Chelmsford City 1-1 Eastleigh

Saturday 13th October 2012

Blue Square Bet South 

Match report by Paul McNamara

This was just 12 minutes from being the perfect Eastleigh away performance.

After looking so vulnerable in recent matches the Spitfires were solid and extremely difficult to break down. The emphasis on tightening up, not only at the back but right through the side, came at the expense of some of the free flowing attacking play we’ve been treated to of late but that was a fair price to pay for the reward the performance earned.

There were few chances in the opening 45 minutes but the first fell to Craig McAllister who could only head wide when well placed in the Chelmsford box.

McAllister was causing a lot of problems in the Clarets defence as they struggled to handle not only his strength in the air but his physical presence. As has become customary the forward received little protection from the referee as he was regularly held and impeded.

The number 9 didn’t back down from the challenge all afternoon and he was a key figure as Eastleigh – understandably on this occasion – sought to move the ball forward quickly and eliminate any chance of possession being cheaply conceded playing from the back.

It was a day to avoid risk and show this team can compete away from home.

Eastleigh settled the better of the two sides with their superior work rate stifling the home team’s efforts to gain any foothold in the game.

Mark Hughes and Glen Southam were extremely disciplined in protecting a back-four that saw the only change to the team that beat Staines on Wednesday, Tom Jordan replacing the injured Andy Forbes.

Southam’s endeavour throughout was immense. He didn’t allow any of his opponents a second on the ball and chased and pressed high up the field never allowing the Clarets to feel settled.

The home side’s only consistent threat in the first 45 minutes came either through right-back Justin Miller’s long throws into the heart of the area, or when playing direct to the head of ex-Spitfires favourite Jamie Slabber.

Chelmsford were keen to work the ball to their wingers, Donovan Simmonds on the left and his right sided counterpart Anthony Cook but they were expertly marshalled, by Osei Sankofa and Michael Green respectively.

Both full-backs defended superbly, closing down quickly and stopping crosses into the box as well as managing to get forward when possible.

When Cook was substituted with 25 minutes remaining his frustration at his inability to make an impact boiled over as he stormed to the dugout and indulged in a mini-tantrum.

When in the final third Eastleigh were playing some impressive football and after a well worked move on the right half an hour in, Moses Ademola fired a long range shot just past the post.

The first heart-stopping moment for travelling Spitfires fans came after 36 minutes when Mark Hughes conceded a free-kick attempting to win a ball 25 yards out after only half-clearing from his own area.

The former Barnet man was booked and all those who’ve seen the recent catalogue of goals shipped from similar situations held their breath. Thankfully Clarets skipper Dave Rainford could only hit a weak shot against the wall.

As the half drew to a close Chelmsford enjoyed their first period of sustained pressure, winning a string of corners and throw-ins. These were defended bravely and authoritatively by Jordan and Leigh Mills and through strong goalkeeping from Jack Dovey.

Eastleigh will have been satisfied at half-time with a controlled and professional performance that showed promise in attack and kept their hosts largely subdued.

The visitors again started the brighter of the two sides after the interval and had the first strike on goal when Jai Reason chipped just over.

The next move of any menace arrived after 52 minutes and it resulted in the Spitfires taking a valuable and deserved lead.

Reason, from the right, hit a trademark perfectly weighted pass to McAllister who was his only forward option. After the striker took a first touch into his path he was taken down by Adam Tann. Tann, as the last man, was lucky to stay on the field.

What we saw next was Chelmsford produce a carbon copy of the frustrating slips Eastleigh have endured in their last two outings.

Michael Green hit a low free-kick which Stuart Searle in the Chelmsford goal should have held. As it was he fumbled and Ademola used his considerable pace to arrive first and finish with ease.

Having fallen behind the Clarets started to attack with more purpose but repeatedly saw moves broken up by one of Southam or Hughes. When the home side could get beyond the midfield two they ran into Jordan and Mills. Mills’s second-half performance, having struggled early in the game against Slabber, was outstanding.

Chelmsford had a rare clear opportunity just past the hour when Max Cornhill could only slam his shot from a narrow angle into the side-netting.

Four minutes later the same player had the host’s best chance of the game after a clever ball through the middle carved Eastleigh open for the only time all afternoon. Cornhill looked sure to score but Dovey raced off his line and made a quite brilliant stop.

The young ‘keeper has come under some pressure of late but it was terrific to see him fully justify Richard Hill’s decision to retain him in the team, not only through that save but with a commanding and confident 90 minute display.

After those near-misses Chelmsford continued to try and press and enjoyed a territorial advantage with Rainford prompting a lot of their better work.

Dovey made another excellent save at his near post from Aiden Palmer after the Chelmsford left-back’s initial strike had come back to him off Jordan.

The Spitfires – a couple of wild clearances from Green and Mills aside – didn’t look like wilting and had a determined resolve about their play.

It wasn’t a case of total backs to the wall for the visitors and they continued to look dangerous as Chelmsford became more stretched.

One swift move saw Reason hit a ball to McAllister which the forward skilfully laid into Marvin Williams – a 72nd minute replacement for Damian Scannell – but the one time Millwall player shot wide.

There was an element of fortune about the Clarets equaliser when it came 8 minutes from the end. Southam was quick to snap into a challenge but only managed to foul as he covered for Jordan – although the erratic referee booked the centre-half.

Rainford’s free-kick was a vast improvement on his first-half effort and forced a fine save from Dovey who tipped onto the bar. The ‘keeper didn’t enjoy the fortune his acrobatics deserved as the subsequent clearance only reached Chelmsford substitute Ishmael Welsh.

Welsh drilled the ball across the area where – all too predictably – Slabber was the man waiting to jubilantly turn the ball into the net.

The goal was scored just as it seemed increasingly likely that the Spitfires were going to see out a one goal victory. They didn’t let the set-back deter them however and competed magnificently as they came under mounting pressure.

Jordan was colossal all afternoon but never more so than when winning a string of aerial challenges deep in his own area as time was running down. Mills was also rock solid during this time, never more so than when rising highest to clear yet another dangerous long throw into the Spitfires six-yard box.

When Mitchell Nelson replaced McAllister and formed part of a three-man central defence it appeared that Hill had settled for ensuring the game wouldn’t be lost. It later transpired that the forward had picked up a knock but that change in formation suggested there was a determination to ensure the hard work of the afternoon wouldn’t go to waste.

Despite a nervy four minutes of stoppage time a draw was the very least Eastleigh deserved. Indeed, in the long-term this afternoon may prove to be of wider value to the team than the point they earned.

It will allow them to cast aside some poor early away performances and provide a blueprint for how to approach these difficult fixtures as the season develops.

There was enough to suggest this Spitfires team are strong enough to go anywhere in the league with a degree of confidence. A measure of the standard Eastleigh performed at can be gauged by Clarets boss Glenn Pennyfather’s assertion that this was his team’s best home showing of the season. Let’s hope that come April we can look back on an October visit to the Melbourne Stadium as the day when an Eastleigh side started to believe it belongs up with the best in the Conference South.
Chelmsford City v Eastleigh - 13.10.12


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