Staines Town 1-3 Eastleigh

STAINES TOWN v EASTLEIGH
Saturday 9th February 2013

Blue Square Bet South
Match report by Paul McNamara

You wait over five months for an away win and then two come along in the space of a week. Eastleigh took all the momentum and confidence gained from their swashbuckling display at Weston-super-Mare into what was a stern test at Staines’ Wheatsheaf Park. While this performance never matched that on Tuesday night in terms of its eye-catching qualities, there were many welcome attributes on show as the Spitfires’ marginal superiority held sway.

The visitors were the quicker of the two sides to settle as they immediately sought to impose themselves on their hosts. Alex Lacey - who replaced Mitchell Nelson at right-back, in the only change to the team which started in midweek – hit a ball towards Craig McAllister’s head which the forward did well to guide back into the path of Jai Reason. Reason’s subsequent chipped effort from 18 yards fell teasingly over.

Damain Scannell, continuing his sterling form of late, started brightly, and showcasing his expert close control wriggled free from a tight situation on the right touchline and found Reason to his left. The ball was moved onto Michael Green whose shot from distance flew past the near post.

Mark Hughes was the next Eastleigh man to try his luck. The midfielder was perfectly placed to pick up a McAllister header laid back from Green’s throw on the left. Unfortunately the ex-Barnet man couldn’t make a firm connection with his volley and the ball drifted beyond Jack Turner’s right-post. Hughes was another who didn’t break stride from his recent high-octane outings. As soon as the action was underway the Northern Irishman was making his presence felt with his snapping tackles, and offering sturdy protection for his back-four. Hughes’ knowhow and responsibility is undoubtedly key in affording his full-backs licence to raid forward, and gives a solid platform for the creative talent ahead of him.

Staines’ first threat came 8 minutes in when David Wheeler’s heavy touch on a delivery from the right cost him a clear opportunity, the ball rolling through to Ross Flitney. Buoyed by their first foray forward, the Swans produced the first sign of the trickery and movement within their ranks as a neat interchange involving Ashley Lodge,Wheeler, and Louis-Rae Beadle culminated with Beadle turning and curling a shot destined to dip under Flitney’s bar, but for the ‘keeper’s athletic tip over.

Beadle came close again soon after when he seized on Beckwith’s headed clearance to hit a ferocious drive from 10 yards bound for the top right corner. Flitney flung a strong left hand at the ball and touched it behind for a corner.

The consequent set-piece was swung to the back-post and the head of Sam Page – a favoured Staines tactic whenever they earned a right sided corner. Page rose to direct the ball back towards Lodge whose stinging strike was blocked by the charging Beckwith’s hand. Despite the negligible distance between attacker and defender the referee deemed the handball offence enough to award a penalty. Jack Mills confidently dispatched the spot kick into the right corner so earning his side a 12th minute lead.

The Spitfires were briefly shaken by that setback and were instantly on the retreat again as an aimless forward ball nearly released Wheeler on the right. Another sloppy touch by the home captain, and some dogged defending by Green, ensured that the attack came to nothing more than a corner.

Eastleigh’s first attempt at a response to the home breakthrough came when Flitney spotted Dale Binns in space on the left and found the winger with an accurate throw. Binns burst forward and sent in a dangerous low cross. An initial shot was blocked before the ball broke to McAllister unmarked on the right of the area. Unlike at Weston however, there was to be no quick goal-scoring reply for the visiting team as the forward’s shot fell wide of the near post.

McAllister’s next chance came from Binns’ deep left sided delivery. The lone striker leapt highest at the back post but couldn’t keep his header on target. Quickly after, another cross from the left, this time sent over by Reason, caused the Swans more problems, as Turner scrambled to push the ball onto the top of his bar and over.

As the first period passed its halfway mark an element of frustration was creeping into the Spitfires’ play, best portrayed by Binns’ hopeful left foot shot from distance which flew well over. The hosts were crowding their midfield, with Troy Ferguson and Lodge, – both mobile and skilful operators - sitting in front of a back-three, and Beadle happy to drop and provide an extra body in an already congested area. While Eastleigh were keeping possession comfortably in front of the home players, any attempt to work through the middle was quickly stifled. Rather than look wide, a tendency was creeping in to hit McAllister too early.

Hughes struck the visitors second wild shot of the afternoon shortly after Scannell’s persistence and drive on the right had taken his team high up the pitch. Although a first cross was blocked, the ball eventually arrived at the midfielder’s feet 25 yards from goal where he could only strike a loose effort into the trees behind the ground.

After Tyrone Marsh had wastefully hit a weak low shot into Flitney’s grasp when well placed in the Spitfires’ box, the visitors, somewhat out of the blue, found a timely and priceless equaliser.

Happily, unlike on some of the barren trips earlier this term, any one-dimensional football was hastily cast aside as Beckwith found Scannell in what had previously been hard to come by space on the right. Typically, the winger sent a lethal ball across the area which McAllister managed to latch onto. Although the big number 9’s connection wasn’t convincing it was enough to take the ball beyond Turner and over the line. In truth, the forward has deserved that slice of luck for all his recent selfless endeavour.

There was still time for some controversy before the interval. Lodge was fastest onto a loose Chris Todd header, and when the Staines man crossed from the left the ball appeared to strike Todd’s arm. Thankfully, on this occasion the referee wasn’t as generous to the home team as he had been earlier in proceedings. The final action of a frenetic 45 minutes saw Jerel Ifil direct his header from the subsequent corner wide of the far post.

