AFC Hornchurch 1-0 Eastleigh

EASTBOURNE BOROUGH 1-0 EASTLEIGH
Saturday 27th October 2012

Blue Square Bet South

Match Report by Paul McNamara
We’ve been here before. Recently. A pallid and disjointed Eastleigh display that bore many of the hallmarks of the outings at Gloucester and Eastbourne Borough yielded the same deflating – even more so after performances against Bath City and Sutton United that had so much to admire - 1-0 defeat.

A rutted pitch, covered with long grass was a sight as welcome for the Spitfires as any half-decent spinner is to an English batsman.

The surface wasn’t conducive to Eastleigh’s preference to keep the ball on the floor and attack through midfield and wide areas. The visitors could never consistently adapt and were punished by a determined and aggressive home team.

From the outset it was clear that Hornchurch wouldn’t be reluctant to hit the ball long and attempt to create pressure on the visitors by utilising their muscular and combative wide players and forwards. It was through that tactic that the game’s first opening arrived when a well-directed Rimmel Daniel cross from the left found Wayne Gray who, unmarked, planted his firm header over.

The longer this run of fruitless away matches stretches the more important it is becoming that the Spitfires can nick the first goal of the game. If they do so it is likely that the side would collectively settle and, imbued with greater confidence, perform at the level – and in the style - of which they’re capable.

Unfortunately, only five minutes had elapsed when what turned out to be the game’s decisive goal was scored by the Urchins. Tambeson Eyong, on Hornchurch’s right, took the ball past Mitchell Nelson and pulled back where an initial attempt was blocked by Leigh Mills. The ball squirmed left to Daniel, who had drifted in unattended as the move unfolded, and he was presented with an easy task to finish low past Ross Flitney.

The hosts were content with the attritional period that followed their breakthrough. There was no cohesion or rhythm to the play with Eastleigh unable to enjoy any sustained or progressive spells of possession, while the Urchins weren’t allowing their opposition any space or time on the ball.

It took until the 16th minute for the Spitfires to offer any attacking threat. Damian Scannell was needlessly fouled by Duncan Reynolds on the right as he was heading away from goal. Jai Reason’s free-kick from a potentially dangerous area was cleared ahead of the lurking Craig McAllister.

Even this early in the proceedings Reason was required to drop deep to receive possession and was then immediately finding himself surrounded by red and white shirts. It was the story of the afternoon, as the player who is so often central to his teams’ best work was largely on the periphery of the action with his clever flicks and passes unable to make any impression.

As the 20th minute arrived, Mitchell Nelson was beaten to a straight long ball up field. The attacking flick looked set to lead to a scoring opportunity until Mills impeded his direct opponent and was lucky to escape with just the award against him of a free-kick 20 yards from goal. The Eastleigh let-off was complete when Andy Tomlinson harmlessly floated the dead ball comfortably over.

The problems being posed by Daniel on the left caused Richard Hill to move Andy Forbes into the middle of defence with Nelson switching out to right-back where, in truth, he couldn’t manage to step-up his performance after a sluggish start.

Another moment to quicken the Spitfires pulses came soon after when a Hornchurch set-piece from the right was cleared by McAllister at the near post with a definite suspicion lingering that he had, at least in part, used his arm.

The home side continued to apply pressure on the Spitfires goal and Leon McKenzie came close after cutting in from the left and unleashing a fierce right-foot shot which rose just too high to trouble Flitney.

Eastleigh’s first real effort on goal came as the half-hour approached. Michael Green supplied a dangerous cross from the left which Paul Goodacre could only clear as far as Reason. The attackers’ tame effort was easily collected by Joe Woolley in the Urchins goal.

During the last few games Green has been a real force whenever he has pushed forward, always confident enough to beat a man and providing a stream of high quality balls into the area. If the left-back was encouraged to play with more freedom, particularly away from home, the Spitfires would certainly carry some additional menace.

Eastleigh’s best chance to level the scores came on thirty minutes. A Jamie Hand free-kick from the right – won after a petulant McKenzie foul on Nelson when the Eastleigh man had outwitted him on the touchline – caused some rare panic in the home defence and, amidst a penalty area scramble Scannell was shoved to the floor, an offence immediately spotted by the referee.

The usually reliable McAllister struck a weak penalty which Woolley dropped to his left and easily held. The poor spot-kick summed up McAllister’s afternoon. He was as committed as ever but was short on quality service to work with and up against two centre-backs in Goodacre and Reiss Noel who were both magnificent in the air and a physical match for the target-man.

That opportunity did at least afford the Spitfires some belief and they began to show a little more positive intent with Hand, in particular, vocal in trying to drive his team-mates forward.

The next glimmer of a chance came when Scannell picked up possession on the right after Nelson’s attempted cross had been blocked. The winger – who had been switched from the opposite side early on – chipped a cross to the back post where Moses Ademola, now playing on the left, headed back across goal looking for McAllister who was denied by some last gasp defending which put the ball safely behind.

Ten minutes before the break the forceful Gray had to be replaced by James Love who took up a position on the right with Eyong pushing into the departed player’s forward role. After that change the half petered out with the only notable action being a weak Daniel dead-ball that posed Flitney no trouble and a deserved booking for Nelson after a mistimed challenge sent Daniel sprawling when the wide-man had surprised the full-back with a turn of pace.

