The Thursday Preview: Aldershot Vs Gillingham
Just before the weather started to thaw a little, I had a post on the agony of late postponements lined up. Most of us have been there and have tales of unfulfilled trips to Hereford, Hartlepool and Hull to call upon when we get into those conversations where football nerdism is transformed into a contest. You know the thing. “Well, Steve, funny you should mention that. Reminds me of the time I left Fishguard at 4am for a lunchtime kick off at Norwich only to find that the game had been snowed off as I was passing through Thetford.”
The silver lining of having another story of woe to add to your locker of honour is, however, a mere fillip on the back of the suffering attached to last-minute cancellations. Fellow unfortunate ‘scarf’ has more than once recounted the torment of a wasted trip to Exeter to see Stockport play, and I can remember an almost heartbreaking conversation with a Preston supporter who I saw milling around Home Park minutes after a frozen pitch had put paid to the evening’s game.
But are such episodes on the decline? This cold snap has proven so bad that most matches this winter have been shelved 24 hours or more ahead of kick-off. That said, a day’s notice still didn’t stop a friend of mine making his way to Brisbane Road on Saturday. Imagine my surprise when I got a call at midday to ask which pub our group was meeting in; perhaps he was playing dumb to get away from the wife and kids, but such anecdotes are surely becoming rarer as football continues to mirror our linked-in, risk-averse society where supporters are given what seem like hourly updates on the state of play, and games are scratched off for a million and one reasons besides a frozen pitch (unless Sky are involved).
Onwards to this week’s Preview, though, which unless I opt for Derby’s game at home to Donny is a bit like picking a needle from a haystack. Seriously, what do Pride Park’s groundsmen put in that grass (with apologies to St Helier Pear Cider)? In the interests of allotting equal coverage of each division, I’ve gone for Aldershot’s home game against Gillingham, the first fourth tier game we’ve previewed since Lanterne Rouge called Bury’s win at Burton a month ago.
The prognosis on Town’s website doesn’t sound overly promising, but this could be a good game if it goes ahead. Gills are fighting back after their well-documented barren spell away from the Priestfield, and it’ll be interesting to see whether they can extend their run against the Shots, the other League side that have lost to Dover in the Cup so far. On a three match winning streak after impressive victories at Oxford, Barnet and Macclesfield, Andy Hessenthaler’s team have bounced up into mid-table but with Paul Scally’s noose still dangling, the pressure isn’t off by any means.
The away side go into the game without two of the key cogs behind their recent upsurge, midfielders Chris Whelpdale and Charlie Lee. Both have both returned to Peterborough after a month on loan, so changes will be made with Danny Jackman and Andy Barcham possible replacements for Whelpdale out wide and recent signing Joe Martin likely to come in for Lee in the centre. With a mammoth squad at his disposal, Hessenthaler has options longer-term, but injuries will limit his thinking over the festive period, so he’ll hope for good form from the likes of Barry Fuller, Kevin Maher and Bayo Akinfenwa on Boxing Day and beyond.
To Aldershot, a town that I can only associate with personal failure after missing out on a job at a company located within its environs a few years back (of course, I didn’t want it anyway…). Its football club have been enjoying halcyon days in comparison, improving their league position year-on-year for the past five seasons, and qualifying for the League 2 play-offs last term. The Shots were sent packing by Rotherham, but their sixth-place finish was a real achievement considering they lost manager Gary Waddock to Wycombe mid-season. Former Reading number two Kevin Dillon stepped in and managed to maintain the club’s level of progress initially, but this season has seen Aldershot slip down the table and the flux and flurry that Chris Amy pointed to in his pre-season assessment seems to have had its wicked way.
Captain Anthony Charles is likely to return to the centre of defence after recovering from injury, but the Shots’ main issue this season has been in attack where just 16 goals have been scored in 19 games. I waxed lyrically about strikers Marvin Morgan and Danny Hylton in pre-season, but neither have really got going, and with Damien Spencer currently sidelined Dillon has little room for manoeuvre. French-Cameroonian front man Wesley Ngo Baheng, formerly of Newcastle, has been signed on a short-term deal and is said to be ‘looking sharp’, so may well come in, but the Shots seem like a team short on confidence, and I can see the Gills grinding out a point or three if the game makes it.