Brave Shots suffer more last-gasp heartacheBy Graham Brookland
March 11, 2013
IT WAS a case of deja-vu for the ardent 127 Aldershot Town fans who made their way up to West Yorkshire on Saturday.
After experiencing the frustrations of a heartbreaking exit from the FA Cup at Middlesbrough in the seventh minute of injury time in January, Bradford City’s Alan Connell added a further minute onto that to stroke home from the penalty spot and hand the Bantams a last-gasp equaliser in Saturday's League Two clash.
Despite the obvious disappointment in conceding so late, this was an important point for Andy Scott’s Shots in their quest to move away from the danger zone and preserve their Football League status.
Even more impressive was that his side showed tremendous battling qualities under extreme and testing circumstances after losing two players through injury in the build-up to the match.
Top scorer Danny Hylton suffered a knee injury in training on Thursday and was hobbling around Valley Parade on crutches, while left-back Anthony Tonkin was also ruled out with a knock.
Scott moved quickly in the loan market on Friday to acquire the services of teenage striker Paul McCallum from West Ham United.
But his plans suffered a further blow when goalkeeper Jamie Young, who had made a string of fine saves to keep the Shots in front, was forced off in the 70th minute after being clattered while attempting to clear the ball.
And to make matters worse, Scott then lost captain Ben Herd to what looked to be a serious injury, although Shots' medics are hopeful it was only a bout of cramp and expect Herd to be fit for Tuesday night's visit of Burton Albion.
Just a fortnight before, City were making history as the first fourth-tier side to compete in the League Cup final at Wembley, backed by more than 33,000 supporters.
Valley Parade, as it remains infectiously known by the locals, is still a cauldron of noise and an intimidating arena for League Two football.
Indeed four of the players on the bench for the home side actually started that League Cup final, which resulted in a 5-0 defeat to Premier League Swansea City.
Naturally, this was always likely to be Scott’s toughest test since his arrival as manager last month, but his team came through with flying colours.
Young made some inspirational saves in the early stages, first scooping the ball away from Zavon Hines before executing a fine one-handed save to deny the former West Ham United winger's diagonal cross-shot.
The pressure, as expected, was relentless. Defender Rory McArdle, who netted against Aston Villa on the way through to the Wembley final, was a constant threat at set pieces and midfielder Gary Jones a menace from long distance.
But for all their possession in the first half, City could not break through the determination and strength of their opponents who were eager to extend their unbeaten record to six games.
Then, in first-half stoppage time and certainly against the run of play, Valley Parade was silenced.
McCallum won a free kick on the left-hand side midway inside the City half. McArdle was duly booked for the offence and from the resulting kick, Kieron Cadogan floated the ball into the danger zone and watched as the ball dropped into the far corner of the net.
After the break there were opportunities to catch Phil Parkinson’s men on the break. Indeed just a touch more quality in the final third and a second goal was on the cards. McCallum was just unable to turn Craig Reid’s centre from the right on target as the home crowd showed signs of impatience.
Then Young was withdrawn from the contest. Despite protesting that he wanted to carry on he certainly looked groggy and in no fit state to continue. He was taken to hospital as a precaution and replaced by Glenn Morris.
The 29-year-old Londoner was making only his fifth appearance for the Shots since his arrival last year but he has more than 200 appearances behind him for Southend United and Leyton Orient and certainly earned his corn with a point-blank stop to deny Carl McHugh before an impressive injury-time save stretching fully to his right to gather the ball from Connell’s 25-yard effort.
It was, however, perhaps fitting that the final act of this intriguing encounter fell to Connell to convert from the penalty spot after fellow substitute Kyel Reid was impeded.
The former Swindon Town striker did change proceedings after coming on with 13 minutes remaining.
He received an enthusiastic welcome from the home faithful when he entered the field of play and did not disappoint, causing all kinds of problems playing an industrious role behind the two strikers.
Connell's penalty strike was still cruel on Scott’s men though.
Speaking to the News & Mail afterwards, Shots boss Scott said: “We were so close at the end and a touch of indecision cost us with the penalty.
"Our battling qualities were superb though and we couldn’t have asked for any more from the players.
"Under the circumstances it is another point towards what we require to move away from where we are in the table.
“It is a decent result but when you get so close it feels disappointing. But they are a good side and that is why they have done so well this season.
"They have tremendous strength in depth which we haven’t got. But what we do have is heart, commitment, organisation and a group of lads who are desperate to do well for each other.”
ALDERSHOT: Young (G Morris 70), Herd (Lancashire 78), A Morris, Forbes, Bradley, Risser, Rose, Vincenti, Cadogan, McCallum, Reid (Hall 87). Subs not used: Mekki, Stanley, Goulding, Ainsworth
Referee: Richard Clark. Att: 10,397 (127 from Aldershot).