Saturday may have been the start of a new season but Aldershot Town picked up exactly where they left off in the league at the end of last season and collected a comfortable three points in a dominant display without ever having to get out of third gear.
Prior to the match in the press box the home media team were all in extremely confident mood about the game, we were told to expect an attacking 4-4-2 formation played on the front foot at a hight tempo. As opening fixtures go playing a promoted side away from home is never an easy game to navigate which in my opinion made the performance and result even more credible. This home optimism coupled with the fact that Aldershot had lost key personnel through the summer due to injuries and transfers (Benyu, Kanu,Mensah,Evans,Straker) meant that even I thought that the Shots would be in for a long afternoon against a side full of confidence with a winning mentality – how wrong I was to doubt.
Halifax did indeed begin very well in the opening 5 minutes with their wide men playing high and advanced and you could see the tactics were to get the ball wide and then into the box for the giant Denton (6″6) to attack. The catalyst for the win on Saturday in my opinion was triggered by Shots full backs Nick Arnold and Che Alexander who not only dealt very well defensively in their one on one duels with their respective wingers but they also intercepted key passes and were prepared to carry the ball forward and create attacking 2 v 1 situation for Aldershot in wide areas that Halifax were struggling to deal with. The consequences of these bursts forward in the opening 15 minutes won Aldershot the game as with the Halifax full backs being exposed they were forced to pull their wide men deeper to help them defend which almost immediately changed the shape of Halifax into a containing, deep, defensive 4-5-1 as opposed to the offensive, open 4-4-2 that we witnessed in the opening exchanges. I saw enough games last season to know that the minute you concede possession and territory to Aldershot you are asking for big trouble. As soon as Denton became isolated upfront on his own it gave De Havilland who I was very impressed with on his debut the licence to bring the ball out of defence unopposed and with him moving into midfield areas with the ball it created numerical overloads for Aldershot in these areas that Halifax could not get to grips with or adjust to.
In every system or formation that you can play in football they all posses strengths and weaknesses – the only negatives that the 4-2-3-1 formation gives Aldershot at times is that with just one striker and the opposition dropping deep due to the heavy possession that Aldershot enjoy is that creating genuine clear-cut scoring opportunities is often difficult and the main striker can become isolated with not much room or freedom to create chances, however if they were to play with another striker the negatives would far outweigh the positives as with that extra striker Aldershot would not enjoy the overload in midfield along with the width and depth that they have to their game which are a very strong part of the game.
This was demonstrated in the first half when for all the dominance all there was to show for it was a 25 yard curling shot from Bobby Joe Taylor that just went wide. At halftime I knew it was only a matter of time until Aldershot made the breakthrough and they duly ran out deserved winners. Again this team demonstrated good patience and they didn’t panick when all of the possession hadn’t seen them in front at halftime, they just stuck to the game plan and ground Halifax into the ground. The key moment in the game for me was unquestionably Shamir Fenlon scoring the opening goal which visibly lifted him and he looked a completely different player after his goal. Shamir has so much talent but it seems at times he is the only one that cant see it, I was told from a young age that if you don’t believe in yourself then no-one will! Shamir reminds me a lot of Kirk Hudson at times and if he can build on the last 30 minutes he produced at Halifax then he could become a key player and a match winner for the Shots this season.
The most pleasing aspect of the performance for me that was although there were numerous changes to the Aldershot starting eleven from the last competitve game away to Tranmere in last seasons Play Offs you would never have known it as all of the new players integrated seamlessly into the Shots style of play which is testimony to how well-drilled the team is and the work that goes in on the training ground.
Much tougher challenges and sterner tests await the Shots in the coming days, weeks and months but for an opening day fixture away from home when you are missing players through injury, adjusting to other departures and giving debuts to players in key areas it was a job exceptionally well done by Gary, James the staff and the players.