Tuesday 20th February 2018, 1945 KO
Aldershot Town FC vs Bromley FC
The Build Up
This Saturday gone was something of a blockbuster for the Vanarama National League, with the top four teams – Macclesfield Town, Aldershot Town, Wrexham and Sutton United – all facing off against each other. With the Us and the Dragons drawing, whoever could take the spoils at the Recreation Ground would jump to the top of the table. As it was a match winner by Nathan Blissett, signed from Plymouth Argyle in January, saw Macclesfield return north with all three points and top spot. Furthermore, victories for both Tranmere Rovers and Boreham Wood, means that the top six is now as tight as the proverbial duck’s chuff.
Considering all of this, the opportunity to watch Gary Waddock’s team attempt to regain the horse on a cold, drizzly midweek evening was too good to pass up. With the dust settled on last weekend, the Shots are left in third, but with everything to play for as we head into the business end of the season. Waddock himself knows what it takes to get Aldershot out of this league, securing the club’s first promotion to the Football League in 2007/8 since Aldershot FC famously folded mid-season in 1992. Following subsequent relegation in 2013 (not under Waddock…), the club entered administration a mere two days later. Now, five years later, and under the astute ownership of Shahid Azeem, the club are once again aiming for League football.
To help them across the line, Aldershot have brought in a raft of new signings over the last month, including giant Swiss defender Tim Schmoll, and Luton Town’s Northern Irish international winger Josh McQuoid until the end of the season. McQuoid in particular is an interesting arrival, and will hope to fill the void left by the undisclosed (but potentially record) fee sale of Bernard Mensah to Bristol Rovers.
Making the hellish rush hour trip around the M25 from Hayes Lane are Bromley, off the back of a 1-0 loss to the aforementioned Tranmere Rovers. This result saw the Ravens lose ground in the hunt for the play offs, where they now face a five point deficit to Boreham Wood in sixth.
Having been promoted to Step One for the first time in their (at that point) 123 year history only three seasons ago, last year’s 10th place finish was a solid achievement. Sitting 8th going into tonight’s game, the 2017/18 campaign has represented yet further progress for Neil Smith’s side. With Louis Dennis among the goals (14 thus far), and former Arsenal man Josh Rees not far behind with 12, Bromley would hope to capitalise on an Aldershot defence that would be without the suspended centre back Will Evans.
I knocked off work early, and made the journey down the A3 to Hampshire. Once there, I marveled at the easy availability of free parking (London this is not) and headed into the stadium. The Recreation Ground can hold 7,100 and with an average attendance of 2,365 is usually well stocked for a Step One side. Tickets are pretty near to the average for this league at £19, and programmes (absolutely toppers with content, probably the best I’ve seen in non league) a fairly standard three quid. I liked the stadium, and felt it had a very retro 90s feel to it – something which having grown up in that decade, I immensely enjoy.
There were some good pre match tunes, with a rock/indie theme, but spread across the decades. Something for everyone. Unless you don’t like good music, but then, you probably shouldn’t be catered for. Speaking of catering, the food was well priced, with a double hot dog and onions, chips, and a bottle of Diet Coke costing £6, however, although the food was decent, I’m never a fan of the sort of plastic sausages you used to get as a kid when your mum couldn’t be arsed to cook.
The stadium had started to fill up quite early, and with over half an hour to go to kick off there were already a fair few in attendance. As I was setting up, my attention was drawn to a fan wearing a Parachute Regiment hat which reminded me that I was deep in Army territory, which always makes me feel a little queasy.
As the players came out, I took a photo to send to a friend of mine, who grew up in Aldershot, who revealed he had played at the Recreation Ground many times in his youth. Approximately 20 years and 15 stone ago.
When the referee got us underway, both teams were initially guilty of some scrappy play. Struggling to string passes together, and with the second touch often a tackle, there was no real fluidity to the opening of the match.
Despite this, it wasn’t long until the Shots had David Gregory’s net bulging, but it was swiftly – and completely correctly – ruled out by the referee whose surname sounds like a bizarre sexual act, Mr Adrian Quelch. As an Aldershot midfielder whipped the ball in, Josh McQuoid beat his marker and the ‘keeper to the ball. However, with the goal at his mercy, he shot out a hand, with a jab Chris Eubank Jr could have used the other night, and punched the ball into the net. Goal > no goal > yellow card.
For around the next twenty minutes, I may as well have been taking photos with a potato for all the action shots I would get. Absolutely nothing happened.
Then, all of a sudden, the match leapt into life, and the visitors took the lead. Technically, it was against the run of play, but only because up to this point there had been no play. Typical of the careless football of both teams up until now, it was a sloppy pass by on loan Forest Green Rovers midfielder Fabien Robert that created the opportunity. From that, a through ball was played, and when it arrived at the feet of Brandon Hanlan, the Addick loanee slid an inviting ball across for the onrushing right back, Ipswich loanee Luke Woolfenden (great name, by the way) to finish.
This goal briefly threatened to kick start the home side into life, as they mustered a few long range efforts, but never really troubled Gregory in goal. Most of their impetus was coming from midfielder James Rowe. The 26 year old midfielder was the only player really keen to drive on, when too many of his teammates seemed happy to take the safe sideways option.
