Maidenhead United 0-2 Eastleigh

Saturday 9th March 2013

Blue Square Bet South

Match report by Paul McNamara

Eastleigh recorded their third away victory in four and a second successive clean sheet in the course of a deserved 2-0 win at Maidenhead United’s antiquated York Road Ground.

Although still not hitting the heights of this team at its flowing peak, the Spitfires’ performance was a step up from last week’s dogged effort against Eastbourne Borough and ultimately possessed too much class for the hosts.

The visitors started this game as the brighter of the two sides and weren’t deterred by the heavy and uneven surface from trying to pass the ball or, in the cases of Damian Scannell and Dale Binns, taking the game to their opponents with direct runs at the Magpies’ backline.

A Binns cross produced the first Spitfires chance, from which Mark Hughes couldn’t extend Billy Lumley in the home goal beyond having to easily collect a low under-hit strike.

Maidenhead immediately sought to launch an attack of their own - Harry Pritchard cutting inside Mitchell Nelson on the Eastleigh right before firing a speculative right foot effort too high to trouble Ross Flitney. It was evident from the early exchanges that Pritchard was central to the Magpies’ game plan. At every opportunity the left-winger’s colleagues sought to either spring him in behind Nelson, or feed the ball to his feet so allowing him the freedom to run at the Spitfires’ right-back.

On six minutes Pritchard gave warning of the danger in allowing him room to cross by supplying an accurate far post delivery which Chris Flood got his head to above Michael Green but couldn’t keep on target.

As play developed, a favoured Eastleigh route to attack came through attempting to exploit the gaps behind the home full-backs. Chris Zebroski tirelessly ran the channels, making himself available to his back-four and midfield, and converting a number of forward balls into attacking opportunities. In the tenth minute alone the striker produced crosses from both sides of the field – only to be booked after his latter effort from the left when he was late on Bobby Behzadi while attempting to regain possession from the clearing defender.

Nelson was the next Spitfire to incur the wrath of the referee when he was penalised for an innocuous tussle with Pritchard. The Magpies resulting free-kick from high on the left was floated harmlessly beyond the far post - in the same vain that a previous Flood set-piece attempt from 25 yards sailed harmlessly clear of the visiting bar.

After a period in which neither team was able to establish any dominance or create a chance on goal, Scannell tenaciously chased Glen Southam’s ball on the right and earned his side a corner. Hughes’ head met Jai Reason’s out-swung flag-kick but the Northern Irishman couldn’t keep his effort low enough to trouble Lumley.

On 20 minutes some fine Eastleigh football was tantalisingly close to bringing the afternoon’s first goal. Having received Green’s crisp ball into his feet on the left, Binns turned and scurried infield before hitting a reverse pass back wide to Zebroski. The target man – playing for Eastleigh away from the Silverlake for the first time – drove inside and unleashed a wicked shot which was destined for the top right corner but for a magnificent diving touch from Lumley.

Reason laid the subsequent corner short to Binns, but with time to size up his effort the wide-man slammed an effort into the legs of Behzadi.

Shortly after his heroics the Magpies’ keeper - a man who had a very brief stay with Eastleigh three years ago – caused his colleagues a moment of panic with a poorly hit clearance which landed straight at the feet of Reason. When the ball was instantly switched to Binns who was completely free on the left the ex-Woking man was flagged offside by the smallest of margins.

Soon after, David Pratt, operating as the furthest player forward for the hosts, produced a delightfully deft flick on Behzadi’s firm pass to eliminate Beckwith from the action and free Daniel Brown for a clear attempt on goal. The midfielder couldn’t cap his well-timed run with a strong finish however, only being able to drag a skewed right-foot strike across goal.

That sudden chance for the hosts and the enterprising football which led to it provided a tangible reminder that if afforded the chance Maidenhead could pose a serious threat.

The importance to Eastleigh of scoring the game’s first goal then, and thus avoiding a possible repeat of some of the demoralising afternoons spent fruitlessly chasing an equaliser earlier in the season, was ever more pronounced.

