Basingstoke Town 0-3 Eastleigh

BASINGSTOKE TOWN 0-3 EASTLEIGH
Friday 29th March 2013

Blue Square Bet South

Match report by Paul McNamara

As has become customary in recent months, Eastleigh bounced back from a hiccup – the midweek defeat at Tonbridge – in fine style. This was a composed, controlled, and rounded display, as well as being particularly crucial in terms of keeping alive aspirations for a tilt at a season ending play-off position.

From the moment the first ball was kicked at The Camrose Ground this afternoon, the Spitfires’ team looked far more balanced and cohesive than that which stuttered on Tuesday. Dale Binns, returning from illness and replacing Craig McAllister, was the only change to the starting eleven. The winger’s presence allowed Jai Reason to be employed in his preferred position behind lone target-man, Chris Zebroski. Damian Scannell switched back to his habitual role on the right – the side from which the Croydon born player operates at his roving and menacing best.

It was Scannell who made the visitors’ first impact, hustling Wes Daly off the ball in the midfield area before breaking and slipping a pass inside to Reason whose right foot shot was pulled across goal and beyond the far post. In that opening burst of action the rutted and unreliable nature of the pitch was evident, both as Scannell’s pass from the right made its way to his colleague, and in Reason’s subsequent bobbling strike.

Eastleigh were plainly determined to stamp an early authority on the game and quickly banish thoughts of three days previous. Mark Hughes was next to snap in and steal possession in midfield, before eventually hitting the Spitfires second attempt on goal to the same destination where the first ended up, marginally beyond the left upright.

Scannell’s anticipation and strength were then to the fore when he capitalised on Simon Dunn’s loose pass across the centre-circle and sprung forward. The winger rode David Ray’s heavy handed stab at checking his run, but Ray’s central defensive partner Rob Rice was able to succeed where his team-mate failed, depriving Scannell a clear run on goal – or indeed, a chance to hit an early effort with Ashley Bayes between the Dragons’ posts having advanced someway off his line.

With Scannell visibly revved up and determined to make amends for his aberration in Kent – where he received a late red card for swearing at the referee – and Binns providing width on the left, as well as solid cover in front of Michael Green which had been lacking on Tuesday, Eastleigh were in total command of the initial exchanges. Zebroski was next to send a low effort past the post after collecting a ball to feet from Binns and turning sharply to get his strike away.

Basingstoke’s first attack of note came when Delano Sam-Yorke ran onto a neat pass out to the hosts’ left-wing and drove at Mitchell Nelson. With the right-back reluctant to commit to a challenge, Sam-Yorke backed him into the Spitfires’ area and crashed a right-foot shot towards goal which Chris Todd was perfectly placed to block.

On the unforgiving surface, the task of stringing together a spell of possession was demanding but Eastleigh were still exhibiting flashes of their ability to retain the ball – and most importantly doing so with positive intent. Binns, Reason, and Scannell all combined in a fluent move which sprung Green on the left to cross at the near post for Zebroski. The forward took a touch and, as the ball reared back up towards him, struck a left-foot drive across goal and beyond Bayes’ far post.

For all their early superiority the Spitfires were nearly caught by a swift and simple counter. After another phase of relaxed Eastleigh possession the imposing Nathan Campbell intercepted a forward ball and instantly threaded a pass through the heart of the visitors’ defence, allowing Sam-Yorke to bear down on Ross Flitney’s goal. As the striker was sizing up his attempt Nelson rushed in and executed a terrific recovery tackle, so seeing off the threat.

Campbell’s intervention was typical of his showing – particularly in the first period. The Dragons’ midfielder sat deep – almost on his centre-halves’ toes – whenever the Spitfires had possession in their own territory and consequently utilised his towering frame to swallow up any aerial balls forward. The former Totton player was equally adept at springing across the ground to cut out service to the visiting attackers.

At the opening half’s mid-way point Binns made good a casual first touch by hitting his second forward to a foraging Reason. The playmaker exchanged passes with Green, before demonstrating his sturdiness and silky feet to hold off the crowding blue shirts and steering a ball back out to his full-back. Green’s delivery was destined for Zebroski’s head yards from goal but for a timely intervention by Ray.

