After a special night, is more Shots history coming?By Jon Couch
March 29, 2012
IT WAS a night marked as a celebration of football in Aldershot – and it certainly lived up to its top billing.
Twenty-seven of the greatest players ever to have put on the red and blue of Aldershot came from far and wide to mark the 20th anniversary of the former club’s tragic demise on that fateful day, March 25th in 1992.
Welcomed by a lump-in-throat combination of the Irish Guards and the loyal Shots faithful, the legends were given the full five-star treatment, and rightly so, as the town was taken on a nostalgic trip down memory lane with each personal introduction during the half-time interval.
“It’s great to see the old lads again, that you’ve played with and you've managed,” said Len Walker, who took part in more than 1,000 games for Aldershot as a player or a manager.
“We’ve been chatting about many happy memories here, although, personally, I will never forget the two promotions, firstly when I was captain in 1972-73 under the late Tommy McAnearney, and then as a manager in 1983-84. Happy days.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since that sad day. It flies by, doesn’t it, but it doesn’t surprise me to see the club back in the Football League, it was always going to.”
It is fair to say that, either as player or manager, Walker has never been far away from the highest of highs or the lowest of lows at this proud club – and it was fitting that he was there to witness more history being made on Tuesday night (March 27).
Peter Vincenti’s solitary strike against Bristol Rovers two minutes before the half-time entertainment secured a third straight 1-0 success for the Shots’ new brigade and helped extend the club record of successive home wins to six.
Indeed, it is now just one goal conceded in seven matches at the EBB Stadium for Dean Holdsworth’s men, who are beginning to raise more than just the odd eyebrow in the frantic race for a play-off place.
Holdsworth, though, is going about his business quietly and, by using the classic footballing cliche of taking one game at a time, is making sure no-one gets carried away.
“We know what we are achieving but what's important is that we keep level-headed and not expect too much,” the Shots boss said.
“I can't look any further than the next game. We are edging closer to that play-off position but it’s important now we focus on Shrewsbury on Saturday and then Port Vale after that.
“It was fitting tonight to see the guys who are part of this club’s history coming back, but our history is in front of us now.
"Football is about togetherness and being part of something special, we’ve had great occasions and we want more of it.
“There are some good sides in our division who we respect but when we find the quality we are a good side too and we are showing we are hard to break down.”
There was no greater example of that quality than in a frantic final minute of stoppage time when a late Rovers corner prompted a desperate goalmouth scramble, culminating in an instinctive save by keeper Jamie Young and Darren Jones clearing off his goal-line – not once, but twice.
“Our desire to put bodies in the way and keep that ball out of that net was fantastic,” Holdsworth added. “It sums up where we are at the moment as a group of people.
“We had the third best defensive record in the league before the game and I told the players that wasn't good enough – I want the best. And as long as they carry on showing that desire then 1-0’s will win us football matches.”
"Anything can happen"
If the 2,870 who showed up were already spoiled by the return of a plethora of former favourites and the pre-match entertainment, then a rather uninspiring first half would have left them a little underwhelmed.
Possession-wise there was very little to separate the sides and there was precious little in the way of shooting opportunities to crow about either. The football was crisp enough but confined mainly to the middle third.
Aaron Morris, making his 50th start for the Shots, squandered, perhaps, the best chance of the half with a 20-yard snapshot which just drifted over.
So, it came as something of a pleasant surprise, therefore, when the Shots broke the deadlock two minutes before the break.
Guy Madjo worked himself into a shooting position on the edge of the box but just as he delayed his shot, ran into a brick wall in the shape of a grounded Cian Bolger. The ball, however, wriggled free from Bolger’s midrift to Vincenti, who buried a shot into the corner from 15 yards.
Rovers posed more of a threat after the break, especially after bringing on livewire frontman Mustapha Carayol.
First he fired inches wide with a 25-yard drive, then started the move which led to the excellent Sonny Bradley being forced to bravely get in the way of Jim Patterson’s stinging effort.
But Holdsworth played his own trump card in Josh Payne, who similarly made his mark with two fine pieces of skill which came close to wrapping up the points – first testing the reflexes of Scott Bevan with an exquisite chip, then fizzing a free kick from all of 30 yards just inches wide.
But, as the legends sitting in the directors’ box would no doubt testify, it would not be Aldershot without a dramatic twist late on, and Holdsworth had his heart in his mouth as Mark McGhee’s Rovers laid siege in added time.
But not for the first time either this season, the Shots rearguard held out to claim another high-profile scalp.
So, is there a chance that the Shots could squeeze into the play-offs? Well, if anyone should know, it’s Walker.
“They're improving all the time, they've just got to keep doing that,” the legendary boss said. “These days when there’s three points for a win you’ve always got a chance for the play-offs, wherever you are.
“If you can get a little run going at this stage of the season then literally anything can happen.”
ALDERSHOT: Young, Herd, Straker, Jones, Bradley, Morris, Brown, Mekki (Doughty 63), Vincenti (Risser 77), Hylton, Madjo (Payne 63). Subs: Smith, Sinclair.
Ref: Michael Russell. Att: 2,870 (555).