Not safe just yet - All to play for

EASTLEIGH V WESTON SUPER-MARE
SATURDAY 21st APRIL 2007

Conference South


The celebrations were put on hold for Eastleigh this afternoon as the Spitfires only managed a point and the way other results went, means Jason Dodd’s side will have to wait a little longer to ensure safety mathematically.
 
With two games left to play though, there is time enough to put this right, though this result has to go down as two points dropped due to the great opportunity against an out of form side.

Weston are now relegated, but with Bishops Stortford still in with a shout of a playoff spot, they will be coming to the Silverlake Stadium on Tuesday night with every intention of getting the points. Similarly, going away from home to Yeading on the final day of the season, will not be an easy game either, and so we see the fight is still on for Eastleigh as they seek out Conference South survival.

Stuart Douglas, who had scored three goals in four games for the visitors in previous weeks, was unable to play on his return to the Silverlake Stadium because of a thigh strain. A welcome return for him all the same.

For Eastleigh, they were without David Hughes who had a migraine and a bad eye, but both Karim El-Salahi and Steve Watts returned to the side after being deemed fit to play.

After an abysmal 3-0 home defeat on Wednesday to Braintree, Eastleigh had a lot weighing on their shoulders to put that behind them today.

Eastleigh got off to a horrid start after being hit with an early blow from their visitors. In just four minutes, Craig Loxton’s cross from the right was met by a perfect glancing header from GARETH HOPKINS, under little pressure.

Moments before Jamie Brown was smothered inside the penalty area, the former Magpie on the receiving end of aggressive pushing and tugging, yet the referee didn’t spot the foul.

Eastleigh in need of a response looked well off the pace and quite frankly short of confidence. Their first attempt saw Andy Forbes blaze Danny Smith’s short free kick miles over the cross bar with his left foot.

It was a poor start for Eastleigh and they still couldn’t settle with James Pullen’s nervous kicking close to causing disaster. Andy Harris also hoofed the ball ludicrously towards his own goal when nerves desperately needed to be settled.

Tarkan Mustafa did his best for the cause with his determined run from right back to get past Leon Hapgood before chipping a looping shot towards goal, which the Weston goalkeeper, Ryan Northmere, watched safely over the crossbar.

Next, Steve Watts flicked a header narrowly wide from Darren Wheeler’s ball in, though it wouldn’t have mattered as the flag was up on the far side.

Briefly, there were signs of better things to come with a swift move up the front. Andy Forbes knocked it wide to Brown who delivered from the right only for Watts to flash his header comfortably over the crossbar. A neat interchange, better football, but still no end product.

The game continued to be played at a frantic pace with so much at stake for both sides and James Pullen was penalised for a handball outside the area, the referee brandishing a yellow card. From the resulting free kick Andy Gurney curled a measured shot against the woodwork, the ball coming back off the cross bar with Pullen struggling to get across.


Darren Wheeler won a free kick after being tugged back by Craig Rand, the Weston centre half finally picking up a yellow card following a string of fouls. The free kick, near the corner flag on the far side, proved to be a waste as Eastleigh failed to beat the first man.

An uncharacteristic error from Karim El-Salahi saw the young centre back sell Pullen short with an off colour back pass as Mark McGregor intercepted. Eastleigh fortunate to get away unpunished on this occasion.

At the other end meanwhile, El-Salahi nodded comfortably over the cross bar from a corner on the right, one which Steve Watts did a terrific job to win initially.

It had taken Eastleigh an awful long time to get going, but with time running down in the first half they managed some goalmouth action to really threaten for the first time in the game, as Watts latched on to Forbes’ pass, finding the back of the net. The assistant referee had his flag up though, and the goal never stood.

Andy Harris’ long throw to the back post shortly after, saw Andy Forbes’ good header fly towards the top corner but Northmere was underneath it well to thwart the danger.

Super-Mare’s first shot since their early goal produced a good save from Pullen diving at full stretch to his left to prevent Gurney’s drive from distance picking out the far corner.