Campbell’s positioning was immaculate again shortly after some intricate play between Nelson and Scannell on the right, which resulted in the latter steering a menacing low ball into the box. With a rush of Spitfires’ advancing and hoping to capitalise on the delivery the home midfielder snuffed out the potential trouble with his side looking vulnerable.

Basingstoke were strangely reluctant to commit men forward, typically relying on their front three of Sam-Yorke, Tim Sills and Manny Williams to cause the visitors’ rearguard any problems. In open play none of the midfield trio of Campbell, Daly or Dunn joined their forwards in attack or sought to run beyond the ball. The only dig at goal the trio mustered between them prior to the interval was a speculative and wildly off-target Dunn strike from distance.

The young former England Universities player’s next contribution – on 43 minutes - was to send an in-swinging free-kick – conceded by Binns for tugging back at Sam-Yorke - from a right-sided position into the arms of Flitney.

The intuitive and quick-witted ‘keeper threw without delay to Zebroski, stationed on the right and across the half-way line. The striker had minutes earlier showcased his considerable power when a destructive run on the left took him blazing past Rice, and was only stalled at the by-line by a crisp Nathan Smart tackle.

With Basingstoke acutely aware of the ex-Torquay man’s ability to surge forward he was pulled and pushed before the day’s man in black, Rob Hyde, awarded the Eastleigh Number 9 a free-kick. Reason’s looping set-piece was too long for any of his colleagues packing the penalty area, but crucially also evaded the head of Smart at the back post and ran for Scannell. The former Southend man was coolness personified as he swept a delivery to the back post for Hughes to steam onto and crash a header satisfyingly into the net.

There remained time for another swift Sptfires’ attack before the break. Zebroski held up Green’s throw on the left and slipped the ball in-field to Scannell, who in turn spread play wide to the overlapping Nelson. The right-back’s perilous low centre was fractionally too near Bayes, and the home stopper keenly clutched the ball into his body.

The Dragons returned from their breather a refreshed and wholly more aggressive unit. The Spitfires were under immediate pressure when Hughes was harshly adjudged to have illegally stopped Sam-Yorke’s raid down the left. Beckwith won a key header to divert Daly’s consequent free-kick beyond Flitney’s left post.

The consequent flag-kick produced one of the afternoon’s decisive incidents. Sills raced unencumbered onto Dunn’s set-piece and dispatched a header beyond Flitney. As the 13-goal striker and his supporters revelled in their moment, the officials were cruelly – or deliciously for the travelling Spitfires – ruling that Flitney had been impeded. It was a narrow escape, but perhaps gave some truth to the adage about decisions evening themselves out during the course of a season.

Eastleigh’s first post-interval foray culminated in Scannell, having picked up Reason’s lay off, darting in from the right but thumping his left-foot strike well over.

On 50 minutes, former Spitfire Jordace Holder-Spooner was introduced into the action to replace the stricken Sam-Yorke – the hosts’ forward having sustained a cut head in an earlier clash with Nelson.

Soon after that change, more neat work involving; Reason, Scannell, and Southam was abruptly halted when, after the move had reached Zebroski to the right of the area, the forward was felled. Reason’s floated free-kick from an encouraging position was headed clear however. If there is a repeated fault to pick at in the Spitfires’ play it comes in the number of promising set-pieces around their opponents’ 18 yard box that come to nothing.

A second goal would have been particularly welcome with the Dragons continuing to raise their tempo. Green’s assured defending was required when Williams and Sills completed a smart one-two, requiring Eastleigh’s left-back to snuff out the former’s shot from close in. That brought to an end a brief flurry of home dominance which had started after the immense Beckwith was softly considered to have climbed on Sills.

The Spitfires were back on the retreat shortly after Southam had chipped over from the right of goal. Nelson left short his attempted pass inside to Hughes, leaving the Northern Irishman lunging at the ball, but only making contact with Campbell who had arrived first on the scene. It won’t astonish many regular Spitfires’ observers to know that the combative midfielder received a yellow card. Tick. There was to be no further damage as Daly’s bold and forcibly struck dig was held by Flitney, without need for the ‘keeper to move.

