The last time Fleet played at The Rec (now known as the EBB Stadium), it was in front of 4,300 people who witnessed the visitors qualify for a Wembley final, some 10 years ago.
The stakes this time around will, as with the attendance, be somewhat lower. Aldershot now command an average attendance of about 2,400 and there’s no Wembley prize at the end of 90 minutes. But there is one similarity to a decade ago – the Shots are battling for promotion back to the Football League.
Now, as then, that means the Fleet head into this game as underdogs, particularly as Aldershot were the first side to beat us in a League game in 2017 when they won 2-0 at the Kuflink Stadium earlier this season. With Fleet’s start to 2018 having yielded just the one positive result, many observers will see this as one of the tougher trips of the remaining months. But with Fleet sitting just three points outside the play-offs, Daryl McMahon will know his side have the potential to upset the applecart. He admitted that the Fleet “never got going” in their Trophy exit at Warrington but needs his players to shake off the lethargy of that tie with some difficult league fixtures ahead.
The Fleet boss is able to welcome former Aldershot player Bradley Bubb back from suspension with potentially three ex-Shots in the Fleet line-up, including Dave Winfield and Aaron McLean. Chris Bush had recovered from the injury that forced him off against Warrington last Saturday to return to action from the bench in the replay and that leaves just Kenny Clark and Darren McQueen sidelined.
Aldershot must have enjoyed watching the Fleet being taken to a long-distance replay in midweek being that they have recharged their batteries in a two-week break since their last action, a 2-1 win at Dover Athletic. Barring their 4-0 freak exit in the FA Trophy at East Thurrock, the Shots have lost just one game since early November. That was at home to FC Halifax Town and is one of a few surprising reverses at home this season, with Chester and Dover having also taken all three points from the EBB Stadium.
That run of good form has left the Shots as the closest challengers to leaders Macclesfield, with Gary Waddock’s side sitting in second place, four points adrift and the manager watched the Fleet win at Maidstone. Aldershot will be minus long-term casualty, the former Whitehawk full-back Nick Arnold while Callum Reynolds was carrying an injury but may have benefitted from Aldershot’s break. Influential midfielder Bernard Mensah has just signed for Bristol Rovers but Waddock has welcomed Forest Green’s Fabien Robert back for a second spell on loan. One of Robert’s first games for Aldershot came in the 2-0 win over the Fleet back in September though the Shots manager warned he wasn’t fully match fit.
Two other new loan signings include defender Lewis Kinsella from Colchester United and former Hampton striker Nicke Kabamba from Portsmouth, who played against the Fleet in the National South last season. Shamir Fenelon and Scott Rendell are the danger men with nine and six goals respectively, while Jim Kellerman has also netted six times from midfield.
Aldershot recently rejected an approach for their management team from a Football League club and seem determined to regain their own League place, lost in 2013. A win over the Fleet will be crucial in their bid to keep Macclesfield in range, especially with the leaders facing a tricky trip to in-form AFC Fylde.
It has been 17 years since the one and only Fleet victory on Shots’ home soil but with McMahon’s men just one win from reining in Dover in seventh place, the spoils are equally rich for the visitors.
Information on matchday tickets and stadium accessibility is available here. There will be a minute’s applause before kick-off in memory of former Aldershot chairman Kris Machala.