Sutton United 2-1 Eastleigh

Saturday 2nd February 2013

Blue Square Bet South

Match report by Paul McNamara

Eastleigh’s inability to find any joy away from the Silverlake continued as they fell to a scarcely believable 10th away league defeat this season. The same side which started last week’s highly impressive win over Farnborough was selected at Gander Green Lane, with the exception of Ross Fltney – now re-signed on a permanent basis – replacing the rather unlucky Jack Dovey in goal.

It was apparent from the outset that Sutton were determined not to allow the Spitfires to impose themselves on the action in the manner they had against their North Hampshire adversaries seven days previously. Paul Doswell flooded the centre of his midfield, with Craig Dundas sitting extremely deep and Dean Sinclair and Harry Beautyman operating further forward.

The home team were the first to engineer a break after clearing an Eastleigh corner, but as Marvin Williams looked to sprint clear Mitchell Nelson was alert enough to come across and cover. The Sptifires were rightly wary of Williams’ pace, and more than once in the early stages ensured they had a man in front of the winger in an attempt to cut off his service.

Five minutes had elapsed before the first shot on goal. Flitney mis-hit a clearance, and next saw the ball whizzing towards his left hand corner after James Folkes’ right-foot effort from 25 yards. The now former Gillingham ‘keeper did well to redeem himself and dive to tip the strike away.

Williams set the tone for his personal performance early on when he expertly controlled a ball wide on the right directly from U’s’ goalkeeper Kevin Scriven’s kick. The man who started the season with the Spitfires raced past Michael Green and delivered a fine ball across the penalty area, which thankfully for the visitors evaded the yellow shirts rushing to get on the end of any cross.

Ex-Millwall player Williams produced a lively display throughout the 90 minutes and was his team’s favoured outlet. As we saw on occasion at the Silverlake, when he’s in the mood the winger is a constant danger with his speedy and direct approach, allied to a degree of skill on the ball.

One of the wideman’s less memorable moments of the afternoon arrived eight minutes in when Alex Lacey could only get half a header onto an in-swinging cross from the Sutton left. The ball arrived at Williams’ feet at the far post but he could do no more than put a weak volley wide of goal.

The ungainly, but undoubtedly effective Dundas’ presence was making it hard for Eastleigh’s key creative influence Jai Reason to force his way into the game. Consequently, and as a result of Paul Doswell’s determination to contain the Spitfires’ midfield - possibly as a result of having been present to witness them boss the action against Farnborough – Reason was dropping deeper and leaving Scannell and McAllister playing as a more authentic front two.

When Reason did find the ball at his feet further forward he very nearly released Nelson on the right with an intricate ball which was just kept out of the path of the marauding wing-back by some sharp defending. A clear opening very nearly followed minutes later after Eastleigh’s best early work. Green played a ball from deep into the head of Reason who fed a neat header back into Scannell. Scannell attempted to play McAllister in to his right for a clear strike on goal but sent his pass inches too far ahead of the striker.

A rare Dundas error, the big midfielder slicing a clearance, led to Eastleigh’s next attempt on goal, but when the ball ended at Green’s feet inside the hosts’ area he could only send his shot low past the near post.

Richard Pacquette, whose recent Eastleigh career comprised two starts and one goal, started up front for the U’s, and his first involvement came on 18 minutes. The forward received a pass into his feet in the visitors’ area. After turning neatly, the one time QPR player struck a weak shot past the left post.

The home side came far closer soon after when McAllister uncharacteristically failed to hold a ball played into his feet. Sutton broke quickly, eventually crossing from the left for Sinclair to fire an effort from 10 yards which Chris Todd bravely blocked.

Eastleigh were striving to play from the back, Dean Beckwith notably seeking the feet of a colleague when in possession more than in his two previous outings. After some neat inter-play between the centre-back and Glen Southam, Green was free to cross from deep on the left. His high ball sought to pick out McAllister, but the big Number 9 could only bundle into Sam Rents and concede a free-kick as he attempted to get on the end of the delivery.

Sutton continually caused problems on either wing. The U’s threat in those wide areas had the dual effect of pushing Green and Nelson back towards their own goal, so negating a pivotal feature of Richard Hill’s three at the back line-up. Beautyman was the next home player to find space on the right, having been released when Pacquette beat Beckwith to a forward ball in the air. The excellent home midfielder’s cross was nicked clear by the toe of Lacey.

