Eastleigh 0-1 Oxford United

EASTLEIGH v OXFORD UNITED
TUESDAY 24th JULY 2007

Pre-Season Friendly


A further pre-season test for the Spitfires, watched by a crowd of 449, saw Jim Smith's Oxford United narrowly edge out a 1-0 victory.

The U's of the Blue Square Premier, a league up from the one Eastleigh play in, were made to look rather ordinary at times with both sides putting up a good contest but it will be David Hughes and co. who can take heart from yet another decent display – this time without seven first team regulars.

James Pullen, Jamie Brown, Andy Forbes, Chris Collins, Chris Piper, Warren Ryan all missed out due to various injuries, it would appear that the well-known injury curse is starting to hit out again at large! Rob Marshall was also unavailable for selection.

In light of the injury 'crisis', Wayne Shaw started between the sticks making his first Eastleigh appearance for many months, meanwhile Danny Smith appeared in the unorthodox position of right full back alongside makeshift centre half Andy Harris, and Karim El-Salahi, starting his first match since his close-season op.

Phil Cousins was drafted into the centre of midfield, and the vacant forward role left by the injured Forbes, meant Justin Bennett teamed up with Steve Watts to lead the attack. Both of whom, got through the full 90 minutes.

In the early stages of the game, it was indeed Eastleigh who looked the brighter side with two decent attacks within minutes of the first whistle.

Ellis Green who put in a stunning performance against Portsmouth, not quite a week ago, again worked his magic from the off with trickery on the right hand side before delivering. The ball went right to the other side, to the left flank, where Damian Scannell followed up the attack with a tormenting nutmeg on Matty Day, before winning a free kick for his troubles just outside the penalty area.

Nothing came of it, but already the lively Eastleigh wingers made their presence known, displaying their undoubted potential to cause havoc against any defender.

Two minutes later, and a terrific ball out from defence and down the left channel from El-Salahi with one, almost effortlessly spray of the right boot, found Scannell once more who again took on his marker, showing the full back a clean set of heels, cutting inside, before dragging a weak shot wide of goal.

Still inside the opening 10 minutes, and Eastleigh continued to dominate possession almost, or at least have more of the attacking play in front of goal than their counterparts, who as yet had failed to trouble Wayne Shaw.

A clumsy challenge by Luke Foster, chopping Green to the floor as the Eastleigh winger skipped past to win a further free kick. Half cleared initially, Phil Cousins headed the ball back into the box to find Steve Watts hovering around the penalty spot area. The former Fisher forward swivelled, meeting the ball with a shot on the spin that sailed harmlessly away from goal, towards the corner flag. Even so, the threat remained constant from the home side.

United's first goal threat of the game came about as the result of an uncharacteristic back pass from El-Salahi, leaving Shaw in a tricky position. Struggling to get to the ball at first, the giant sized keeper slid in just at the right moment, to hook away from danger as Robert Duffy bore down on goal looking to punish the mistake.

Ed Hutchinson rose high to meet an inviting cross from Day, with a decent header on 16 minutes, only to see the attempt fly comfortably over the bar.

Then, came a horrid sight for all Eastleigh supporters. To add to the growing injury list, Damian Scannell pulled up with an ankle injury, a little over a third of the way into the half. Worrying times for the Eastleigh management team who really could do without the loss of such key players. Darren Wheeler took to the field as Scannell's replacement, who was unable to continue.

The injury jinx did not cease, with Danny Smith the next to go down in pain – fortunately he was able to shake it off, albeit with a face displaying grimace, and continued.

Short of the half hour mark, Wayne Shaw literally sprung into action to deny Oxford an opener with a splendid flying save to his left to claw a certain goal-bound shot from Michael Standing, away from danger in true style.

The ball found its way back into the penalty area in an instant, where Duffy found himself just eight yards from goal penetrating the panic-stricken Eastleigh defence. Shaw had come several yards off his line to claim, but miscalculated, leaving Duffy an empty net. Were it not for a timely intervention from Danny Smith, whom it has to be said looked unusually comfortable in an unaccustomed role, to poke the ball away from danger, Oxford would certainly have had the advantage then and there.

Eastleigh, after their lively start were increasingly becoming under pressure by the second. Michael Standing drilled wide of the post from close range in the very next attack, and shortly after, not for the first time in the game, a Hutchinson header narrowly missed the target.

Surviving this spell of possession football from the visitors, Eastleigh had a shot of their own through Phil Cousins who pulled the trigger from the edge of the area, Billy Turley making the save diving low to his right.

Another injury scare for the Spitfires, with the half coming to a close, saw Ellis Green receive lengthy treatment before being given the all clear to return to the action.

One player in particular, that shone in the first half for David Hughes' men was by far and a long way Justin Bennett. Whenever involved in the action, the slim-build forward impressed at every opportunity whether it be with his exceptional ability to evade tackles, his silky, dribbling ability or his hold-up play, keeping possession for his side and bringing the play further up the field.

