Aldershot Town made it four wins from five – and three victories from four on the road – thanks to an excellent 3-1 win at Barrow (who hadn’t lost at home since mid-February) at the weekend. On Tuesday night, the Shots make their third mammoth away trip in ten days, visiting newly-relegated Tranmere Rovers. BBC Surrey’s Gavin Denison previews the action.
Barry Smith’s side put together a picture-perfect away display at Holker Street on Saturday and showed that they’d learnt from the mistakes of the previous weekend’s defeat at Grimsby Town. Charlie Walker’s opening goal from Cheye Alexander’s pass counted for something this week, despite the Shots conceding from the penalty spot five minutes before half-time. Walker got his second of the game, and his sixth goal in six starts, on the hour, glancing in Nick Anderton’s free kick, before Alexander made it 3-1. Dan Walker, who’d won the free kick for the second goal, linked up well with the 20-year-old right-back down the flank, allowing the young defender to add another fine strike to his goalscoring scrapbook.
We’re only eleven games into the 2015-16 campaign, but there are plenty of positives to take from the Shots’ season so far. They’re 11th in the table, just three points outside of a play-off place, despite only playing two of the current bottom eight. Their record of ten points from their six games away from the EBB Stadium is the fourth-best in the division, only bettered by Gateshead, Braintree Town and Forest Green Rovers. Extraordinarily, the form of Charlie Walker and Richard Brodie (five goals this season) also marks the first time since 2011-12 that Aldershot Town have had two permanently-contracted strikers notch five league goals or more in a single campaign.
Tranmere Rovers were formed in 1884 and, like the Shots opponents at the weekend, were founder members of Division 3 North in 1921. That started an unbroken 94-year spell in the Football League that had some incredible highs. A Division Three North title in 1937-8 led to one year in the second tier of English football, a level they returned to in 1991. Their decade in the Championship saw three play-off appearances and a League Cup Final in 2000, where they lost 2-1 to Leicester City. The Wirral side dropped into the bottom tier with a defeat on the last day of the 2013-14 campaign, before finishing dead last in League Two last season, six points from safety.
Rovers have made a solid, if unspectacular, start to life in non-league, with seventeen points from ten games, leaving them in 10th and ahead of the Shots on goal difference. They’re on a five-game unbeaten streak, but they’ve only won one of those fixtures. However, the flip side of that statistic is that they lost the two before their current run, so have also only won one of their last seven league games. Tranmere Rovers’ home record is the 10th best in the division and they won 2-0 against Chester in their last Prenton Park outing. That comes after they won only five home games in the whole of 2014-15. Defensively, they’ve been very solid this season, with only Cheltenham Town, Braintree Town and Forest Green Rovers conceding fewer than their eleven National League goals.
Gary Brabin took over as manager on 5 May and he’s happy with what he’s seen from his side so far. After Friday’s 1-1 draw at Grimsby Town, he told the Liverpool Echo: “I thought we started the game well and were unfortunate to go a goal down… We’ve taken our foot off the gas and weathered the storm and in the end it was probably a fair result… but I still feel like we’re in a good position. We’re neck and neck with Grimsby who are going to be one of the favourites for the league this season. They’re three points better off than they were last season and they got to the play-off final. So I still think we’re in a good, healthy position, but we do realise where we need to improve things.”
Barry Smith named an unchanged starting line-up at the weekend and was rewarded with another excellent display. Goalkeeper Dan Thomas had another very good game, making some smart saves in the final twenty minutes to keep his team’s two-goal advantage, whilst Jack Saville and Omar Beckles look like a very solid centre-back pairing. Nick Anderton went off with a dead leg, but should be fit for the trip to the Wirral. If the manager is to make a change, we could see Dan Walker returning to the starting eleven after two strong performances from the bench against Welling United and Barrow.
The Shots boss could be without four key defensive players again on Tuesday night. Goalkeeper Phil Smith and centre-back Luke Oliver both made the trip to Barrow, but didn’t feature due to groin and calf injuries respectively. They may be available for selection on Tuesday. Defenders Joe Oastler and Sean McGinty, however, are long-term absentees. The former’s recovery from an ankle operation will keep him out until late October, whilst McGinty should return in early October after suffering a broken metatarsal in the pre-season game at Basingstoke Town.