Eastleigh were the quicker of the two teams to get into their stride after the break and, almost immediately, composed one of the more fluent moves of the afternoon. Reason was involved in an incisive build-up which saw the ball spread to Ademola on the left. The one time Brentford man – who struggled to make any great impact with his colleagues rarely able to find him out wide – picked out McAllister who intelligently laid the ball into the path of Glen Southam. Southam’s firm effort was deflected wide, with Hornchurch indicating their desire to be brave and throw bodies in the way of anything that threatened their goal.

The following period set the tone for the half with the visitors enjoying the bulk of possession and territorial advantage without inspiring confidence that an equaliser was imminent. Nelson, despite his travails, was positive in his ambitions on the right and one driving run was blocked as he approached the area. The hosts’ captain Elliott Styles was then booked for pulling back Ademola after the wideman did well to hold the ball on the touchline.

The clearest opening of the second-period for the Spitfires came six minutes in when Mills struck a ball down the middle. Goodacre’s poor clearance fell straight to Reason who had eons to gather and curl his right-footed shot which Woolley did magnificently well to tip away to his left. The home ‘keeper was later awarded the man of the match, but although his handling was immaculate throughout this was the only occasion on which he was truly extended.

The stopper had to make another more straightforward save seconds after his standout act. Another Mills ball caused consternation in the home ranks and as Woolley came to collect a defender cleared ahead of him. When the ball dropped to Ademola he couldn’t trouble the ‘keeper in the manner which Reason had previously.

With 57 minutes on the clock Mark Hughes replaced Hand. Hand had been assured without fully imposing himself on the action. Hughes’s mobility and tenacity raised the visitors’ tempo and added a little spark.

Nelson’s defensive difficulties continued just short of the hour mark when he was strong-armed off the ball by Daniel deep on the right. The Urchins wide player cut in and from a promising position fired over.

The tackle of the match was performed by the game’s outstanding player – Reiss Noel - as Reason surged into the hosts’ box. The timing of the challenge was exemplary, as it had to be so close to the defender’s own goal. The sight of Noel’s head or feet making the key interception as Eastleigh strove to rescue at least a point was increasingly familiar as time wore on.

Mills went into the referee’s notebook for pulling back Daniel as the Urchins tried to break swiftly - their main angle of attack in the second 45 minutes. That aberration aside, Mills had another sound afternoon. He oozes class with his composure on the ball, is strong in the air and positionally excellent. Mills’ professional breeding is visible in everything he does.

Another whose professional touch and awareness were patent was Lee Peacock during his 25 minutes on the pitch after replacing Ademola. Not long after the change a corner from the right was cleared as far as Southam who was quickly under pressure and – off balance – he struck his left-foot shot over. Peacock’s first chance soon arrived when McAllister headed into his path from a Nelson ball. The ex-Swindon Town man couldn’t get over the ball as, on the turn, he volleyed too high.

One constant frustration, on an afternoon of many, was Eastleigh’s poor delivery and lack of invention from set-pieces. When a long Green throw went straight into Woolley’s hands. Richard Hill’s anger betrayed him as he slammed a water bottle to the floor.

A now rare Hornchurch foray forward required a sharp Flitney save at his near-post after Eyong had been set free on the right by a clever McKenzie touch in front of the challenging Forbes.

The inconsistency in the Spitfires play was encapsulated in a moment when Nelson first did well to take down a Southam pass on the right before striding forward and driving wastefully high.

As the Urchins dropped deeper, with Tomlinson and Styles noticeably sitting only yards in front of their back-four, Eastleigh were able to start picking up more possession in midfield. Southam pounced on a loose ball to find Scannell on the left. The ex-Southend man found his captain with the return pass, who in turn laid the ball to Hughes. Hughes’s strike was deflected behind and it was increasingly feeling as if the much desired leveller wasn’t destined to happen.

In an effort to inject late impetus Dale Binns replaced Green and from an unfamiliar left-back position he did all that could be asked, seeking to be positive on the ball and add an extra attacking option.

With two minutes remaining the referee pulled play back with the Spitfires breaking on the left after Scannell had turned away from Hornchurch’s resolute right-back Alex Bentley and ridden a foul challenge. The grievance at that decision was compounded when Reason’s free-kick harmlessly floated into Woolley’s hands.

That failure to allow an advantage was a rare error by the man in the middle, Wayne Porter, who along with his linesmen had to contend with constant baiting from the hosts’ dugout from first minute to last.

Eastleigh continued to press. Binns did well to play a ball inside to Hughes. When the determined midfielder’s shot was blocked Peacock hit an effort into the ground which bounced up and forced Woolley to tip over his bar. One final attempt saw Southam strike a left-foot shot over from 20 yards after Peacock had headed another forward ball into his path.

Hornchurch deserved the victory purely because they scored their goal and worked like Trojans to keep a clean sheet. Notwithstanding that, it will be some surprise if the division’s stronger sides don’t leave this part of Essex with a full three-point return.

When we saw the Spitfires win so emphatically at Westleigh Park on a bright August Bank Holiday the idea that we’d still be waiting for the next maximum haul on our travels as December approaches would barely have seemed credible. The group of players at Eastleigh, with the undoubted quality they contain, will know that record doesn’t stand up to even the lightest of scrutiny.

Southam’s reluctance to drag himself off the pitch after the final whistle, and his obvious dissatisfaction as he did so, is proof that there is no shortage of desire in the team. Now that needs to be translated into tangible reward. It won’t be easy. The tigerish determination of Hornchurch is evidence of that. But then, nobody believed a genuine promotion campaign would be straightforward. 
AFC Hornchurch v Eastleigh - 17.11.12

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