shaun Harrad (Torquay United), Michael Bakare (Welling United), Khaellem Bailey-Nicholls (Birmingham City) and Callum Powell (Rugby Town), whilst Gerry McDonagh, who scored on his debut on Tuesday night, has arrived on a one-month loan deal from Nottingham Forest. Chris Dunn (Cambridge United) and Shwan Jalal (Macclesfield Town) will contest the number one jersey. Anthony Barry (Accrington Stanley), Tyler Harvey (Plymouth Argyle), Jordan Evans (Fulham) and Paul Rutherford (Southport) should feature prominently in midfield, whilst Mills has also made some useful additions in defence. Martin Riley (Tranmere Rovers) and Hazma Bencherif (AFC Halifax Town) have plenty of experience, whilst Nortei Nortey (Welling United), Curtis Tilt (AFC Telford United) and Kai Edwards (TNS) are more of an unknown quantity at this level.
Gary Mills will definitely be without Tilt, who’s completing a three-match suspension, and Jordan White, who’ll miss the first two months of the season after picking up a mystery blood infection. Rob Evans has missed the first two games of the season with an injury and will also be unavailable this weekend.
Saturday afternoon will see the seventh meeting between Aldershot Town and Wrexham, with the Shots losing four (including both in the 2015-16 campaign), drawing one and winning one against the Dragons. On 21 November 2015, Wes York got the only goal of the game at the EBB Stadium, with Jake Gallagher receiving a second half red card to compound the woes. Three months earlier, the hosts had won 3-0 in North Wales thanks to goals from York, James Gray and Dominic Vose’s 90th-minute penalty. Aldershot Town’s one victory over Wrexham was a 2-0 home win in September 2013, when Mark Molesley got the opening goal of the game and Jordan Roberts came off the bench to net his first senior goal. The two sides also played out an entertaining 1-1 draw at the same ground in April 2015.
The Welsh side also faced Aldershot FC on 34 occasions between 1961 and 1991, and the Dragons had the edge with sixteen wins to Aldershot’s eleven, plus seven further draws. Most of those fixtures occurred in the old Fourth Division, but six games took place in the old Third Division between 1973 and 1976. It’s also worth noting that the Shots had an excellent record at home against Wrexham, winning eleven and drawing three of the seventeen meetings at what is now the EBB Stadium.
Saturday afternoon’s referee is Craig Hicks from Sutton, who took charge of the Shots’ 2-1 win at Braintree Town last August, as well as the 2-0 victory at Torquay United at the start of October. Last Saturday, he took charge of Dagenham & Redbridge’s 3-0 home win over Southport, showing no cards in the process.
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 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 @bbcsurreysport and @GavinDenison