THE gloom is sadly growing at Plainmoor, as a painful 1-0 loss at Aldershot condemned the Gulls to their fifth consecutive defeat and we have to accept the club is facing a fight for our Football League survival.
It was a tense night in Hampshire and confidence is obviously low in the Yellow ranks, allowing Aldershot to secure a vital win in their own battle against the drop.
Troy Brown scored the only goal with seven minutes left on the clock and the Gulls simply must improve to rescue a very worrying situation.
United stand-in manager Shaun Taylor made one change from the 1-0 loss at Rochdale on the weekend. Nathan Craig was left out of the squad and replaced on the right flank by Billy Bodin, opening a space on the left for Danny Stevens.
The major inclusion on the Yellow bench was Irish midfielder Ian Morris, his first involvement since rupturing an Achilles tendon way back in September. Loan signing Elliot Benyon was again among the replacement options for Taylor.
Aldershot boss Dean Holdsworth shook up his side, despite an impressive 1-1 draw at high-flying Cheltenham on the weekend. Aaron Morris replaced the suspended Anthony Tonkin in defence, while Asa Hall came in for Jeff Goulding in attack. The midfield changes saw Kieron Cadogan and Adam Mekki preferred to Lionel Ainsworth and Peter Vincenti.
After a slow start, the Gulls won a corner, which was well delivered by Stevens for the near-post run of Ryan Jarvis, who needed just a little more purchase on his header to test Aldershot ‘keeper Jamie Young.
The home side showed their first intentions with a neat exchange between Jeff Goulding and Cadogan, but the final shot from Goulding, released by Cheltenham last month, was woefully scooped over.
As the game developed, United worked a couple of decent positions in the wide areas but failed to produce sufficient quality with the cross to trouble the Aldershot defence.
The Gulls then had a decent shout for a penalty waved away by referee Mick Russell. Bodin got the wrong side of his man and looked to be bundled over by a clumsy challenge, but the muted appeals were swiftly dismissed.
In truth, the tension of the evening took over in the early exchanges, as neither side looked willing to flirt with any serious risk. The mindset of must-not-lose was prevalent throughout and United were playing their part with a solid start in the defensive areas. When Aldershot did threaten to breach the Yellow backline, Daniel Rose was guilty of a horrible finish from a decent position.
Michael Poke was finally called into action just after the half-hour, producing a fantastic save to deny a glancing header from the dangerous Goulding. It was a crucial intervention from United’s number one and perhaps a wake-up call to the forward players wearing Yellow.
And wake-up they did, as United swept up the other end to create their own big chance. A terrific header from Jarvis smacked against the post after an excellent free-kick from Kevin Nicholson, and the rebound somehow evaded the onrushing Rene Howe.
The game had suddenly come alive and a superb corner from the Shots picked out the run of Oliver Risser, who, mercifully, made a complete hash of his header to allow the Gulls a fortunate escape. Any sort of decent touch from the Namibian midfielder and United would have gone behind.
Proceedings sadly returned to the default position of a tentative affair for the closing minutes of the first period but the Yellow optimist would say Aldershot were there for the taking.
Holdsworth decided to twist at the interval, introducing Hylton for Goulding at the start of the second-half but the Gulls were first to muster, as an excellent through-ball from Bodin was just cut out by Aaron Morris for the Shots.
United were presented with a glorious opportunity to score that vital goal when Howe broke clear for a one-on-one with Young. Hesitancy, however, proved pivotal, as the leading scorer for the Yellows delayed his shot and Aldershot were able to make a rescuing challenge. The rebound fell to Stevens, who was also thwarted by a desperate block.
It was hard not to think that the Gulls had fluffed their lines and it was yet another example of a missed chance; frustratingly, the story of 2013 for the boys from Plainmoor.
After that flurry of activity, the game settled back into an evening of gentle sparring between two sides desperate not to lose. There was little doubt that a draw was a better result for the Gulls but the three points were still available.
As if he was listening, United’s outstanding performer on the night, rampaging right-back Daniel Leadbitter, set out on a raid down his wing and should have been awarded a free-kick after a poor tackle by Aaron Morris.
The game was plodding to a goalless draw and Holdsworth turned to Craig Reid, who scored a hat-trick in Aldershot’s 4-3 defeat at Plainmoor earlier this season. The man withdrawn was Hall and moments later, Vincenti replaced Mekki for the Shots.
Within seconds, Aldershot wasted a great chance to win the match. Hylton was positioned perfectly from an inviting free-kick but he aimed his effort straight at Poke, who did well to keep the scores level.
The Gulls were now living a charmed life, as a fizzing drive from Risser flashed off the bar with Poke beaten for the first time of the night. Taylor swiftly responded by removing for Stevens for Ian Morris.
Painfully for the Yellows, Aldershot were in front before the new man had barely touched the grass, as another home strike hit the bar and the rebound was forced over the line by Brown in the midst of a mass of bodies.
As the minutes ticked away, United continued to look impotent in attacking areas and it was hard to argue with the fact the better side won on the night.
Aldershot [4-4-2]: 21 Jamie Young; 2 Ben Herd, 5 Troy Brown, 23 Sonny Bradley, 4 Aaron Morris; 17 Adam Mekki [11 Peter Vincenti 77], 12 Oliver Risser, 31 Daniel Rose; 28 Kieron Cadogan, 24 Asa Hall [20 Craig Reid 73], 26 Jeff Goulding [10 Danny Hylton H-T]. Substitutes [not used]: 6 Olly Lancashire, 14 Anthony McNamee, 19 Terrell Forbes, 29 Glenn Morris [GK].
United [4-4-1-1]: 1 Michael Poke; 12 Daniel Leadbitter, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 15 Billy Bodin, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 18 Craig Easton, 19 Danny Stevens [11 Ian Morris 83]; 8 Ryan Jarvis, 9 Rene Howe. Substitutes [not used]: 6 Damon Lathrope, 13 Martin Rice [GK], 14 Lloyd Macklin, 16 Angus MacDonald, 21 Thomas Cruise, 26 Elliot Benyon.
Booked: Mansell 77, Howe 89
Referee: Mick Russell