United were beaten at Aldershot this afternoon in a dramatic game that had just about everything. Trailing 2-0 and reduced to ten men, United came back to make it 2-2 before a late header from Jeff Goulding gave the Shots all three precious points in their quest for survival.
United had reshuffled the pack to bring Simon Heslop in to the side on the right of midfield, allowing Alfie Potter to play just off Tommy Craddock up front. Those preparations were disrupted inside five minutes though when Shots captain Ben Herd caught Sean Rigg, who hobbled off with an ankle problem, meaning Luke O’Brien took his place on the left of midfield.
United were looking comfortable despite the change, but on 13 were behind as Aldershot’s first real attack ended in a controversial opener. Craig Reid, once a trialist with the U’s, found space on the right side of the box and fizzed in a low shot/cross. Jake Wright tried to block, Shots forward Paul McCallum stuck out a leg and the ball went beyond the stranded Luke McCormick. Damian Batt did all he could to clear from on the line but lineslady Alexandra Ihringova signalled a goal and referee Brendan Malone sided with his assistant. United protested but to no avail and the U’s were a goal behind.
The goal visibly lifted the home side who started to chase lost causes and close United down. Peter Vincenti surged through the middle of the defence and forced McCormick to save bravely on 23 and for a while the U’s needed to sit tight. They did get the ball in the net on 31 as Craddock ran clear and finished only to be denied by an offside flag; it wasn’t offside but Aldershot did stop playing before Craddock put the ball in.
The U’s ended the half with a flowing move down the right between Heslop and Batt which ended with the latter’s cross being headed over the bar by Potter from 15 yards but the passing hadn’t been crisp and the battling Shots had stopped United from putting together too many moves like that in the first half.
With one eye on getting the ball out wider Heslop was replaced by James Constable at the break, allowing Potter to move to the right, but instead it was the home side who used the width to their advantage to double their lead on 49 minutes. Sub Adam Mekki raced down the right with Liam Davis a yard behind. Mekki did the right thing and waited until he was well inside the area before cutting across Davis, leaving Mr Malone with an easier decision for the second goal. Reid sent McCormick comfortably the wrong way from the spot to make it 2-0.
United needed to hit back and test Aldershot’s nerve, and on 65 did just that. JP Pittman, on up front as United went for broke, was sent flying by a rash challenge from behind on the edge of the box. Davies accepted responsibility against his former club and lashed a low shot through a poorly assembled Aldershot wall and into the net off keeper Worner’s legs. 2-1 and tension rising among the home fans, desperate to retain their hard-earned Football League status.
That goal set up a fascinating last quarter of the game and home hearts were in mouths as Constable turned on 71 but dragged his shot well wide from the edge of the box. United's task was made more difficult on 77 as Michael Raynes wrestled Vincenti to the ground on half way and was shown a second yellow, leaving the ten men to try and retrieve the situation in his absence. Two dangerous crosses very nearly did that soon after, before Pittman made it 2-2 in dramatic fashion on 86. Davis flicked on and the sub buried his chance from fifteen yards.
It had taken great character for the U's to come back but Aldershot were not about to give up and on 87 they were back in the lead as Goulding flicked a header up and over McCormick from a free kick to make it 3-2. Having started the afternoon four points adrift this was a must-win game for the home side and to win it in that fashion will give them great hope in their battle ahead.
Inevitably they got nervous in the four additional minutes and United threw everything they had at them but just could not find an equaliser again. An amazing game but one you suspect Shots fans will remember for longer than the excellent 477 in the away end.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, Stats by PA Sports
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