Saints deserve point in poor home display

EASTLEIGH v ST. ALBANS



SATURDAY 19th JANUARY 2008
Blue Square South

A dismal display from Eastleigh saw lowly St. Albans celebrate a well-deserved away point at the Silverlake Stadium. After going down 2-1 to Crawley Town last weekend in the FA Trophy, things did not go as well as can be expected for Eastleigh when a St. Albans side, struggling at the foot of the Blue Square South arrived looking to end a run of three straight defeats.

Eastleigh were without Andy Harris who was serving a one-match ban having picked up five yellow cards. The captain’s armband was therefore handed to Anthony Riviere. Chris Piper, who scored Eastleigh’s only goal last Saturday, was recalled to the starting eleven at the expense of Peter Adeniyi. There was also a starting place for Matt Hann who lined up against his former club.

The game itself was bleak, lacking the same sort entertainment we have seen in Eastleigh’s two previous games in the league that had seen an incredible tally of fifteen goals.

A late tackle early on from Scott Cousins left Matt Hann in a heap on the near touchline, which produced the first yellow card of the afternoon.

Mark Marshall wasn’t quite at his best today, probably due to a slightly heavy pitch which didn’t help his game, but nonetheless the electric pace of the winger was more than enough to keep the St. Albans right back, Dean Cracknell occupied. Beating his man twice, Marshall turned Cracknell inside out before his cross then won Eastleigh a corner kick.

A neat move down the left-hand side between Lee Clarke and Marcel McKie for the visitors looked promising until Warren Goodhind stepped in to intervene and break up the attack.

Eastleigh looked a little sharper with twenty minutes played as Hann played the ball through to Ashan Holgate to create a decent opportunity. The former Weston-Super-Mare forward has improved since being made available for transfer, and so nearly found a way through as he rounded the goalkeeper Nick Eyre smartly only for Cousins to get back well and clear the immediate danger.

This move came on the back of a half chance at the opposite end where Hamza Twomey tested James Pullen as he cut in from the right flank.

Three minutes later the Spitfires might have taken the lead when Anthony Riviere played a delightful pass over the top of the defence to pick out Andy Forbes. The advancing goalkeeper did just enough to distract Forbes who fired narrowly wide of the post on the half volley.

Eastleigh eventually found a way through and broke the deadlock through their top goalscorer. Luke Byles broke from defence through the middle of the park before finding the killer final pass to set ANDY FORBES free. The striker rounded things off finding the back of the net with precision and power from the edge of the penalty area. St. Albans may well feel disappointed that they had given Forbes so much time and space to pick his spot, which he did and buried the opportunity.

Prior to the goal, Simon Martin’s weak effort was of no trouble to James Pullen who showed a safe pair of hands.

Ten minutes before the break, David Hughes and Ashan Holgate combined down the right. The latter held the ball up with great strength to then tee up Riviere whose bursting run from midfield was met with a shot on target. A decent move that perhaps deserved more.

Simon Martin, who looked lively throughout the encounter, came closest to getting his side back in the game with a deft chip over the head of Pullen from close range, but the chance had been and gone as Eastleigh managed to scramble the ball away.

Chances were few and far between and only a moment of inspiration from Forbes was enough to give the hosts a slender lead going into the break.

HALF TIME: Eastleigh 1-0 St. Albans

Eastleigh appeared to press on at first, at a good tempo early in the second half but to no avail.

Adam Everitt had the chance to deliver from two or three corner kicks on the far side but failed to pick out a white shirt. Instead Eyre gathered calmly inside a packed penalty area, before Everitt’s next set piece went straight into the side netting.

The former Cambridge City left back was in the thick of things once more but gave away a needless free kick for going in with a high foot and catching Lee Clarke square in the face. Saints’ skipper was fortunate to come away unscathed from what looked like a nasty blow – whilst Everitt was lucky to have avoided a second yellow card.

St. Albans took the game to Eastleigh from this point forward and were by far the better side.

Simon Martin again came close as he took on Warren Goodhind but blazed over the cross bar on this occasion. It was looking all the more imminent that they would turn things around into their favour.

Sure enough, St. Albans got their just rewards with an excellent equaliser two minutes shy of the hour. A special individual goal from SIMON MARTIN saw the striker confidently, not to mention skilfully, side step past his marker keeping his composure and waiting for just the right moment to slot home.

Ashan Holgate was literally dragged to the ground close to the centre circle, by defender Ben Martin. Was it a goalscoring opportunity? Was Martin the last man? It was hard to tell but a yellow card was the outcome. David Hughes played the free kick early, rolling the ball to Chris Piper who drove the ball from all of 30 yards. The effort went comfortably wide of goal.

A bleak period in the game was to follow and maybe contributed to a tactical switch that saw Riviere move to right back with Piper taking up a position in the centre of midfield.

The visitors were extremely positive in attack and looked the more likely to conjure up a second goal.

Dean Cracknell fed the ball down the right touchline for Hamza Twomey. The St. Albans right winger did well to get into the penalty area but when he did, Everitt stood his ground to make an important tackle.

Eastleigh were caught short at the back once more and should have been made to pay. Clarke linked up with the attacking full back Cracknell, who cut open Eastleigh’s defence to find Simon Martin unmarked in front of goal. With the goal at his mercy, the goalscorer would have been disappointed to have not tested Pullen. Instead, the finish gave Ian Baird’s side a let off.

A dipping shot from Mark Marshall on a rare Spitfires attack saw the ball turned over for a corner kick, though predictably nothing came of it.

Jamie Brown and Peter Adeniyi were sent on in place of Holgate and Hughes with fifteen minutes to play in a bid to change the state of affairs.

Shortly after his introduction, Brown flicked the ball forward to Forbes whose shot was blocked and charged down but only as far as Hann who followed up with a low shot that deflected safely to the goalkeeper. A free kick was awarded, what for remains a mystery and Ben Martin was clearly unhappy with the bizarre decision as demonstrated by his dissent which warranted a second yellow card, therefore a red - and St. Albans were down to ten men.

The referee, Constantine Hatzidakis, somehow saw fit to produce a total of eight yellow cards in a game of football that didn’t seem to match up with that tally.

Two of those as described, were shown to St. Albans defender Ben Martin, who was dismissed thirteen minutes from time. Matt Gray was also sent from the Eastleigh dugout.

With a numerical advantage, Eastleigh sadly could not take advantage. Full credit to the Saints who might have gone on to steal all three points.

The closest Eastleigh came to finding a winner was from the free kick that resulted after Martin’s dismissal. Andy Forbes touched the ball to his right for Marshall but the man who netted a stunning goal from range against Bath City a fortnight ago, was unable to repeat that magic and fired high over the cross bar.

A draw felt like defeat for the hosts as the Saints ran Eastleigh ragged making them look second best for much of the afternoon. Certainly at no point did the visitors show any signs of a side deserving their status at the foot of the table.

It saddens me to say it, but on this showing it is hard to see how Eastleigh might realise their goal of promotion, but of course there is still plenty of time for this to change starting next week when we travel to Bognor Regis.

FULL TIME: Eastleigh 1-1 St. Albans

JAMIE MONTIGUE

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