West Bromwich Albion v Aldershot Town; The Hawthorns, Sunday 7th January 2024, 2pm
Albion take a much-needed break from league football for FA Cup Third Round weekend with National League side, Aldershot Town, the visitors to the Hawthorns. It is the second season in succession that the Baggies have been drawn against non-league opposition at this stage having been paired with Chesterfield twelve months ago. With injuries and AFCON having thinned out the already meagre squad, several U23 players will undoubtedly be involved in this match.
The Shots have progressed through three rounds of the FA Cup to get to this stage having beaten Lewes from the Isthmian Premier League 4-1 in the Fourth Qualifying Round, before a remarkable 7-4 victory at League Two Swindon Town in Round One. Round Two saw them drawn against League Two leaders, Stockport County, and after a draw at the Recreation Ground, they travelled to Edgeley Park and won 1-0 thanks to an 88th minute goal from Olly Scott.
The Hampshire club are enjoying a good season and are currently just outside the play-off places. They last competed in the play-offs in 2018 having dropped out of League Two in 2013 but they have been struggling in the lower half of the National League since then and only escaped the drop in 2019 when Gateshead were relegated for financial irregularities.
Carlos Corberán has indicated that this match will bring a host of changes to the starting line up and it wouldn’t surprise me if nine or ten of the eleven players are different to those that started at Swansea on Monday. The one that is likely to keep his place is Tom Fellows, and he was making his first start under the Spaniard in south Wales. In his pre-match press conference on Friday, the Baggies boss confirmed that Fellows would start, along with Caleb Taylor, Josh Griffiths, Erik Pieters and Pipa while Daryl Dike will also make his long awaited return but is likely to play only the first 45 minutes.
Martin Kelly and Adam Reach would have started but both are struggling with minor niggles and it could be that we see one of either Kipré or Bartley alongside Taylor given that Semi Ajayi has departed for AFCON. There are likely to be plenty of academy products in the squad with Jovan Malcolm in line for a start having been recalled from his loan spell at Cheltenham Town, and the likes of Harry Whitwell, Akeel Higgins, Fenton Heard and Josh Shaw in with a shout of at least a squad place. I would expect Nathaniel Chalobah to start to provide some much-needed experience in the middle of the park, and some much-needed minutes for the former Fulham man.
While the FA Cup may not be high on the club’s or supporters’ priorities this season, I’m sure that everyone will be anxious to avoid the ignominy of an exit to non-league opposition. That has only happened at the Hawthorns twice, the infamous defeat to Woking in 1991, that it is still talked about some 33 years later, and a 2-0 home defeat to Tottenham in 1903 when Spurs were still playing in the Southern League.
Having already beaten league opposition away from home twice, the Shots will be full of confidence and the knowledge that Albion are likely to field a team that is well below their best will only boost their belief. It will be a good test for the Albion youngsters in the side but, with a handful of experienced players alongside them, one would hope that the Baggies have enough to progress.
As can be deduced from the club crest, Aldershot Town are a phoenix club born out of the ashes of their predecessor, Aldershot FC, after the club was wound up in the High Court in May 1992, becoming the first Football League club to resign from the league in 30 years. Neither club has ever faced West Bromwich Albion in any competitive fixture, although Albion were Aldershot’s opponents for a testimonial match for Aldershot midfielder Murray Brodie played at the Shots’ Recreation Ground in April 1981 – for the record, the Baggies won the match 2-0 thanks to a brace from Peter Barnes, one of which was from the penalty spot, in front of just under 4,000 spectators.
The original club was founded in 1926 as Aldershot Town, but the “Town” was dropped when they were elected to the Football League in 1932 having won the Southern League title. They remained members of Division Three (South) until the new Fourth Division was created in 1958 and, after an 18th place finish, they were one of the original members of the fourth tier.
The Shots were promoted only twice in their entire Football League history. The first time was in 1973 when a fourth-placed finish under Tom McAnearney thanks to a 1-1 draw away to Stockport County saw them finish above Newport County on goal difference. Despite an 8th-placed finish in their first season in Division Three, their highest ever league finish, they would be relegated after just three seasons. In 1987, the Shots made history when they became the first ever team to be promoted via the new Football League Play-Offs – having beaten Bolton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-final, they then beat the other Wanderers, from Wolverhampton, in the two-legged final including a 2-0 win at Molineux.
This time they would last only two seasons in Division Three and were back in the fourth tier for the start of the 1990/91 season. Those of you of a certain age will remember that Albion were experiencing some issues of their own during that season and, after an FA Cup tie against another non-league side, manager, Brian Talbot, was sacked and, a couple of months later, his next job was in charge of Aldershot. The Shots started the 1991/92 season but their debts were mounting and Talbot resigned after just six months in charge and the club finally went out of business in March 1992 and their league results for the season were expunged.
The current club was created by a group of supporters and started the 1992/93 season in the Isthmian League Third Division and, a decade later, they won their fourth promotion to join the Football Conference in 2003, and ultimately to the Football League in 2008. They spent five seasons in League Two before being relegated back to the Conference in 2013 and soon after were in administration. New ownership was found and the club was saved and have remained in the fifth tier ever since.
This is the third time since that infamous defeat to Woking in 1991 that Albion have faced non-league opposition in Round Three. Last season, of course, they beat Chesterfield 4-0 in a replay after a 3-3 draw in Derbyshire while Tony Pulis’s first match in charge of Albion was a 7-0 victory over Gateshead when Saido Berahino announced himself properly to the Baggies’ faithful with four goals.
After dropping to the third tier, Albion faced non-league opposition in earlier rounds, beating Marlow 6-0 in Round One in 1991/92, Aylesbury United 8-0 in Round One a year later before defeating Wycombe Wanderers in a replay in Round Two in the Chairboys’ last season outside the Football League. The following season, despite promotion, they were still forced to play in the first round and suffered another defeat to a non-league side, Halifax Town, 2-1 at the Shay in Round One.
Before Woking, you had to go back to 1937 for Albion’s previous encounter with non-league opposition in the FA Cup – Spennymoor United were beaten 7-1 in Round Three.