Lacey didn’t return for the second-half, the Luton loanee being replaced by Mitchell Nelson. Lacey had looked capable at right-back – as to be expected from such a sound footballer -, only appearing hesitant when picking the right moment to break forward.

Staines resumed into the action with some purpose, and after Marsh’s neat turn in the middle of the pitch the elusive Staines man sprayed the ball out left to Beadle. When the striker returned the ball into the area it was Marsh who had continued his run and arrived on the end of the cross. The attacker though became the latest home player to fall victim to a lax touch, as his attempt to cushion the ball on his chest failed and his chance disappeared.

Reason encapsulated the height of his team’s ferocious work-ethic when, after being robbed in midfield, he was the player who retrieved possession deep on the Eastleigh right. The sight of the visiting playmaker being swamped by home shirts each time he took control of the ball was a familiar one all afternoon.

Just shy of the hour the Swans strung a fluent move together. Ferguson spread play left to the increasingly lively Jordaan Brown. The wing-back precisely picked out Beadle in the middle, where the resolute Beckwith blocked the forward’s strike on goal. As Staines sought to maintain the pressure, Todd eventually hacked the ball away over the right touchline to give his side some respite.

The next action of note involved the man in the middle, Mr Hair, as for the second time within a month a Spitfires’ game was halted for a lengthy period due to a refereeing injury. While both managers held impromptu team-talks in front of their dugouts a plea was heard over the tannoy for a qualified official to take over flag duties. Surely football at this standard deserves the presence of a fourth official?

When play did resume after the 13 minute stoppage, the visitors had the first chance to take a lead. Glen Southam, who was typically tenacious all afternoon, hooked a ball forward which Reason flicked into the path of McAllister only for the forward’s surge to be interrupted by a clear pull at the edge of the hosts’ area. Green however, could only clip his free-kick past Turner’s left post.

As the play began to become more stretched with neither side wanting to settle for a point, Staines broke quickly after Page did well to step in front of Reason and nick possession. Ferguson’s forward ball found Marsh who had sprung the Spitfires’ offside trap, but the winger was marginally too high with his skilful attempted lob.

There followed a five minute spell in which Eastleigh asserted their authority, and eventually took a precious lead. Scannell cracked one effort across goal after a strong attacking thrust by Nelson, then some lovely combination play between McAllister and Reason resulted in the latter slipping a forward pass into Binns. The winger managed to round Turner at the second attempt but couldn’t force enough power into his final effort to beat the recovering Page on the line.

After another incident involving Binns and Page – the former’s cross hitting the defender and sparking fruitless visiting penalty appeals – Eastleigh’s second goal arrived. Reason took possession in midfield and threaded a sublime, perfectly weighted through ball into Scannell’s incisive burst down the inside right channel. From there the outcome was never in doubt as the wide-man assuredly and clinically finished low across goal and inside Turner’s right post.

The Swans were inches from fashioning an immediate riposte when Beadle set Tony Garrod racing clear through the middle. The substitute though was denied by the switched on Flitney who charged to the edge of his area and thumped clear.

With normal time ticking down, but a huge chunk of stoppage time to come, the spritely passing and movement of the home attackers continued to cause the Spitfires some concern. Ferguson and Marsh were a constant menace, while the threat posed by Brown was visible in a fine lofted cross which evaded Lodge’s head by inches.

After Green had seen another set-piece deflected behind – the free-kick earned after Scannell’s infield run was illegally stopped by Page – Eastleigh were rewarded for their continued positivity from the ensuing corner. Both centre-backs were forward for Reason’s right-footed delivery, and after Ferguson could only stab the immaculate Todd’s header yards away from his line, Beckwith was sharpest to react and ram the ball home.

As at Weston, that two-goal buffer sucked the legs and spirit from the home side. The Swans attacks became more sporadic and they were limited to Brown’s driven near post cross-shot which Flitney steered away and Lodge’s wasteful off target left-foot effort.

Indeed, as the extensive added period drew to a close any further goal appeared more likely to be scored by a blue shirt. After more fine link-up play by McAllister, Green had a stinging shot parried by Turner. With the gaps opening up in midfield, Beckwith comfortably picked out Hughes who played in Reason on the right. The attacker sent his effort whistling past the post.

The final seconds allowed time for another Eastleigh academy youngster to make his first-team bow, with 16 year-old Bradley Fountain replacing Damian Scannell. The regular sight of a young buck in the match day squad is a welcome one, and conclusive proof of the fine work being undertaken throughout the club.

While the cohesion of the football produced by the Spitfires earlier in the week wasn’t replicated here, the evident resilience and sheer determination that were applied to grind out a result are equally essential characteristics for any team aspiring to a high level of consistency.

Since the bleak defeat at Bromley early in the new year – a game that appears to have acted as something of a watershed – Eastleigh have taken 12 points from 15 available. Every upcoming clash seems to take on greater importance, and that is the case again this week. Encounters with Salisbury City and Chelmsford City will provide rigorous examinations and may offer a definitive idea as to the shape the season’s final months will take.

What is increasingly certain is that any cricks in Spitfires’ necks will be the result of looking up the league table, rather than casting nervous glances behind at the desperate chasing pack.

Staines Town v Eastleigh - 09.02.13 by Eastleigh FC

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