Ian Oliver then picked up a nasty knock, as a result of Craig Loxton’s clumsy challenge on the edge of the area, leaving the Eastleigh full back in need of treatment for a bloody nose. Following the injury time, a relatively poor first half was brought to an end.

HALF TIME – Eastleigh 0-1 Weston Super-Mare

So, in need of a much livelier second forty-five, Eastleigh went all out to get themselves back in the game.

Early on, Watts’ headed flick on saw Weston defenders Gurney and Rand collide, before Northmere recovered to save his side with Andy Forbes lurking.

Five minutes later, and a similar header on, this time by Forbes, saw Gurney panic once more to miss the ball completely. Watts looked to make the most of the mistake, turning well and winning a corner from his snapshot.

Following this, Loxton the real handful of a winger who created the goal for Weston in the first half, nearly got a goal of his own with a lovely piece of skill to evade a challenge before firing inches wide of Pullen’s goal.

Then came the equaliser. Darren Wheeler galloped up the park with a promising run before being impeded by Sam Bailey, who was cautioned, to earn his side a free kick in a decent position to the left of goal. Andy Harris floated it in towards the far post where Chris Collins knocked the ball into the centre with a lovely pass to pick out STEVE WATTS on the goal line who had the easiest of finishes to tap home.

It was now the visitors who were completely rattled and frustrated, this demonstrated by Sam Johnson, a second half substitute, shoving Pullen to the ground to deservedly pick up another caution.

Eastleigh were finally a lot brighter, more assured and positive as they tried to keep their opponents on the back foot.

The game came alive again just after the hour mark when Andy Forbes had a shot turned behind for a corner in desperation. What was to follow was even better. A stunning piece of individual skill from Eastleigh’s top marksmen saw him skip past the Weston full back before hitting a sweet strike that looked destined for the far corner.

Ryan Northmere was well beaten, and the only thing that stopped Eastleigh from taking the lead was a brilliant header from the skipper Andy Gurney to clear the danger.

There was continued pressure from the Spitfires, Darren Wheeler’s great knock over the top for Brown their next threat to score. Brown got his head up to spot the keeper off line, but couldn’t take advantage with his weaker foot with the visitors looking shaky.

Moments later Andy Harris was brought to the floor following a strong run into the penalty area, however the referee Ian Cooper was in a good position and was happy with the challenge.

Weston survived another attack when Tarkan Mustafa’s dangerous cross from the right that was whipped in with both power and pace, but unluckily hit Steve Watts to roll out to safety.

The last of a whole host of attacks came from a long kick up the park by James Pullen. Brown flicked the ball on to his strike partner to create a promising opening but Andy Forbes provided an easy save for Northmere with a weak left foot effort.

Following this flurry from the home side the game almost appeared to dry up into a slow period of ten or so minutes.

Eastleigh made their only change of the match in the shape of Carl Wilson-Denis replacing the goalscorer Steve Watts with time running down.

Card happy referee, Ian Cooper punished Darren Wheeler with a yellow card for a dangerous sliding challenge on the near touchline. Had the match official spotted the hand ball just seconds earlier, Eastleigh would not have been so infuriated and the aftermath would surely have been avoided.

Into the last ten minutes, Carl Wilson-Denis created room for Jamie Brown who cut inside from the right and with his left foot, narrowly fired wide.


The Eastleigh fans in the main stand erupted due to the angle deceivingly looking as though the net bulged when in fact the ball had gone behind and it was all in vain.

Andy Harris produced the final drama of the game with a stunning curling effort from the edge of the area from Darren Wheeler’s short corner. It took an equally impressive save, right out of the top drawer, to deny Harris a fine goal and ultimately Eastleigh three points.

As we now know, there is still no guarantee of staying up just yet and two of our most important games follow this week as the season draws to a thrilling end with any one of six teams still facing the possibility of joining Weston and Bedford into relegation.

FULL TIME – Eastleigh 1-1 Weston Super-Mare

JAMIE MONTIGUE

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