Weston-super-Mare 2-4 Eastleigh

WESTON-SUPER-MARE v EASTLEIGH
Tuesday 5th February 2013

Blue Square Bet South

Match report by Paul McNamara

Eastleigh ended their horrible sequence of away results, and nearly doubled their points tally on the road this season, on a bitterly cold night at Weston-super-Mare’s Woodspring Stadium. The Spitfires, who showed just one change from the side which started at Sutton – Dale Binns replacing the injured Alex Lacey – were full value for their 4-2 win.

Lining up with the same 4-4-1-1 formation and personnel that operated immediately after the Luton loanee’s enforced withdrawal on Saturday, Eastleigh had the game’s first chance after an attritional opening few minutes.

Naby Diallo played a careless pass back towards his own half and only succeeded in freeing Craig McAllister on the left. When the sole forward struck his left-foot shot across goal, Lloyd Irish between the home posts was able to dive low and prevent an early breakthrough.

Only 6 minutes had elapsed when it appeared as if conventional Eastleigh practice away from the Silverlake was to be continued. Dayle Grubb – who proved himself a winger of some trickery and ability during the 90 minutes – chanced his arm with an effort from distance which Ross Flitney could do no more than parry away to his left. Ross Stearn was quickest to react and prod the ball home from close in.

The pattern in so many similar exasperating circumstances prior to this has been for the Spitfires to struggle to find a footing back into the action before mounting a sustained, but ultimately unsuccessful, assault on their opponents goal. That wasn’t to happen here. McAllister did wonderfully to steer a Flitney kick into Binns’ path on the left. The winger - who was a key outlet for his side all night, - held onto the ball before cutting inside and unleashing a right foot drive which, after a wicked deflection, fizzed in under Irish’s bar. Parity.

Early on, Weston caused trouble for the visitors every time they attacked, and after an out-swinging corner delivered from the left was headed towards goal and only half cleared, Owen Irish wasted a fine chance to restore his team’s lead, driving wide of the right post from 8 yards.

Eastleigh enjoyed another let off, when after Grubb’s precision right-to-left cross-field pass picked out Stearn, the right winger’s shot was pushed back out into danger by Flitney. The stopper did far better to recover instantly and smother the follow up effort.

The away team were next to forage forward, when Jai Reason spotted a McAllister run and found the striker in the Seagulls’ area. As McAllister darted inside to attempt a right foot strike he was denied by a superbly executed Owen Irish tackle.

Grubb was a perennial menace and when he expertly controlled a ball fiercely directed at him on half-way and turned away from Glen Southam, the left sided player was able to carry possession to the 18 yard line where his pass was thankfully inches ahead of Chas Hemmings and dribbled harmlessly behind.

A welcome sight was the Spitfires’ confidence in possession and quick passing. One of the more eye-catching moves of the first period saw some characteristic fluent build up play involving Damian Scannell, Reason, and Binns, the ball being worked from tight on the right across to the left where Binns earned a corner. A further element in the fluidity of Eastleigh’s play was the willingness of Reason and Scannell to rotate, the pair never becoming predictable in their movement.

Soon after one of many purposeful bursts forward when he had earned his team another flag-kick, Green was culpable at the other end when he illegally halted a fine one-two between Stearn and Ben Kirk on the hosts’ right. A towering Chris Todd header cleared any threat from the set-piece – after a shaky first few minutes Todd didn’t lose an aerial dual all night – but Eastleigh’s attempts to counter were thwarted when Southam couldn’t gather a Binns pass.

60 seconds later and Southam was nearly on the score-sheet. The ball was returned into the Weston 18-yard box after Binns’ initial delivery was cut out by Kirk – now playing a defensive role having switched with Diallo due to the latter’s carelessness in possession – where the Spitfires’ skipper drilled a screaming left-foot shot over Irish’s goal.

With ten minutes until the interval Mark Hughes picked up his now customary booking for a trip in midfield. That didn’t detract from yet another assured performance from the Northern Irishman, whose unerring positioning, ability to break up play, and sensible use of the ball are becoming increasingly vital to this Spitfires’ unit. Mitchell Nelson joined the ex-Barnet man in the book soon after for a late tackle on Stearn.

As the half drew to a close, Reason and Scannell were both blocked in their attempts to shoot inside the box, before the ball found its way out to Green. The left-back’s excellent cross was headed over by Binns who just failed to get on top of the ball.

The final effort of the first 45 minutes belonged to Weston, but after some neat close control and dexterity by Hemmings, and Nelson’s tackle on the by-line, when the ball fell for Diallo he could only send his thundering drive fizzing past the post.

