Eastbourne 1-0 Eastleigh

EASTBOURNE BOROUGH 1-0 EASTLEIGH
Saturday 27th October 2012

Blue Square Bet South

Match Report by Paul McNamara

The frustrating stop-start nature of Eastleigh’s season continued on a bitterly cold afternoon in East Sussex as they lost by a single goal to an unexceptional Eastbourne Borough side.

This display bore far closer resemblance to that at Gloucester in the F.A. Cup than the much improved showing at Chelmsford in the Spitfires last league match two weeks ago.

There was no clue to the eventual outcome early in the game as the visitors started by far the livelier of the two teams.

After only 7 minutes Damian Scannell - who was Eastleigh’s most potent threat throughout the 90 minutes – retrieved a deep cross wide on the right and crossed for Craig McAllister to head powerfully home.

As the players and their outstanding travelling support were celebrating what appeared a vital early breakthrough the referee was disallowing the goal for an infringement that he must have been one of very few people in the ground to have spotted.

Undeterred, within 2 minutes the Spitfires were attacking again. McAllister – as he did all afternoon – won a long ball forward, flicking it intelligently for Jai Reason on the left. Reason delivered a fine cross to the onrushing Scannell but the former Southend player could only strike high over the bar.

As is happening every time Reason takes the pitch, Eastbourne swamped the talented attacker immediately as he found possession. Opponents are wise to the damage the former Ipswich trainee can cause them if afforded the merest chance. How to ensure his Number 10 can dictate play in the manner of which he is capable is a conundrum Richard Hill will want to solve swiftly.

The hosts caused little early anguish for the Spitfires. Their frontmen were strong and clever but lacking in mobility and pace. Of small concern was the deep Eastleigh defensive line. This enabled Gary Hart – who spent 13 years at Brighton & Hove Albion – to pose problems by winning the ball high up the pitch and consequently pin the visitors back for brief periods.

Hart’s keen endeavour was evident in the early exchanges when he robbed Michael Green of possession deep on Eastleigh’s left. The Spitfires saw out that attack with the only harm suffered being a knock incurred by the defender in trying to regain possession.

One of two changes to the visitors’ starting eleven from that which earned a point at Chelmsford saw goalkeeper Ross Flitney begin his month-long loan from Gillingham in place of the unlucky Jack Dovey – the other alteration being the surprise replacement of Moses Ademola by Dale Binns.

The ex-Barnet ‘keeper passed his first examination 20 minutes into his debut when he saved excellently from point-blank range after Oliver Rowe met a corner from the right with a fierce header.

Eastleigh were glad to see the back of the menacing Hart when he had to leave the field with what appeared a hamstring injury just short of half-an-hour in.

Soon after, Scannell had another gilt-edged opportunity to score. McAllister adroitly chested a ball first time to Reason who quickly released the winger on the right. Unfortunately the finish didn’t match the quality of the move as a weak effort was comfortably smothered by Joe Day in the Sports goal.

In the latter stages of the half, Scannell took up a narrower position with Reason moving wider, possibly with the dual intention of utilising the former’s pace and directness in more dangerous central areas, and generating more space for the latter to exude his influence.

Any tinkering didn’t have the desired effect, however, as Eastleigh weren’t getting men forward in the same numbers as early in the game and therefore the majority of possession they enjoyed was in deeper areas.

Eastbourne’s only further glimpse of goal before the break was the result of a mix up between Leigh Mills – who was otherwise solid and calm on a difficult afternoon to defend, with the wind swirling and opponents feeding balls high into the area – and Mark Hughes. David Knight couldn’t punish the initial confusion as Flitney saved.

Three minutes were added, largely due to a stoppage early on when Hughes took a blow to the face which left blood streaming from his lip. The tenacious ex-Barnet player is making an unfortunate habit of such incidents after two similar blows during the home victory against Staines.

The extra time played offered one more chance for the Spitfires when Reason was bundled over 25 yards from goal. Green struck a low free-kick which deflected gently through to Day.