With ten minutes to play until the interval Jamie Stuart, untypically on an afternoon when he defended doggedly, played a sloppy back-pass which for a second appeared to have presented McAllister with a clear opportunity. Frustratingly for the visitors, Scriven was just able to do enough to disturb the forward and grab possession.

Minutes later McAllister was even closer to breaking the deadlock when his looping header from Reason’s left-sided corner struck the home bar.

With the play now springing from end to end the U’s created the next chance on goal. Folkes controlled a ball thrown into his feet inside the Spitfires’ 18 yard box. The man who in his youth was on the books at Spurs and QPR, showed tremendous close control to fashion an opening on his left foot which he curled marginally past the far post.

The next time the home side attacked it was to prove fatal for their opponents. After Nelson had needlessly given away a free-kick ten yards inside his own half, the U’s worked the ball out to the left. A cross was allowed to come into the box too easily from where it was volleyed into an Eastleigh hand – an offence the referee interpreted as worthy of a penalty. It transpired that Alex Lacey was the ‘guilty party’, him being the man booked for the indiscretion. The visiting payers protested ferociously at the harshness of the decision – the award did appear extremely soft with Lacey being only a couple of yards from the strike – but as ever there would be no change of decision. Rents stepped up and confidently drilled his spot-kick down the middle of the goal and into the net.

With Richard Hill still making his dissatisfaction known, the man in black attempted to explain that Lacey’s hands were held above his head when the ball hit him. It was a difficult blow to stomach after a tight first half, but there was plenty of time to find a way back into the game, albeit against a well drilled home unit. Furthermore, as the first 45 minutes had progressed the Spitfires most forward deployed players, Scannell and McAllister, had become increasingly isolated in a way all too familiar with hapless earlier trips this term to places such as Gloucester, Eastbourne, and Hornchurch.

Eastleigh were clearly ruffled by the breakthrough and Sutton quickly had a chance to double their lead. Pacquette laid an impeccable pass to Folkes on the right. The winger swung a ball to the far post which Williams was fractions from being able to connect with. After that late escape it was a relief for Eastleigh to keep the score at 1-0 heading into half-time.

Sutton were the brighter of the sides immediately after the re-start. Dundas switched an excellent ball out to Williams on the left, and the lively winger again demonstrated a notable turn of pace to glide past Lacey before delivering a threatening cross. Mark Hughes did well to win the initial tackle as the ball arrived in the box, eventually allowing his side to clear.

The game’s nastiest moment arrived soon after when Pacquette was needlessly and recklessly late into a challenge on Lacey. The forward was perhaps slightly lucky to receive only a booking, while Lacey, despite attempting to continue after treatment, had to be withdrawn with what appeared to be an ankle injury.

Rather than opt for a direct replacement in Andy Forbes or Adam Everitt, Richard Hill chose to introduce Dale Binns to the action and re-jig his formation to a 4-4-1-1. Reason pushed up behind McAllister, with Scannell and Binns occupying the wide areas, and Todd and Beckwith operating as a centre-half pairing.

With just over half an hour remaining, Binns was presented with a chance to equalise. Scannell did terrifically to wriggle free of Rents and carry the ball across field before slipping a pass to his left sided counterpart. Binns struck a firm shot, which flew across goal and beyond the far post.

Sutton made their first change just past the hour when the livewire Folkes was replaced by superb ex-Spitfire Anthony Riviere. Beautyman moved out to the right from the middle of the park where his vision, passing, and ability to make time for himself, stood out in what was a frenetic battle.

Shortly after that switch, Eastleigh came agonisingly close to restoring parity. Todd headed on a Green set-piece. When the ball arrived at the feet of Reason the Number 10 gave a rare – on the day – insight into his box of tricks, back-heeling into the feet of McAllister. As the forward looked set to score, Scriven was quick to pounce and steal the ball off the ex-Crawley man’s feet for the second time on the afternoon.

With the Spitfires pressing, Green was next to get a glimpse of goal but could only send a right-foot effort from inside the area wildly high. Within 60 seconds of that missed opportunity Eastleigh were on the front foot again, and earning a free-kick high on the right for Stuart’s foul on Reason, a transgression for which the home skipper was booked. Reason’s first delivery was headed back out to him, but the second attempt at a dangerous cross was more successful. Scriven could only punch half-clear as far as Southam on the 18-yard line, from where the visiting captain hit a screaming shot which was deflected past the post. Instantly, a number of white shirts surrounded the referee claiming a handball, but to no avail.