With 25 minutes to play, Richard Hill replaced Scannell with Adam Watkins, and simultaneously made the same switch in tactics which proved so bountiful at the Silverlake against Havant and Waterlooville and closed out the match at Maidenhead. Watkins joined Southam and Hughes in midfield, while Reason became the nominal central forward in an attack which also included Binns and Zebroski.

Due to his initially wearing the incorrect shirt there was a delay in getting Watkins onto the field, a concern at a time when the Spitfires’ defence was on the ropes. After a period in which the Dragons pinned their visitors back, they earned a free-kick for a Zebroski misdemeanour high on the left.

Spooner’s resultant free-kick was wickedly driven towards the near-post where Sills glanced the ball into a scrum of players. Nelson was the most alert of them all, managing to apply a toe and guide the ball past his right post. Sills did have a half-chance subsequent to the corner, but his snap-shot cannoned off Todd. The home cries for a penalty were rather optimistic.

As the action entered its final 20 minutes, Eastleigh gradually restored order. Hughes saw a speculative shot hit the roof of the net after taking Watkins’ 5 yard pass to feet – that followed a welcome respite for the Spitfires as they re-located their ability to retain the ball.

Hughes was integral to the game’s next notable - and conclusive – action with 15 minutes to play. The one time Chester City man collected a rushed home clearance, and unhurriedly fed possession left to Binns. When the ball was worked back into Hughes, the obvious option was Nelson - racing into oodles of space on the right. Instead, the canny midfielder steered his pass forward to Watkins. The tigerish Luton Town loanee took a couple of paces and, from 20 yards, hit a low right foot effort beyond the grasping Bayes, and into the bottom left corner.

Four minutes later, and the 21 year-old treated us to a repeat performance. A third Spitfires’ goal didn’t appear the likely outcome when Southam was ridiculously deemed to have fouled Williams on the Basingstoke right.

When the deep free-kick was pumped into the visitors’ area, Flitney assertively took control at the edge of the box, but as he was set to step outside his area the Spitfires’ custodian was alert enough to drop the ball at his feet. While home players and supporters frantically claimed that the Eastleigh man had stepped beyond the 18-yard line with ball in hand, the ‘keeper smacked clear and found the mobile Zebroski on the left.

Having played a short pass in-field to Reason, the forward collected the return and strode into the Dragons’ area. When Zebroski was crowded out by an encircling crop of blue shirts the ball landed at the feet of Watkins, who simply drew on his experience of minutes earlier and produced a replica finish down to Bayes’ right.

The home team, already palpably drained by the concession of a second goal, were now dead on their feet and offered nothing more – aside from a stoppage time dig by substitute and ex-Silverlake player Shaun McAuley, which necessitated Flitney to tip smartly over his bar.

The visitors had one dip at extending their lead when Zebroski took another Hughes pass on the left and drilled a shot past the near post – Hughes having again been perfectly stationed to gather a loose ball out of the hosts’ backline.

The only late scare for Eastleigh came in the form of Beckwith – who was at his majestic best all afternoon – appearing to tweak a groin as he swept away a Smart cross.

McAllister and Alex Lacey were both given late runs in place of Binns and Todd respectively, and it is likely that this strong squad will be fully utilised during a testing and congested few weeks.

The three fixtures on the immediate horizon fit into two separate categories; ‘winnable’ and ‘must-win’. If nine points can be secured we are in for a thrilling denouement to the campaign – and in the process would earn some sweet revenge over Dorchester and Hornchurch, two opponents to whom the Spitfires have suffered exasperating one goal losses this term.

It is a tough assignment – we’ve seen on numerous occasions that every single point in this league is exceptionally hard earned. Nevertheless, if the same spirit and resolve which was displayed on the field at Basingstoke – not to mention among the hardy match-going walkers who did a sterling job on behalf of the supporters’ club - can be summoned, then there is plenty to look forward to.

Basingstoke Town v Eastleigh - 29.03.13 by Eastleigh FC

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