Just short of the half-hour Binns had two cracks at securing that precious lead. Reason’s free-kick from the right was picked up at the back post by Hughes from where the indefatigable midfielder slid a quick pass into his winger. After having an initial strike blocked, Binns hit his second dig wildly high.

The Spitfires were handed a boost when Pritchard was forced to hobble out of the game on the 30 minute mark. Until the attacker’s departure, Nelson had contained his dangerous opponent and done much to counter the hosts’ pivotal threat.

Indeed, the right-back who was starting in place of injury-struck Dan Spence produced one of his most distinguished defensive performances in an Eastleigh shirt. None of Pritchard, Flood, or Reese Tison-Lascaris – all of whom occupied the Magpies’ left-wing spot at various stages – received any change from the ex-Bournemouth player. Nelson was sharp into the tackle, never allowing his opponents any time to settle and, notably, his concentration didn’t waver once.

Pritchard’s replacement was Richard Pacquette – a man who takes the description nomadic to extremes.

The change initially unsettled the home team and Eastleigh enjoyed a spell of prolonged pressure without being able to test Lumley. That pattern was broken when Brown managed to seize possession and pick out Flood on the left. The winger – currently on loan at Maidenhead from the Spitfires – drifted inside and swung a right foot cross which evaded both an advancing attacker and the far post by inches.

The Magpies’ next opportunity caused visiting nerves to jangle further. Pratt took Flood’s pass in the inside left channel before unleashing a right foot effort which Flitney kept out low down to his left. The ‘keeper couldn’t hold the initial shot, but with Pacquette alive to a potential chance and close by, the former Gillingham man snatched the ball into his grasp at the second attempt.

Flood’s contribution to Maidenhead’s two quick-fire attacks was his final decisive involvement and he was destined to be substituted late in the game. Undoubtedly a skilful player, the 23 year-old is perhaps too lightweight and short on pace to be an enduring threat in the wide areas at this level.

When after 40 minutes Zebroski latched onto a fine ball lofted out to the right by Hughes there appeared little imminent danger for the hosts. The forward though dismissively held off the attentions of Mark Nisbet before sending in a cross which the hulking frame of Lumley only flapped at, so allowing the ball to run to Binns at the back post. The winger characteristically danced and jigged with the ball at his feet before driving in a cross which hit the grounded Behzadi’s arm.

Referee Mike Blackledge didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot and Reason further bolstered his reputation as being deadly from 12-yards with an emphatically driven shot down the centre of the goal. If Lumley hadn’t dived in an attempt to anticipate Reason’s forceful effort the strike would have hit him, but the stopper would in all likelihood have ended up enmeshed in his net with only the ball for company.

Buoyed by establishing a deserved lead, the Spitfires’ strung together a swift counter from the back with Nelson feeding Reason whose first time lay-off was threaded by Scannell into the right sided forward run of Zebroski. On this occasion, Nisbet was able to apply enough pressure to force the target-man to drill his strike past the near post.

The ever-menacing Pacquette had the half’s final chance, heading over after leaping impressively above Todd to reach Behzadi’s delivery from deep on the Magpies’ right. Richard Hill left his talismanic centre-half in no doubt that he is expected to win such aerial battles.

Dean Beckwith – playing in the middle of Eastleigh’s defence in preference to Alex Lacey, and the second of two changes along with Nelson to last Saturday’s starting eleven - demonstrated his considerable strength soon after the restart when out-muscling Pratt to see Brown’s clever ball over the top safely through to Flitney.

Just two minutes into the second period came the chance which could have effectively killed the contest. Scannell received Hughes’ ball to feet on the right and slipped a precise through pass into Zebroski. The continually improving forward steered his low goal-bound strike across Lumley, forcing the former Wolves youth player to produce a wonderful fingertip stop which deflected the ball onto the inside of his post. The home glovesman deserved his ensuing luck when the ball bounced back into his grateful arms.

Galvanised by their escape, Maidenhead sought to punish their visitors’ lack of killer instinct. Pratt turned the tables on Beckwith to hold off the centre-back only to send his close-range shot off-target, before the former charged down the latter’s pass out of defence and set up Brown to hit a 25-yard dipping strike which Flitney pushed over from underneath his bar.

