Super Slabber sees Spitfires into playoff spot


Blue Square Bet South

Report by Jamie Montigue

EASTLEIGH: Matthews, Smith, Poate, Riviere, Jordan (c), Holland, Adeniyi, McAuley (Gillespie 76), Slabber (Bennett 82), Taggart, Graham. Subs (unused): Sharp, Barfoot, Osman.

Goals: McAuley (18), Poate (54), Slabber (55, 65 pen).

Eastleigh secured back to back wins and climbed to fifth in the in Blue Square Bet South league table, following an impressive home victory this evening.

The Spitfires now occupy one of the playoff positions, and this is where they will want to be, come the end of the season - just as they did two years ago (2008/2009). There is still a long way to go in this campaign with 17 games and 51 points to play for. Ian Baird’s side must navigate some very tricky games against teams also in the mix for promotion and playoff contention in the coming weeks; these games include leaders Braintree (Saturday 19th Feb), Dover (Monday 21st Feb), Farnborough (Monday 28th Feb) and Chelmsford (Saturday 5th March), who will all be paying a visit to the Silverlake Stadium in quick succession in the next few weeks.

On this Valentines evening in torrential conditions, the Spitfires took on St. Albans looking to build on their 2-1 success at Basingstoke Town at the weekend.

The only enforced change to the starting line up for the hosts saw Brett Poate come into the side for a rare start following a long injury lay-off to replace the injured Luke Byles at left back.

An exciting opening to the game saw both sides have opportunities in the early stages.

Richard Graham put in a solid performance from the first whistle where he terrorised his marker, David Deeney consistently throughout the night with his skilful and attacking dribbling down the left flank. With just two minutes on the clock, Graham skipped past Deeney as if he wasn’t there, only for his cross to be just too deep for Tony Taggart at the far post.

Ross Dedman failed to trouble Jason Matthews at the opposite end in the fifth minute, with his shot from the edge of the area always rising over the cross bar.

Three minutes later, St. Albans had a claim for a penalty turned down by the referee as Peter Smith was sent tumbling in the Eastleigh penalty area.

Shaun McAuley was just as lively as Graham and produced a great attacking threat both when operating as a winger (when he interchanged with Taggart), and playing just off Slabber as a second striker. In the tenth minute, McAuley cut in from the right and fired a low shot marginally wide of the target.

The end to end action continued as Matthews had to be on his guard to deny Dedman in the 12th minute. St. Albans had broken down the left with Eastleigh's defence static and appealing for offside. The ball found it’s way to Dedman at the far post but the Eastleigh stopper made an important save with his legs to keep the scores level.

Only a minute later, the deadlock was broken resulting from a poor Eastleigh throw-in, which saw St. Albans regain possession cheaply before making the hosts pay by finding the net. INIH EFIONG had plenty of time in front of goal to steal in unattended and turn a neat finish past Matthews following a simple cross from the left.

As the rain continued to pour, and in conditions far from favourable – Eastleigh fought back from a goal behind to almost instantly hit back with a reply. Richard Graham had an effort cleared off the line just a minute after the Saints’ goal.

The chances kept coming within minutes of each other, this time Jamie Slabber had a good opportunity to test the keeper but nodded just wide of goal from Graham's inviting cross from the left.

In the 18th minute, Eastleigh got their just rewards as SHAUN McAULEY capped a fine, sweeping move from the Spitfires to equalise. Working the ball from the back from right to left, the approach play was excellent and all on the floor as Eastleigh continued to keep possession and build an attack up the pitch. Brett Poate and Richard Graham combined down the left with further passes with the latter drilling a low cross into the danger area. Graham’s delivery was cleverly dummied by Anthony Riviere in the centre and McAuley rounded off by finishing emphatically from 10 yards.

Midway through the half, St. Albans’ goal scorer Effiong raced into the Eastleigh 18-yard area, rounded the keeper but went to ground too easily as the visitors had another shout for a penalty correctly rebuffed.

Meanwhile Richard Graham continued to tease and torment Deeney, who he turned inside out before whipping a dangerous cross to the back post that just needed a touch to take advantage. Nine minutes before the break, Graham was inches away from putting Eastleigh ahead. Tony Taggart sprayed the ball out to his left before Graham beat his marker and curled a powerful shot just over.

Soon after, St. Albans’ Sean Shields looked offside but the flag stayed down as he bore down on goal in a one on one situation - only to be kept out by Matthews, who made the save.

HALF TIME: Eastleigh 1-1 St. Albans City

After the break, Chris Holland had the first strike at goal in the second half as Tom Jordan flicked a header into his path in the 51st minute from a free kick. Holland brought the ball under control before unleashing a well-struck right-footed effort that whistled past the post.

Ian Baird’s side were about to change the game in their favour within a matter of minutes as the Spitfires raced into a 3-1 lead with two goals in the space of two minutes.

BRETT POATE scored his first goal of the season with a sweetly struck free kick from 25 yards. The power on the shot was unstoppable as the ball flew into the bottom corner at some speed.

Having just taken the lead, the Spitfires went one further to open up a two-goal advantage only a minute later. JAMIE SLABBER ensured his name was on the score sheet for the fifth game running as the target man displayed neat footwork in the box before firing towards goal with his right foot. The shot took a slight deflection as it sailed over the keeper’s head, but there was never any doubt that it was the in-form striker’s goal – his fifth in as many games.

A minute shy of the hour mark, Anthony Riviere – who was later announced as the Eastleigh FC Executive Club’s Man of the Match – teed up Peter Adeniyi who struck the ball well from distance to force Paul Bastock to palm the ball over the bar for an Eastleigh corner.

Matthews made a save to deny Shields in the 62nd minute, before that man JAMIE SLABBER was at it again! The leading goal scorer was brought down by Bastock leaving the referee no choice but to award a penalty kick in the 65th minute. Slabber stepped up and confidently found the net to add his second of the night and Eastleigh’s fourth. His scoring record this season continued – this was remarkably Jamie’s sixth goal in just five games and the striker’s seventeenth of the season.

Tempers flared after Shields caught McAuley with a late challenge that went unpunished. Eastleigh’s frustration was evident at the decisions that followed, one of which lead to St. Albans reducing the deficit. DAVID DEENEY pulled a goal back straight from a free kick from a long way out that saw the ball ghost past a crowd of players and into the net. 4-2 - the goal only proved to be a consolation as Eastleigh’s inspired start to the second half had done all the damage.

There were late run-outs for Richard Gillespie and Justin Bennett. Bennett had a chance in the 88th minute as Graham’s cross sat up nicely in the centre, but the on-loan striker couldn’t quite hit the target with his header.

Chris Benjamin raced through down the left for the visitors a minute from time, but angled his shot wide of the far post, with Matthews covering his angles well.

Eastleigh saw out the five additional minutes of stoppage time, and had the last attempt of the game when Riviere fed the ball to Taggart, who in turn fired straight at the keeper.

A valuable three points for the Spitfires.

FULL TIME: Eastleigh 4-2 St. Albans City


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