ALDERSHOT Town completed their pre-season preparations with contrasting results, but with a real spirit of optimism, writes Steve Gibbs.
The Shots succumbed 5-1 after a second-half onslaught from a strong Chelsea Under-21 side, before holding Wycombe Wanderers to a 1-1 draw at the EBB Stadium on Saturday. Yet, even though Barry Smith was realistic enough to treat both as mere skirmishes in the phoney war of pre-season, he continued to measure his team against some exacting standards.
“Every game this pre- season, the players have worked really hard and they’ve got themselves into the shape that we want to play, but as much as we didn’t get too despondent about the Chelsea result, we won’t get too high about this one,” said Smith after the Wycombe draw, as the manager even found a positive in accusing his team of gifting Chelsea all four of their second-half goals.
“Through pre-season, I’ve asked my players to pass the ball, and three of the goals came from trying to pass the ball. They’re maybe taking chances that ordinarily we wouldn’t take, but that’s my fault. The players are just doing what I ask, so I take responsibility for that.”
Awarded a contract after impressing against Chelsea – having scored the winner at Basingstoke the previous week – trialist winger Rhys Browne has typified Aldershot’s youthful combination of style and endeavour. However, as Spain U23 international and former Barcelona midfielder Oriol Romeu thrashed in a fine equaliser, to cancel out Jim Stevenson’s header, the Shots eventually bowed to a level of class greater than anything they will face in the National League.
The prolific Tammy Abraham grabbed two goals for himself to add to the 41 he scored for Chelsea’s youth team last season and, with Dan Thomas impressing in goal, Aldershot took a degree of solace merely from the fact that they had competed on an equal footing for 50 minutes.
Versus Wycombe, it was visiting keeper Matt Ingram who enjoyed a fine first half. Even though his side shaded possession, he still had to produce three fine saves to deny Browne, Dan Walker and Tom Richards, to maintain parity. He was, though, exposed on 54 minutes as a quick thrown-in invited Browne to wriggle to the byline and pull the ball back for a rejuvenated and unmarked Sam Hatton to slam a shot in from six yards.
Chairboys’ striker Garry Thompson missed a hat-trick of headers, but substitute Aaron Holloway eventually equalised on 80 minutes, directing a six-yard header past Smith after Michael Harriman and the lively Jason Banton combined down the right.
All of which left Smith declaring: “We go into the Gateshead game positive. The fans have seen what we’re capable of and with their support, we’ll do them proud.”
A new era dawns for Aldershot Town with a game which brings echoes of past glory – in new Gateshead manager and former Shots midfielder Malcolm Crosby – and Shots fans would appear to have the most reasons to be cheerful for several years.
Smith’s promises of attacking and entertaining football, played by a team giving its all, carries the steely ring of truth which is fast becoming his hallmark.