Marvin Robinson, Oxford's powerful and ox like target man had penalty claims turned down on 41 minutes, following a clash with Eastleigh skipper Andy Harris.

Robinson's strike partner, Duffy had a perfect opportunity to strike just seconds later, as he was presented with a delivery that sat up at the far post. Slightly off-balance, perhaps, the U's forward failed to capitalise, not even troubling Shaw with his header from a matter of yards.

An unforced error in the Oxford back line meanwhile, saw utter confusion and lack of communication as both Luke Foster and his keeper, Billy Turley, went for the same ball – leading to a heavy and unnecessary touch to concede a late corner kick.

Green's delivery was up to his usual high standard once more, as Anthony Riviere flung himself at the cross. Evading the former Fisher central midfielder by a matter of inches, the ball landed at the far post where 'KES' thumped the ball right back into the danger area. Again, Riviere looked to turn the ball goal wards, but failed to connect with the pace on the delivery, and goalless it remained at the break.

HALF TIME: Eastleigh 0-0 Oxford United

Eastleigh made two changes at the break.

Young keeper, Jonathan Pearce, who has recently moved to the area for his studies at Southampton University, having previously been on the books of Stevenage Borough; replaced Wayne Shaw between the sticks.

Andy Puckett, centre half who spent the 2006/7 season on loan at Andover along with Adam Roberts and Jack Smith, completed the only other substitution as Karim El-Salahi made way.

The second half saw Oxford look to stamp down their authority, but as they had already found out, Eastleigh were extremely resilient and tough to break down.

Five minutes into the half, a cross from the left, which saw Pearce's attempt to collect the ball at the edge of his area, fall flat on its face, as Ed Hutchinson pounced on the dropped catch, side footing towards the empty net. Andy Harris, spared the keeper's blushes, positioning himself between what was an an empty goal split seconds earlier, and the ball, to deflect behind with a crucial save.

It took almost ten minutes before Eastleigh conjured up their first attack of the half. Danny Smith's ball in from the right sat up nicely for Cousins, the latter miscueing his shot, watching on as the ball sailed high and wide.

Darren Wheeler, despite his critics, had thrived on the opportunity of impressing since Scannell was forced out of the action early on, put his electric pace to exceptional use, getting to the byline before sending over cross after cross. His latest picked out Watts, but full credit to the substitute keeper who narrowed the angle to make the save.

A solid tackle from the increasingly astute right back Danny Smith, was followed by even better vision with an exquisite ball over the top. At first glance it looked as though Justin Bennett would latch on to it without problem to find himself in the clear, however out rushed the sub keeper to come to the rescue for Oxford.

Eastleigh's live wire, Bennett, wasted little time in searching for his next opportunity, as he turned his man, leaving him for dead before firing high over the crossbar, a very decent effort all the same.

After a moments pause due to Oxford United's three substitutions, the Spitfires produced an exciting move with Ellis Green at the heart of it. Running fearlessly at his opponent, Green showed his marker to his inside before teeing the ball up for Anthony Riviere. Striking the ball cleanly and firm it would seem the ball was destined to find its way to the back of the net, and deservedly so if it had, however the slightest of deflections took the shot off course and behind for a corner kick.

Eastleigh then had a spell of hanging on tight for a short spell. On 69 minutes, Pearce got a taste of this as he was made to produce a fine, reactive stop, with his legs to deny Standing at the back post, who attacked Joel Ledgister's dangerous ball across the face of goal.

A further change for Eastleigh saw Jack Smith replace Phil Cousins. Obviously, Jack being a right back, Danny could then revert to his preferred central midfield territory.

Time ticking down, Oxford finally broke the deadlock through GARY TWIGG, who had been on the pitch a matter of minutes.

A strong tackle by Riviere on the edge of the area cut out the immediate threat, only to cruelly fall directly into the path of Twigg. Looking suspiciously offside, (a good couple of yards), the U's forward, fired past the helpless Pearce, giving Oxford what turned out to be the deciding goal.

Ed Hutchinson was extremely fortunate to only have been playing in a friendly this evening, regretting his horrid challenge on Ian Oliver. Willie Bull, the referee, chose to only confront the player, being fully lenient on this occasion, seeing as it was a pre-season friendly only.

The game petered out slightly, the next action proving to be the last of the evening's proceedings. Darren Wheeler turned on the style with a super fast dribble to get past three to four defenders before unleashing a drive, a full 35 yards from goal.

The equaliser did not come in the end, but just as the Portsmouth friendly had gone, Eastleigh in no way disgraced themselves with defeat. Far from it, putting up a good fight and impressing all round the park with decent individual performances as well as a collectively, sound all round team effort.

FULL TIME: Eastleigh 0-1 Oxford United

JAMIE MONTIGUE



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