21 February 2015
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Alfreton Town were once again left to reflect on defensive deficiencies as they twice shot themselves in the foot in going down 3-2 to relegation rivals Aldershot Town at the Impact Arena.
The Reds had the boost of a fourth-minute lead courtesy of a well-executed John Johnston volley, and despite surviving a barrage of visiting corners in the first 35 minutes, the sending off of left-back Niall Heaton for a professional foul led to Nicky Law’s side conceding two goals within a minute before gifting a third goal five minutes into the second half.
A superb Karl Hawley goal reduced the arrears but even after the visitors also had substitute Josh Scott sent off late on, Alfreton could not find a point saver.
The result means the Shots are now eight points clear of the bottom four and with just twelve games to go, the relegation places realistically look like they will be filled by four from six teams with Alfreton remaining fourth from bottom.
Reds boss Nicky Law made three changes to the side which had lost at Braintree Town the week before. He boldly handed a starting debut to nineteen-year-old defender Aaron Bentley just a day after he had joined the club on loan from Plymouth Argyle. Bentley replaced Jordan Keane and partnered Lathaniel Rowe-Turner in central defence.
Midfield players Tom Shaw and Lee Stevenson were rested to the bench with striker Joe Ironside called in for a first start since signing from Sheffield United in mid-January and a change of formation from 4-4-1-1 to 4-4-2 whilst Anthony Howell was recalled to the left side of midfield.
Another midweek signing, former Leeds United midfield player Simon Lenighan, had to be content with watching an absorbing game from the bench.
After Jason Mooney had saved superbly with his legs to deny the lively Andre McCollin from close range, Alfreton swept downfield and took the lead on four minutes.
John Johnston burst forward on a long run and won a corner from which his own heavy touch ended with Joe Ironside getting up highest to head the ball back down and Johnston’s well-executed volley looped over Aldershot keeper Phil Smith to nestle inside the far post.
On a pitch which cut up early, both sides tried to get the ball down and play it down the respective right flanks and Ironside did well to create space but saw his low shot easily saved by Smith.
Aldershot hit back with a flurry of possession and won five corners, four of them in quick succession, the last one of which ended in a free-kick to the Reds for a foul on Mooney.
Aldershot won two more corners in quick succession after Sam Hatton’s powerful shot was deflected behind by Lathaniel Rowe-Turner and in their next raid Matt Saunders fired eighteen yards wide from eighteen yards out in the eighteenth minute.
The hosts hit back to win their second corner when Karl Hawley’s persistence on the left byline enabled him to cross for Johnston at the far post but Saunders beat him to it to head behind for a corner which was easily cleared.
Aldershot went close to an equaliser on 32 minutes when Alfreton failed to clear, McCollin pulled off a terrific overhead kick twelve yards out and home keeper Mooney’s instinctive save with his arm thankfully deflected the shot for a corner.
Two minutes later McCollin burst onto a clearance from an Alfreton free kick and sped away from inside his own half. He reached deep inside the home penalty area but clipped his shot tamely past the near post.
Alfreton suffered a major blow on 37 minutes when Niall Heaton was sent off after tripping Ryan Jarvis just inside the penalty area, the former Bradford City player deemed correctly to be the last man despite it looking no more than a clumsy challenge as he fell.
Sam Hatton thumped the resultant spot-kick home on 39 minutes to equalise for the visitors.
Brett Williams replaced Jarvis who was injured in winning the penalty and promptly put Aldershot 2-1 up literally 30 seconds after coming on. He latched onto a long ball over the top and finished with an accurate low ten yarder to complete a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for Alfreton and the visitors.
Alfreton were denied an equaliser when Shots keeper Smith got down brilliantly to keep out a close range Hawley header after Luke Graham had headed down a Bradley Wood free kick.
The half closed out without further incident and left the Reds with a huge task on their hands in the second half.
Reds boss Nicky Law changed his defence around to compensate for the loss of Heaton with Rowe-Turner dropping in to left back, Wood going to right back and Graham partnering Bentley in central defence but it was Aldershot who had the first chance of the second half with Williams firing wide.
