Non League Daily

KEN GAUNT: Much to admire at Shots and Rovers

Remember Darren Carter? He was the 18-year-rookie who propelled his beloved Birmingham City into the Premier League in 2002 when he scored the decisive penalty in the shoot-out against Norwich at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Fast forward 13 years and Carter still has an eye for goal, albeit at a lower level and in front of a much lower audience that the 70,000 who witnessed that thrilling play-off final.

A dank autumn night finds him in Hampshire in front of 1,353 supporters who come to watch BT’s televised game between Aldershot and his new club Forest Green Rovers at the EBB Stadium, formerly known as the Recreation Ground.

In only his third start Carter opens the scoring with a clinical finish and the ambitious Gloucestershire side regain that winning mentality and their place at the top of the National League.

Not only that he puts in the hard yards - with further goals from Kurtis Guthrie and substitute Aaron O’Connor sealing Aldershot’s fate - and is named Forest Green’s man of the match.

Carter has a deal until the end of the season after being released by Northampton and joins a strong group of former Football League players, including Jon Parkin.

It has been a frustrating time for the midfielder and while waiting for the phone to ring at the start of the season, joined BBC WM as a pundit, covering Birmingham matches.

The pin stripe suit has now been replaced by a track suit and he appears to have quickly embraced England’s fifth tier.

As Aldershot manager Barry Smith put it: “Forest Green are top for a reason. They’ve got experience, which we have not.”

Chairman Dale Vince and manager Ady Pennock make a formidable pairing and this is no ordinary village side from Nailsworth. This is one with serious attitude and serious ambition.

And 49 fans made the 170-mile round trip to see their favourites.

The New Lawn is well equipped for a higher level. It holds over 5,000 spectators and incorporates a leisure club, gym, sauna as well as boasting conference and meeting facilities.

While Forest Green’s ambition of playing in the Football League for the first time remains intact, Aldershot, who were relegated in 2013, are nearer the foot of the table than top.

They are in a transitional period under Scottish boss Smith in his debut season and struggling for consistency.

Yet there is much to admire about Aldershot. They say the strength of a club’s support lies in their away following and at this level of the game they have few equals.

They took 249 fans to Torquay at the weekend and were rewarded with a victory. But perhaps a more impressive figure is the 100 stalwarts who made the trip to Tranmere on a Tuesday night.

The supporters are generous as well, dipping into their pockets to help raise £25,000 to rebuild two schools in Nepal following the devastating earthquake in the country in April. Club chairman Shahid Azeem commented: “It has been a magnificent effort by all concerned.”

Next up for Forest Green on Saturday is a home match against newly promoted Guiseley while Aldershot entertain Altrincham, a club with a proud record in the FA Cup.

Managerial duo Pennock and Smith will both be looking for three points but for vastly different reasons.

Article: Ken Gaunt
Images: www.actionimages.com

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