Sonny shines for Aldershot Town by the seaBy Jon Couch
October 25, 2012
SHADOWED by his baseball cap and dimmed floodlights, the tracksuited Dean Holdsworth nonchalantly emerged from the players’ tunnel at Roots Hall on Tuesday night, ready to address the waiting press.
But what was to come was more than just a run-of-the-mill post-match interview after the 2-1 win at Southend United – it was the moment we saw a glimpse of the real Dean Holdsworth.
Suave and sophisticated, it’s fair to say that Holdsworth plays the role of Mr Cool perfectly. Male model, TV star and Premier League icon, he’s pretty much done the lot.
But after watching his team draw blood, sweat and tears in bringing an end to his worst-ever losing spell as a manager, thus saving his so-far unblemished reputation, proud boss Holdsworth was almost lost for words.
Danny Hylton’s skilful opener after just 25 seconds and Sonny Bradley’s clincher three minutes from time – coupled with a brilliant penalty save from Jamie Young to deny Freddy Eastwood – helped end Aldershot’s seven-match losing streak and capped a memorable night for the much-relieved and joyous travelling faithful.
But it was the passionate and spirited all-round performance of his Aldershot bravehearts – in the face of such criticism and adversity – which ultimately left the clearly-emotional Shots boss literally holding back the tears afterwards.
“It was more than just a game tonight,” Holdsworth quivered. “Those three points mean so much to me, my staff and to the people that have worked so hard in the face of criticism, and lots of it. We’ve stood up and been men tonight, we were absolutely fantastic.
“The only way to answer the criticism is through performances on the pitch and I’m delighted for the players. It is the first time in a long time that we’ve scored first and then come back to win the game and that answered my question about their character and I’m delighted for them.”
And it clearly meant a lot to the fans also – the 100 or so that braved the trip to the seaside when an eighth straight defeat could easily have sunk them to the foot of the League 2 table.
As it was, they were rewarded for their loyalty with three hard-fought points and mementos to saviour after the players hurled their shirts over the barrier amid jubilant celebrations while the most apt of songs, The Farm’s Altogether Now, was being played over the tannoy.
“Steve [Francis] the kit man was getting too comfortable so we thought we’d give him a bit of work to do,” joked proud captain Ben Herd. “Seriously though, giving the fans our shirts was a token gesture from the lads to show our appreciation to the fans who have continued to support us.
“It’s not easy in this current climate but they have still turned up to support us through the bad times. They've been fantastic and this is for them.”
Determined Holdsworth’s response to Saturday's disappointing 3-0 home defeat by Rotherham was to haul the squad in for an extra bonding session on Sunday, while the under-fire boss himself dusted down the boots to join the players in the pre-match warm-up. He clearly meant business.
Indeed the new philosophy took next to no time to reap their rewards. Hylton, playing in an orthodox wide right position, collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area, weaved his way through three half Southend challenges before burying a shot into the far corner to the delight of the Shots bench.
And it was almost 2-0 just a minute later when Herd floated a free-kick into the box and Peter Vincenti’s glancing header was palmed away by the alert keeper Paul Smith.
Vincenti then missed an even easier header 11 minutes later after being given the freedom of Roots Hall to meet Danny Rose’s corner but failed to make sufficient contact and the wide ran well wide.
The onslaught didn’t stop there. The excellent Vincenti found Craig Reid with a ranging pass out right, Reid skinned left-back Ryan Cresswell for pace, cut inside but his near-post shot saved by Smith’s legs.
The increase in intensity was evident right through the side, from Anthony Tonkin’s perfectly-timed cover tackle which denied Gavin Tomlin a route to goal to Young's brilliant fingertip save to deny Kevan Hurst's 20-yard effort which was destined for the top corner.
Southend couldn't possibly be any worse after the break but it was only the early introduction of fans’ favourite Eastwood which the sparked the Shrimpers into life, although even then, the Shots were more than holding their own.
In fact it was the visitors who went closest to adding to the scoreline – Rose's ball into the box, flicked on by Troy Brown for Vincenti at the far post but his volleyed effort was somehow kept out by Smith.
But just when they looked like comfortable, disaster struck. Hurst's cross from the right was swung into the near post and Mark Phillips strayed clear of his marker to head home into the top corner.
Suddenly the Shrimpers tails were up and the Shots had an altogether different task on their hands. Holdsworth responded by reverting back to a five-man midfield, bringing on Adam Mekki for Reid and it almost paid immediate dividends when lone target man Michael Rankine played in Rose, who wriggled free in the box but shot agonisingly wide from 15 yards.
There didn’t seem any danger until the 80th minute when the tricky Britt Assombalonga turned inside Tonkin, who clumsily lunged gently into him.
Referee Darren Sheldrake pointed to the penalty spot, but Eastwood’s kick to the right corner was brilliantly turned round the corner of post and bar by Young.
And what a crucial save it proved to be. Six minutes later, Rose’s corner from the right found Rankine, his header was cleared off the line by Sean Clohessy only as far as Bradley, who headed home the rebound through a crowd of players to the delight of the visiting fans behind the goal.
A nervy four minutes of added time ensued, but at last the draught had come to an end.
Seven straight defeats spread over 35 pain-staking days, resulting in a slump into the relegation zone and Holdsworth’s future hanging by the thinnest of threads.
Now, thankfully, those days are over and the Shots can go back to Essex on Saturday to face Dagenham & Redbridge with confidence restored and that winning formula in hand.
ALDERSHOT: Young, Herd, Tonkin, Morris, Brown, Bradley, Rose, Vincenti, Hylton, Rankine, Reid (Mekki 71). Not used: Rodman, Anderson, Cadogan, G Morris, Cooksley, Munns.
Ref: Darren Sheldrake. Att: 4,600