That latest blow was too much for Richard Hill, who was soon sent from the dugout for again making his displeasure obvious to the official in the middle.

Binns’ pace made an impact after his arrival and, when he was released by a clever Reason pass on the left, the winger’s delivery was cut out by Simon Downer marginally in front of a flat-footed McAllister.

The importance of the three points to Sutton was evident, the U’s having come into the game in the relegation zone and with the worst home record in the league, and Scriven, having already been warned earlier in the half was booked for time wasting as he prepared to take a free-kick with over 15 minutes still remaining.

With Green having hit a tame dead-ball from distance harmlessly into the Sutton wall, Eastleigh came closer to finding their leveller when Binns met a Reason flag-kick from the right with a fine header which Scriven did well to turn behind. Any Spitfires goal at that moment would have been somewhat contentious, with the home side forced to defend the corner with only 10 men – substitute Leroy Griffiths having had his entrance delayed due to being asked to remove an under-shirt.

Scriven was alive to the danger again when Binns, having been set free on the left by a precise and quick Southam pass, sent in a cross which the outstretched ‘keeper pushed to safety. When he needed it, the U’s stopper was receiving plenty of help from his colleagues, one such example being a strong Dundas header to clear Reason’s in-swinging free-kick from the left.

Dundas was soon involved in the afternoon’s match-winning moment at the other end. A Sutton corner on the right was swung over by Beautyman and, in what is becoming an unwelcome Spitfires’ habit, the ball was allowed to travel across the area where it fell to the strong Sutton midfielder in space. A man performing with Dundas’ confidence was never going to do anything different than control easily, and smash his finish emphatically into the back of the net.

The irritation at falling two behind so cheaply, having been in such frantic search of an equaliser, was immense. For all their endeavour, when the creative influence of Southam, Reason, and McAllister is suppressed, Eastleigh’s lack of pace in the final third is exposed. That absence of genuine speed across the ground – which didn’t arrive until Binns’ took to the field – is even more glaring when the opposition have that strength in their attacking armoury, as Sutton did through Folkes, and chiefly Williams.

The visitors immediately introduced Corey King for Green after the goal, but it felt as if the game was now gone. King’s introduction saw Binns move to left-back, Scannell switch to the left, and the young winger take up his customary position on the right.

A slither of hope arrived on 89 minutes when, after King won a free-kick on the right, the otherwise solid Stuart received his second yellow card for kicking the ball away in his annoyance. The Spitfires, with their man advantage, began to apply some late pressure and after a couple of corners were scrambled clear by the hosts, Scriven spilled a ball into the box presenting a chance to King. Unfortunately, the man who scored a wonderful long range goal at Bournemouth on Tuesday could only send his strike from close in high and wide.

Eastleigh continued to push for a way back throughout five minutes of added time, and with just 60 seconds on the clock Nelson drove out from the back with possession. Once forward, the ball landed with Reason who moved it onto McAllister. The forward in turn played in Southam on the left, but the skipper’s fierce left-foot drive from 8 yards flew past the near post.

The Spitfires finally got on the scoreboard in the death throes of the action. Nelson hit a free-kick from deep which McAllister did well to flick in the direction of Beckwith. The centre-back calmly laid the ball to Scannell, who was equally composed in clipping a fine finish from close in beyond Scriven.

Unbelievably, after taking 95 minutes to register there was one last chance for the visitors to salvage a point. Hughes was fouled on half-way and the Spitfires loaded the box for Nelson’s delivery. The ball was flicked on but as it arrived with Hughes on the by-line the Northern Irishman was penalised for his attempts to retain possession. With that, there ended another fruitless search for success on their travels for this Eastleigh team.

Another desperately disappointing away result and performance then, even more so after what has felt a positive week for the team with a domineering triumph over a strong Farnborough outfit, and the youngsters’ spirited display against Bournemouth. This defeat has realistically ended the last vain hopes we may have had of gaining a play-off spot but it is no time to switch off.

There is progress being made all around Eastleigh football club and between now and the end of the season there is a lot of pride and many more points to be played for. The Spitfires’ are going to be an exciting club to be involved with in the coming years and now is the time to start cementing in place the unit to take us forward to where the owner, manager, supporters, and ultimately the players want to go.

Sutton United v Eastleigh - 02.02.13 by Eastleigh FC


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