As you’d expect from a relegated side, the Tranmere playing staff has dramatically changed over the course of the last few months. The majority of last season’s squad have moved on, with a fair few having remaining in the Football League. Thirteen-goal top scorer Max Power joined League One side Wigan Athletic, whilst midfielder Marc Laird moved to Yeovil Town and forward Rory Donnelly went to Gillingham from Swansea City after his five-goal loan spell at Rovers. Adam Dugdale and Lee Molyneux both joined Morecambe, fellow defender Danny Holmes moved to Newport County whilst Jonai Donacien returned to Aston Villa, before linking up with Wycombe Wanderers on another loan deal. Veteran midfielder, and former Welsh international Jason Koumas, retired, whilst first-choice goalkeeper Owain fon Williams moved to Scottish Premiership side Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Also departing Prenton Park were Josh Thompson (Southport), Rob Taylor (Kidderminster Harriers), Kayode Odejayi (seven goals last season, to Stockport County), Peter Brezovan and Iain Hume. Amongst those who remained with the Wirral side were young striker Cole Stockton (although he’s just joined Southport on loan), midfielder Steve Jennings and defenders Matt Hill, Liam Ridehalgh, Michael Ihiekwe and Marcus Holness.
Gary Brabin made a number of eye-catching signings over the summer, especially in the forward areas. James Norwood was captured after scoring thirteen times in 2014-15 for Forest Green Rovers, fellow striker Andy Mangan notched ten times for Shrewsbury Town, whilst Lois Maynard tallied on twelve occasions from midfield for FC Halifax Town. However, that trio currently have just two goals apiece, as does another recent arrival, former Wrexham midfielder Jay Harris. Two former Shots also arrived at Tranmere Rovers over the summer – Adam Mekki, who split last season between Barnet and Dover Athletic and scored six goals in 100 Shots appearances between 2009 and 2014, and Marlon Jackson, who arrived from Oxford City last month. He managed 35 games and one goal in two loan spells at the EBB Stadium between November 2009 and November 2010. The Rovers boss has also signed young forward Johnny Margetts on a permanent deal from Hull City, Bristol Rovers striker Nathan Blissett on a one-month loan deal and Kidderminster Harriers winger Adam Dawson on a three-month emergency loan. At the other end of the pitch, goalkeeper Scott Davies and centre-back Liam Hogan look like excellent signings from Fleetwood Town, whilst defenders Ritchie Sutton and Martin Riley have both joined from Mansfield Town.
Hogan went off on Friday night after suffering a head injury, so will be unavailable for the visit of Aldershot Town, as will fellow defender Riley. Mekki and Jackson went off on Saturday afternoon with slight knocks, so must be doubts to face their former club.
Aldershot Town and Tranmere Rovers have never met in the league, but they did face off in two Second Round FA Cup matches in late 2009. The first game at Prenton Park finished goalless, with the home side rattling the woodwork and debutant Marlon Jackson and Louie Soares forcing saves for the Shots. Both sides entered the replay knowing a home tie against Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers awaited the victors, but that seemed to inhibit the home team who defended poorly to give up a 2-0 lead. Oliver Bozanic got a goal back in the 90th minute, but it was definitely a missed opportunity for a cup upset.
Tranmere Rovers did play 32 league games against Aldershot FC between 1961 and 1987, with the Shots winning thirteen, losing twelve and drawing seven. Of the sixteen encounters on the Wirral, the Shots managed four victories (2-1 in August 1961, 3-1 in May 1963, 1-0 in January 1974 and 2-1 in December 1979), but were defeated on nine occasions with three further draws. Rovers are currently unbeaten in eight home games against sides from Aldershot.
Tuesday evening’s referee is Adrian Holmes from West Yorkshire, who took charge of the Shots’ 3-2 win at Alfreton Town in February (where he sent off Josh Scott), as well as the 1-0 victory at Lincoln City in October 2013. So far this season, he’s refereed five National League games, showing fifteen yellow cards and one red card.
BBC Radio Merseyside’s Phil Kinsella and Rob Worrall of the Aldershot Town media team will be covering the game on Tuesday evening. Tune in to the BBC Surrey website and the BBC Sport app from 7.35pm for full match commentary.
You can also contact us throughout the evening via Twitter. Tweet your predictions and thoughts on the game to @RobShot66