Buoyed by an encouraging first 45 minutes not many of the travelling Spitfires could believe their eyes when the Seagulls regained their lead shortly after the restart with the softest of goals. Grubb played a neat pass down the left touchline into the feet of Hemmings. The towering forward - who showed far more capability on the floor than he offered threat in the air - escaped Nelson, who initially appeared to have recovered after being caught ahead of the ball, and crossed for Stearn. The winger’s weak first effort was partially cleared but the second was fired in despite the best efforts of Green on the line.

Eastleigh needed to hit back quickly as they had through Binns early on. Reason was first to respond, striking a 25-yard right foot effort across goal and wide. A minute later the playmaker’s corner from the right was met by Hughes’ diving header which was marginally too high.

We only had to wait another two minutes for the Spitfires to re-establish equilibrium. Scannell picked up a Hughes header and drifted into the area where he laid a ball right to Reason. The brilliant attacker kept his right foot shot low inside Irish’s right-post. It was a fine finish. Visiting delirium ensued.

That delight was ratcheted up several scales swiftly after the equaliser. McAllister flicked a Green throw down the left side. Binns burrowed to establish possession before feeding Scannell to his left. From there, the ex-Southend man produced a finishing masterclass. Looking up, he bent a perfect right foot effort, which set off a yard outside the far post and finished inches inside the upright and comfortably beyond Irish’s despairing dive. It was a genuinely classy moment from a player who is surely enjoying his best spell of form since returning to the Silverlake late in 2011.

Amidst the jubilation McAllister became the third Spitfire to enter the referee’s notebook for pulling back Grubb and preventing a quick Weston break. Scannell would add his name to the guilty visitors’ list when cautioned for an untidy tackle on Kirk.

On the hour Flitney did well to gather Jamie Price’s volley after a Grubb dead-ball in amongst a sea of bodies in his area. Weston clearly believed they could find a route back into the game and after Green could only clear a Stearn cross as far as Kane Ingram the home striker shot wastefully over.

The most alarming moment for the visitors at 3-2 arrived when Grubb sent in a free-kick from the left which found Owen Irish completely free. Unlike in recent matches against Farnborough and Sutton, the Spitfires’ lax marking wasn’t punished as Irish headed over. That set-piece had been won after Weston initially stole the ball from Nelson as the right-back charged forward, an error which sent Richard Hill into near apoplexy.

Galvanised after that escape Eastleigh came close at the other end. Scannell, after winning possession high up the field, played a clever one-two on the right with Reason before striking a shot which flashed across the face of goal. The Spitfires were furious however at what they saw as a late challenge on the wideman as he got his shot away, believing the offence warranted a penalty.

The result was effectively put to bed on 73 minutes. McAllister, strong all night, laid a header into Hughes. The midfielder speedily switched play to Binns on the left. The winger, whose end-product is rapidly improving, attacked the by-line and sent in a wicked delivery which Owen Irish, in his desperation to intervene, could only slide into his own net.

Weston attempted an immediate riposte as Stearn escaped Green on the right, but Todd was on hand to make a superb saving tackle as Diallo sought to break into the area from his team-mate’s pass.

After Scannell had bullied Grubb off the ball and laid a pass inside to Hughes, the Northern Irishman curled a right-foot strike from distance over Irish’s bar. As the action evolved throughout the night, Eastleigh’s relentless pressing and harrying wore down their hosts. The sight of a blue shirt nicking possession high up the pitch was a common one, and after Southam had managed just that, Binns fed Green on another surge forward, the raiding full-back’s shot flying past the far post.

With Forbes on for Scannell, and shoring up Eastleigh’s rear-guard alongside Dean Beckwith and Todd, the Spitfires’ two goal advantage was never under threat. Weston were restricted to a blocked Ingram shot and an effort from the same player which flew well over. Stearn was similarly wasteful with a dip from distance.

It was heartening to see a group of Eastleigh players leave an away pitch bouncing, in the knowledge that a performance full of skill and commitment had brought maximum reward. Every member of the Spitfires team can only have relished that winning feeling, and now the barren five month monkey is off their backs, it is to be hoped that the freedom and confidence that was evident here can be replicated in the season’s closing away fixtures.

As an aside, John Gregory was in attendance at his second Spitfires’ game this term and maintained a 100% record of seeing his former colleague Richard Hill’s team win. The ex-Aston Villa boss says he will be at Staines on Saturday.

Those play-off hopes which appeared to have been extinguished at the weekend suddenly have the tiniest flicker of light shining back in their direction.

Weston-super-Mare v Eastleigh - 05/02/13 by Eastleigh FC

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