Eastleigh began the second period purposefully and within 60 seconds an Osei Sankofa cross caused confusion in the hosts area. It was Scannell, again, who ultimately had a shooting chance but his attempt was kept out by the imposing Day.

Within a minute the Spitfires were behind and for the second consecutive match it was a former player who dealt the sucker-punch.

For Chelmsford it had been the prolific Jamie Slabber who found the net. At the Langley Sports Arena, Frankie Raymond, hitherto completely anonymous – and whose brief loan spell at the Silverlake last season was notable only for his reckless sending-off at Tonbridge Angels – was the beneficiary of some sloppy Eastleigh defending.

The ball was allowed across the area from the right with little challenge and Raymond was free to finish at the back post.

Rather than respond by upping their tempo and placing Eastbourne under any sustained pressure, Eastleigh’s attacks became more sporadic and McAllister was increasingly isolated.

The target man’s hold up play was terrific – as ever – and the honesty and commitment of his performance was admirable. Too often he had minimal genuine options when in possession or seeking to lay the ball off.

When McAllister links with Reason the potential value of his ability to bring team-mates into play is obvious. Away from home, however, Hughes and Glen Southam are reluctant to move beyond their striker. At the Silverlake, Eastleigh’s midfielders – Southam in particular- are a genuine attacking threat with their intelligent and well-timed runs.

Until the final 25 minutes the only glimmer of an equaliser came with a penalty appeal that was turned away by the referee after Reason was subject to some heavy-handed treatment in Borough’s box.

It was a Reason corner that resulted in the Spitfires coming as close to scoring as at any stage when Day – who had handled a succession of first-half corners expertly – punched weakly. There was a frenetic scramble when it seemed as if the ball must find its way over the line. It wasn’t to be as Scannell’s final stab goalwards was hacked away.

That near miss spurred the visitors and they were quickly encamped in the final third. Worryingly, despite a strong territorial advantage during the latter stages, Day was never greatly extended.

Reason hit one fantastic cross from the right which just evaded McAllister, the sole Eastleigh body in the area.

Soon after, Tom Jordan fractionally avoided making contact with a Reason corner and as the ball broke loose Mills fired well over.

As the game entered the final 15 minutes, Scannell really came to the fore. Operating on the left – with Moses Ademola, on for Binns, playing from the right - he gave a wonderful demonstration of wing play, repeatedly showcasing his ability to run with the ball as he evaded defenders and supplied a string of teasing crosses into the box.

Agonisingly, the Spitfires couldn’t apply a decisive foot or head to any of these balls. McAllister headed just wide, Day collected at his near post and most painfully of all, as the clock ticked down and the visitors finally committed a number of men into the box, a fizzing delivery flashed low across the area without a yellow shirt able to make contact.

Once more, Eastleigh had little luck with refereeing decisions. On 82 minutes, after an Ademola cross, Hughes was clearly pulled down for what should have been a penalty. Mr Fitch missed what had seemed obvious and dismissed vigorous Eastleigh appeals. A minute later, after Eastbourne cleared the subsequent corner, insult was added to injury when Hughes was booked for an innocuous tackle.

As the final minutes disappeared it was the hosts who came closest to a second goal in the game. Knight skipped past Hughes on the left and provided a perfect cross which substitute, Darren Lok, glanced weakly wide.

As at Whaddon Road in the F.A. Cup three weeks previously, Eastleigh’s push for a levelling strike had come too late. The lack of fluency as they chased a point was best summed up in injury time as Reason battled for a ball by his own left corner flag and cleared up-field to Scannell who didn’t have a team-mate within 20 yards of him.

It won’t have escaped Richard Hill’s attention that when he turned to his bench there was just one forward thinking replacement available to him, a change from more recent times when the Spitfires squad has contained an abundance of attacking riches.

The most positive aspect of the day was Scannell’s continued re-emergence as a key figure in the Eastleigh side. All Spitfires fingers should be crossed that he can maintain fitness and keep producing to a similar level as the season evolves.

With two home games in the next week Hill’s side have a chance to gain six vital points and quickly shake off the disappointment of drawing another blank away from fortress Silverlake.
Eastbourne Borough v Eastleigh - 27.10.12

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