Holden A Minute
In this edition of his weekly column, Mike Holden discusses what has caused Aldershot's poor start to the season, and why he expects Tuesday's victory at Southend to be the making of their season....
Shots should be having fun
A strange thing happened to me at around twenty-to-ten on Tuesday night. Amid the tension of the evening's climax on Gillette Soccer Special, I punched the air with delight at a last-gasp winning goal. Nothing over the top, but an unmistakeable show of happiness nonetheless.
Nothing too strange in that, you might think. But what if I told you I didn't support the team who scored, they weren't playing against hated local rivals, and I didn't even have any money riding on them? In fact, worse still, I bottled out of backing them and should have been cursing a missed winner.
It wasn't ordinary behaviour, but then it wasn't an ordinary goal. Aldershot were the team in question and it was a moment worth much more than three points to them. Sonny Bradley's late strike to beat Southend at Roots Hall might just be the pivotal moment in their season.
One can only begin to imagine the sense of relief manager Dean Holdsworth feels right now. He has tortured himself these past few weeks, trying every trick in the book to spark a repsonse from a talented young team whose confidence lay in tatters. It wasn't a monkey riding on his back, more like a gorilla.
How Aldershot are second from bottom after 14 games, I'll never know. The problem, most probably, has been the level of expectation resting on the shoulders of such a young team at the start of the campaign. Such a burden can weigh heavily but its impact on the Shots has been extraordinary.
Of course, the default stance of most punters is to mock the weak-willed. If a team hasn't got the stomach for a scrap, especially in League Two, then they deserve all that comes their way. No time for losers, as Freddie Mercury might say.
However, underachievement comes in all shapes and sizes and I believe this to be an exceptional case, whereby a lack of resolve is understandable. Aldershot operate off one of the smallest budgets in the basement, yet they choose to fight the good fight, developing talent and looking to play 'the right way'.
In terms of recruitment, Holdsworth has a clear strategy. Experience costs money, much more money than talent if you know where to look, so he plays the market like any value-seeking punter should. He cannot really afford to do much else, but he's a willing backer of lively-looking long-shots.
And, last season, the potential was there for all to see. The Shots reached the last 16 of the Carling Cup, beating higher division opposition in every round to secure a money-spinning glamour tie with Manchester United. Inevitably, it disrupted their league campaign but they finished in fine fettle, picking up 38 points from the last 20 matches, hence all the promotion talk in the summer that has done them no favours.
By Holdsworth's own admission, he has nurtured a team that lacks leadership but that's one of the many characteristics he is trying to teach the players as they go. As somebody whose playing career spanned 22 years, turning out over 600 times for 16 different clubs at six different levels, you imagine there's no better candidate to provide such an education. But sometimes progress comes at such a pace that important lessons cannot be taught quickly enough, and that appears to be the case here.
It's too late for Aldershot to mount any sort of promotion charge now but, all being well, the win at Southend will allow them to breathe normally again and climb the table. Once they start having fun, there's no doubt they can provide a lively proposition for punters looking to land some big prices against the movers and shakers of the division.
Read Mike Holden's weekly column every Wednesday at Best of the Bets.
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