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Stokes, Tolaj and Barham - The Non League MSN?

Publish Date:09/11/2023
Fact checked by: James Leeland

High-Flying Aldershot

It is no secret that Aldershot Town have been a surprise to many so far this season, with Tommy Widdrington’s side occupying the final play off place in the National League after having finished in 18th place last term and just five points above the relegation zone. In their last 10 competitive games, the Shots have only lost two games and drawn one and are currently on some of the best form in the league. This season has also seen the emergence of a new strike force for Aldershot with the trio of Joshua Stokes, Lorent Tolaj and Jack Barham combining to score 25 goals between them in all competitions for Shots. Most recently, the trio combined to score six of the seven goals their side scored in the incredible 7-4 victory away to League Two Swindon Town.

Shock win at Swindon

That victory away at the County Ground was one that surprised football fans across the country as not many gave the Shots a chance against a Swindon side that have been the entertainers so far in the fourth tier. The team from Wiltshire have seen a whopping 61 goals scored in their games so far this season and have built a reputation up around England of being involved in notoriously high scoring games. Shots boss Widdrington will have seen the FA Cup first round game as somewhat of a free hit and undoubtedly will have been ecstatic with how his side performed. Aldershot were on it from the first whistle, with Barham netting the opener after just 23 seconds as he tucked home Stokes’ whipped ball into the box.

It was two just moments later when Swindon ‘keeper Murphy Mahoney misjudged a long ball over the top, allowing Barham to nip in and he then lofted the ball in excellently into the far corner from a tight angle. It was then Stokes’ turn to get on the scoresheet as Tolaj’s intricate flick in the penalty area found the youngster who swept the ball into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 after just nine minutes. On the stroke of half time it was four, with Tolaj controlling Tyler Frost’s lofted through ball on his chest before firing emphatically into the far corner from the edge of the area. Shortly after half time, Cian Harries made it five from the penalty spot, dispatching into the middle of the goal after the energetic Stokes was felled in the box.

Just four minutes later, it was 6-0 after a fantastic strike on the half volley from Tolaj who did brilliantly to hold off his man on the edge of the are following Stokes’ headed flick on. It would be Barham who would finish off the scoring for Aldershot, netting his third and their seventh when he headed Ryan Glover’s cross in from close range. With only 58 minutes on the clock, Aldershot were miraculously seven goals up away at a team a division higher than them. The only negative for boss Widdrington will have been that his side managed to switch off in the closing stages of the game and concede four goals, allowing the score line to make the game look closer than it actually was and somewhat flatter Swindon.

Josh Stokes

Aged just 19, young forward Stokes has been a revelation for Aldershot so far this season with the teenager netting nine goals in all competitions this season. He caught the eye in the upset against Swindon, most notably for the creative side of his game as his ability to bring others into the game and create opportunities was so good for someone so young. A product of the Ipswich Town academy, Stokes joined Sudbury aged 16. He made his debut there in 2021 in an FA Cup fixture against Dartford and would continue to impress ast season as his 16 goals helped his side win promotion and saw him named Fans Player of the Year last season.

Lorent Tolaj

Swiss forward Lorent Tolaj, like Stokes, was a summer acquisition, with the 22 year old signing from Premier League side Brighton. Having come through the ranks at Swiss side Sion, Tolaj was snapped up by Brighton as a teenager. Several unsuccessful loan moves to Cambridge United, Salford City and Dundee followed, before the Swiss striker joined Aldershot in the summer on a one year deal. Since then, he has hardly looked back, chipping in with nine goals in all competitions for his new side and impressing with his work off the ball too.

Jack Barham

Compared to Tolaj and Stokes, Jack Barham is the more “experienced” Aldershot player having signed for Shots in March of this year rather than the summer like the other two. The 27 year old was signed from Maidstone United for an undisclosed fee, where he scored 28 goals in 69 appearances, including 18 in their National League South title winning season of 2021/22. Prior to his time at Maidstone, Barham struggled to find any regular football and found himself moving between clubs in and around the National League South. Since joining Aldershot though, Barham has been a man on form, scoring two goals in the closing stages of last season and finding himself currently on an impressive tally of seven goals so far this campaign.

 

If their three main men continue to fire on all cylinders then it would be silly to rule Aldershot ouf of finishing in a play-off place. It is only a matter of time before all three forwards find themselves on double figure goals for the season. The only struggle for Shots this season will be keeping hold of their star trio until the end of the season, as clubs in higher divisions are bound to sit up and take notice of their excellent scoring performances.

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