The visitors were gifted a third goal on 50 minutes when Bentley and Mooney both left a hopeful ball forward ball to each other, Mooney made a late bid to snatch it but only succeeded in directing it into the path of Sam Hatton who gleefully steered home his second of the game from close range.
Alfreton reduced the arrears on 54 minutes with a stunning 16 yard shot from Karl Hawley who created half-a-yard of space before rifling home a firm low shot into the far corner of the net.
There was a let off for Rowe-Turner on 56 minutes when he was robbed on the edge of the home penalty area by Jordan Roberts but the Aldershot man could only fire tamely at Mooney.
Williams then required treatment for the visitors but Alfreton continued to give possession away and as they struggled to clear their lines, Hatton curled a 20 yarder past the far post.
Alfreton had another let-off on 66 minutes when a Roberts corner from the right saw Mooney’s attempted punch clear spin back towards his own net and he was rescued by Rowe-Turner’s header off the line.
Luke Graham threw himself in front of a Jim Stevenson shot after the visitors swiftly broke from an Alfreton corner.
Alfreton boss Law made a triple substitution on 71 minutes with Joe Leesley, Andi Thanoj and Tpm Shaw replacing Johnston, Bradley and Howell respectively.
Williams was denied a second goal of the game by Graham who put his body on the line, throwing himself in front of a powerful shot on 75 minutes after the Shots man had skinned Bentley and got a clear sight of goal.
Alfreton had big shouts for a penalty turned down on 79 minutes, referee Holmes being unmoved after Ironside appeared to be pushed over deep in the area by Jaydon Gibbs.
Aldershot substitute Josh Scott was then red carded for inexplicably elbowing Luke Graham on 82 minutes and both sides were down to ten men.
Sam Hatton picked up the game’s first yellow card on 86 minutes for time wasting over a free kick and seconds later Ironside picked one up for trying to block a Smith clearance kick.
Alfreton poured forward in the latter stages and Tom Shaw’s overhead kick unfortunately arrowed straight into Smith’s hands before the Reds went close again two minutes into four of added time when a deep free kick from keeper Mooney was flicked on by Ironside and the ball fell just the wrong side of the far post.
In the final raid, Smith was visibly grateful to snatch the ball out of the air as Alfreton threatened from a long Rowe-Turner free kick.
With a very tough-looking last six games, the next six are of paramount importance for the Reds.
Alfreton Town Team:
20 Jason Mooney
02 Bradley Wood
03 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner
05 Luke Graham (c)
10 Dan Bradley (21 Andi Thanoj, 71 mins)
11 Anthony Howell (12 Tom Shaw, 71 mins)
18 Joe Ironside
23 Karl Hawley
26 Niall Heaton
27 John Johnston (24 Joe Leesley, 71 mins)
29 Aaron Bentley
Substitutes not used:
08 Lee Stevenson
25 Simon Lenighan
Aldershot Town Team:
01 Phil Smith
12 Jaydon Gibbs (10 Tristan Plummer, 92+2 mins)
05 Glen Wilson (c)
06 Chris Barker
03 Sean McGinty
07 Sam Hatton
19 Jim Stevenson
18 Matt Saunders
14 Jordan Roberts
17 Ryan Jarvis (09 Brett Williams, 40 mins)
21 Andre McCollin (11 Josh Scott, 77 mins)
Substitutes not used:
13 Dan Thomas
16 Tom Richards
Alfreton Town – John Johnston (4), Karl Hawley (54)
Aldershot Town – Sam Hatton (39, penalty and 50), Brett Williams (40)
Alfreton Town – Joe Ironside (88) unsporting conduct
Aldershot Town – Sam Hatton (86) time wasting
Alfreton Town – Niall Heaton (37, professional foul) Aldershot Town – Josh Scott (82, violent conduct)
Man of the Match: Luke Graham
Referee: Adrian Holmes of Castleford