Oldham Athletic will host their first National League game of the season at the weekend when they welcome Aldershot Town to Boundary Park.
Oldham and Aldershot couldn’t have had more contrasting starts to their respective league campaigns last weekend. Oldham suffered a majorly disappointing 4-0 defeat at Southend United whilst Aldershot enjoyed a comfortable afternoon with a 5-2 win over Oxford City at the Recreation Ground.
David Unsworth will certainly be looking for an emphatic response from his side on Saturday, and they will have to be especially against a side who have kicked off their season in style.
The Oldham boss already will have some decisions to make early on this season with Dan Ward suffering an apparent hamstring injury on his debut against Southend, meanwhile Will Sutton saw himself sent off after a dangerous challenge.
A shuffle around could be expected in the line-up come Saturday afternoon, making it a challenging start for Unsworth who will have to rally his side for the second fixture of the season.
Aldershot’s 5-2 win to open the campaign was the perfect start for Tommy Widdrington’s men, who laid down a marker for the rest of the competition this season.
A Lorent Tolaj brace helped The Shots past Oxford, in which both of his strikes came at the end of each half, with his first being particularly crucial to restore his sides two-goal cushion.
Jack Barham and Haji Mnoga both already equalled their goal tallies from last season with goals in the first half, whilst Josh Stokes scored the fourth, capping off his impressive showing arriving at the right place to tap home before being substituted just prior the hour mark.
The opener got to see four players make their debut for Aldershot. Cian Harris, Stuart O’Keefe, Kwame Thomas and Theo Widdrington all got the nod in the starting team, whilst Coby Rowe is yet to don the shirt after being unused as a substitute.
Oldham do have a good omen to hold onto ahead of the fixture however, going unbeaten against Aldershot in the 2022/23 season, with the 2-1 win at Boundary Park a particular highlight where Hallam Hope scored a late winner.
The upcoming meeting did prove to be a tight battle last season, and being so early in the season, with all sides tussling for momentum, it still remains all to play for.
Now whilst Aldershot didn’t have much success against Oldham last season, their new Swiss signing has already got up and running for the Shots in front of goal.
Tolaj is a talented 21-year-old centre forward who has proven to be a good goal scorer at this level, scoring 27 times in his 47 appearances playing as a centre forward, particularly
impressing at his time with Brighton and Hove Albion’s U18 squad and FC Sion’s U18 squad.
Tolaj completed a free transfer from Brighton after a series of loan spells which included time at League One side Cambridge United and League Two side Salford City, before more recently completing a full season in the Scottish Championship with Dundee United.
The Swiss forward has certainly got off to a clinical start with his new team, and he and Aldershot boss Widdrington will hope he can produce a clinical season that could get them into a promotion place despite their being huge ground to make up from the last campaign.
In the hot seat
Widdrington will take on his first full season as Aldershot manager after joining on April 3 of this year and will certainly look to preserve his unbeaten record as boss for as long as he possibly can.
The Englishman took over the final six games of the 22/23 season at the Recreation Ground, winning two of them and drawing four, which has been followed up by an emphatic win to open the 23/24 campaign.
The Shots boss has enjoyed spells with Coventry City and Bristol Rovers as chief scout, before taking over as caretaker manager at Bristol for two brief spells at the end of 2020 before returning in February 2021.
Widdrington then took on his first managerial role at National League North side King’s Lynn Town in which he endured a solid few seasons at the club although it began with a disappointing relegation in the National League in the 21/22 season.
He then however secured an impressive second placed finish in the 22/23 season in the National League North, but King’s Lynn unfortunately missed out on promotion, with defeat in the Semi-Final of the playoffs.
During his time at the club Widdrington predominantly utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation particularly in his first season before using a 3-5-2 in his second, which he has seemingly reverted to this campaign albeit in a slightly different structure.
Oldham can expect a well-structured and organised side who have the capability to score at will when at their best under Widdrington, whose King’s Lynn side led the league in goals scored in the National League North last season.
Widdrington will now hope he can lead Aldershot to a massive improvement on the last campaign and can look to start building momentum against Oldham on Saturday.
The referee will be Jamie O’Connor, who will be assisted by Jonathan Chadwick and Mark Ryder whilst the fourth official will be Francis Sibley.