Shots deliver a sucker punch in Gulls' fight
IT WON'T HAPPEN, but goalkeeper Jamie Young will be a happy man if, over Aldershot Town's last 13 games of the season, he has as much work as Torquay United gave him at the EBB Stadium (aka the Recreation Ground) on Tuesday night.
Rochdale's Josh Lillis is probably still feeling the same, after he had to make only one serious save in his team's 1-0 win at Spotland last Saturday.
The most worrying fact, and a top priority for new 'interim' manager Alan Knill, is that United have scored only once from open play in their last seven matches.
This was their fifth successive defeat, and the only thing for increasingly desperate Gulls fans to cheer on Tuesday – there were 263 of them at the Rec – was Northampton Town's equaliser at bottom club AFC Wimbledon.
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United are still 19th in League Two, but they are now only five points above the drop-zone.
Rochdale weren't very good. Aldershot, with all due respect, would never have beaten the Torquay team which gave them a three-goal start and still won 4-3 at Plainmoor back in August.
In fact, for most of a match dictated by fear, both sides looked as if they would be happy with a 0-0 draw.
Neither team looked remotely like scoring for the first 20 minutes, even on one of the best pitches left in the lower divisions.
United's assistant manager Shaun Taylor made just one change from the team beaten at Rochdale.
In came Danny Stevens on the left wing for Nathan Craig, with Billy Bodin switching to the right.
Aldershot boss Dean Holdsworth left his three top scorers – Danny Hylton, Peter Vincenti and Craig Reid – on the bench!
Finally, in the 32nd minute, United goalie Michael Poke had to dive to his right to pull off the best save of the match, tipping an Oliver Risser drive round the post.
But that near-miss did spark United into finishing the first half on top, and in the 34th minute they should have scored.
Rene Howe's header from a Bodin cross hit the inside of the left-hand post, rebounded across the goalmouth but dropped for Aldershot to scramble clear. It could have gone anywhere.
Holdsworth sent on Hylton for Jeff Goulding at half-time, but six minutes into the second half United had another chance to score the goal that might have made a difference.
Craig Easton's pass sent Howe clear, but the ball seemed to get stuck under his feet as he was about to shoot and a combination of Young and Sonny Bradley managed to block him and a follow-up effort by Stevens.
It was the only time that Young had to make a proper stop.
Hylton forced Poke to a good save with a hook-shot from a cross by right-winger Kieron Cadogan.
A point wouldn't have been a disaster for either team in their circumstances, but midway through the second half Holdsworth decided that he had to go for more.
He sent on Reid, who had scored a hat-trick at Plainmoor, for Asa Hall, switching from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2. Then he took off left-winger Adam Mekki and introduced the taller Peter Vincenti.
Aldershot visibly moved up a gear and started to go for it.
Risser hit the bar with a screamer from 25 yards, and Aaron Downes did well to deflect Reid's follow-up shot behind.
Taylor swapped Ian Morris for Stevens in the 83rd minute, a remarkable achievement for the Irishman less than five months after he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
But Morris had been on the pitch for only seconds when Aldershot scored.
Cadogan took a corner from the left, Vincenti's first header hit the bar, but the ball flew across the face of goal for defender Troy Brown to head the rebound home...1-0.
Brown's joy was so unconfined that he hurt himself in the celebrations behind the goal and eventually had to be helped off, leaving the Shots to finish the match with ten men.
United, who still had Elliot Benyon and Lloyd Macklin on the bench, did not bring on another sub during the last eleven minutes of normal play and stoppage-time.
Howe, still playing as a lone striker, finally picked up a booking in the 90th minute.
United have now used up the two games in hand they held over most of their rivals, without gaining any points. The situation is serious, to say the least.
"People are angry, disappointed and asking questions everybody – if you have been in a dressing-room at a time like this, you will realise that it's not a good place to be," said Taylor.
"We wanted at least a point tonight, and we did have some good opportunities.
"If Rene Howe's header in the first half goes in – it hits the post and goes to them rather than us – who knows what might have happened.
"You just need a bit of fortune.
"I felt quite comfortable at 0-0, and the longer it went on they looked like they were more desperate than us.
"We were always in the game, up to the time they scored.
"We have been punched a few times recently, but the boxing match is still going on."