On 37 minutes, Aldershot finally fashioned a decent chance, when Lewis Kinsella got forward well down the left. He found McQuoid, but as the former Luton man cut inside, his shot went into a pack of bodies and deflected wide. The “pack of bodies” was becoming a feature of this match, as Bromley sought to protect their lead by packing out the box at every opportunity, whilst David Gregory earned some justified stick from the home crowd for some egregious time wasting from very early in the match.
Five minutes later, and with the last notable action of the half, the Ravens nearly doubled their advantage when another wayward pass out from the back allowed first Louis Dennis, and then Josh Rees to try their luck from inside the box, but both had their shots blocked.
At half time, I’d struggle to say anyone in Aldershot colours deserved anything, other than a feisty bollocking at half time. Bromley hadn’t contributed a huge amount in terms of attacking intent, but had played their role perfectly. They soaked up the Shots pressure well, and found it almost too easy to get around the back of the defence out wide when they did come forward. Whether by luck or design, their gameplan of “sit tight and wait for Aldershot to make mistakes” looked like paying off at the midway point. The 1,909 fans who were braving the cold were certainly entitled to something better in the second half.
Aldershot had clearly had the requisite rocket put up them at half time, as they came out with much more focus in the second half. From the off, Cheye Alexander was pushing much further forward from right back, and this was pinning back Louis Dennis, negating some of the counter attacking threat Bromley had posed. Additionally, Alexander was a useful outlet, and put together some neat interplay with Manny Oyeleke.
Despite this, and despite the lion’s share of possession, Aldershot just couldn’t fashion chances. Striker Nicke Kabamba received the square root of bugger all service, and was replaced with Scott Rendell, whilst Shamir Fenelon and Bobby-Joe Taylor also came on in an attempt to find the breakthrough. On the hour mark though, with Bromley being increasingly penned back, a chance came on the break, when a long ball was chased down by the too-quick-for-Lewis-Kinsella Brandon Hanlan. His low cross was met by 14-goal Louis Dennis, but his shot was blocked.
From the 65th minute, Aldershot really upped the ante, and I was impressed with the substitute Taylor down the left. Every time he got the ball he drove at the defence and looked to get crosses into the box. Despite this, by 70 minutes, The Shots had still yet to carve out the golden chance they needed. Alexander attempted, but his 35 yard drive was straight at the ‘keeper who held easily, and took the opportunity to wind down some more of the clock.
Aldershot were huffing and puffing, but despite Rowe’s best efforts, were really lacking any creative spark. Lofted balls into the box from deep crossing positions just weren’t having the desired effect against the now ten man defence of Bromley. And they almost paid a high price for their lack of creativity with five minutes to play when a quickly taken free kick released Dennis down the left. He sent in the perfect cross – corridor of uncertainty, pacey, accurate, the works – and Lebanese international Omar Bugiel had the perfect chance to guarantee the points. With the goal at his mercy, and Lewis Ward already on the deck, he skewed his shot, possibly even shinned it, and wide it did go.
As it would happen, this miss was important. With regular time complete, and approximately two of the allotted four extras played, yet another hopeful ball was lobbed into the Bromley box with the trajectory of a 51mm mortar. This time though, it was different – the ball was knocked down by someone, possibly Scott Rendell, possibly a defender, and there was the energetic Manny Oyeleke bursting onto it to smash home. The home fans erupted, and Oyeleke grabbed the ball and raced back to the centre circle.
There was almost more drama too. When Gregory rushed out to clear an incoming through ball, his clearance landed at the feet of Rowe around 45 yards from goal. With Gregory in no mans land, Rowe shot, but not only did he miss (which would have been fair enough), you could have stacked 15 goals side to side and on top of one another and it still wouldn’t have hit the target.
1-1 the final score, and thankfully after 60 minutes of drizzly purgatory, a fairly exciting final half hour for the crowd.
The Wash Up
Tonight’s result doesn’t really do either side any favours, as wins for Macclesfield Town and Boreham Wood leave them further from their respective objectives than at the start of play. Both clubs are now six points off the pace in their respective races, but with 12 games to play that is far from insurmountable.
Both managers will be able to take positives and negatives from tonight. For Neil Smith, his side made Aldershot look very ordinary offensively tonight, and that they scored from their only really presentable chance is a positive, as is the threat they posed on the break. On the flip side, had his strikers finished one or two more of their own decent chances, they could have run out quite comfortable victors.
For Gary Waddock, he will surely be concerned by how his side played in the first hour of this match. Wayward passing and heavy touches meant they could achieve no fluidity to their play, and even when the accuracy was found in the last thirty, there was no inspiration. That said, to come back in the 92nd minute is always impressive, and speaks to a real level of fortitude and togetherness in the squad – two attributes that will serve them well in a title race.
I was impressed with young George Fowler, recently signed from Ipswich, who was a composed presence at the back, and James Rowe played well also. Officially man of the match, he was willing to run with the ball and go forward whenever the opportunity presented itself, and has an exceptional level of skill. However, at times he slowed play down by taking a touch too many, when a quicker surge forward may have been better.
My personal man of the match, goes to Jack Holland, Bromley’s skipper. He marshalled a committed and commanding defensive performance for the visitors, and displayed real on pitch leadership. When the vociferous home fans got on players’ backs, he was giving encouragement, when players got knocks, he was straight across, and when a thunderous tackle or clearing header was required, he provided that too.