From the resultant corner, Nelson was alert to clear ahead of Pacquette with the attacker ready to swoop onto a header directed towards the six-yard box.

The Beckwith/Pratt duel continued with the former Luton player booked for going through the back of his opponent after the ex-Basingstoke striker was first to a high ball. After Flitney claimed the consequent set-piece, Eastleigh re-imposed their attacking credentials.

The ‘keeper gave evidence of his consistently excellent distribution by picking out Scannell on the right. When the winger rolled the ball back into Hughes, the midfielder hit a devilish cross which brought more hesitation from Lumley and marginally evaded the onrushing Reason at the back post.

When Scannell popped up on the opposite side of the pitch – both Spitfires’ wingers again operated with great flexibility – he cut inside and was only denied a goal by a combination of Lumley and the keeper’s right post. The ball came back out invitingly for Binns, but Lumley displayed fantastic agility to get back down and tip the winger’s shot past the same upright.

Scannell was enjoying an influential period, and after he expertly controlled Nelson’s volleyed clearance and twisted away from Nisbet the Magpies’ skipper could only halt the winger’s break with a crude hack. Inexplicably, the defender escaped a caution.

The same pair’s next coming together saw the Maidenhead player recover quickly after the wide-man had appeared set to steal possession after Nisbet intercepted Zebroski’s right-wing delivery.

With the clinching second goal continuing to elude Eastleigh there was growing tension among the visiting supporters. After Todd’s fierce defensive header was skilfully struck instantly back into Pacquette, Nelson executed a superbly timed sliding tackle to rob the forward of what had appeared a golden opportunity to score against one of his 21 (twenty-one) previous clubs.

Richard Hill made his first tactical switch with 20 minutes to play. Adam Watkins replaced Scannell and formed a three man midfield with Hughes and Southam. Reason pulled to the right when the Spitfires sought to spread play to that side of the pitch.

The Luton loanee made a telling impact on the action – exactly as he had when entering with half an hour to play and his team two goals behind against Havant and Waterlooville 11 days earlier. With the energetic 21 year-old on the field, Eastleigh instantly press and win the ball 10 yards further up the pitch. Watkins’ endeavours are surely posing Hill with a selection dilemma, albeit one that is most welcome.

As the tempo lifted Todd made the tackle of the game on the raiding Tison-Lascaris. The former Torquay defender stood tall and timed his challenge perfectly to take the ball and satisfyingly upend his adversary in the process.

With 8 minutes to play Lacey entered the fray to augment the Spitfires’ central defensive area, leaving Reason to pull out to the left to plug the gap left by the departing Binns. Watkins took up a role further to the right, and with banks of five and four men strung across the field the visitors instantly looked a more demanding proposition to breach.

Watkins’ high press – moments after the typically magnificent Hughes won a 30/70 tackle in midfield - brought him a shooting opportunity when he capitalised on Devante McKain’s hesitancy. Lumley was able to grasp the Luton man’s left foot drive.

As the clock ticked down Eastleigh were increasingly comfortable, and after a spell of keep-ball Watkins released Green on the left to smack a left foot drive which Lumley parried up and over his bar.

From the subsequent flag-kick the same combination which set-up Zebroski’s winner against Eastbourne Borough a week ago supplied this day’s decisive blow. Lacey raced into the area and jumped athletically to head Reason’s delivery into the top left-corner. Job done.

With minutes to play, the Spitfires naturally retreated and Leon Solomon wasted a headed chance when free inside the visiting box. Pratt steered another chance off target after collecting substitute Martel Powell’s right-wing cross and spinning to create an opening.

The name of Maidenhead United is one that Richard Hill will look upon fondly. The Berkshire club were the opposition when the manager began his Spitfires’ reign with a 4-2 triumph in September, and this crucial victory has set up a titanic clash on Tuesday night against direct play-off rivals Boreham Wood.

Eastleigh’s confidence heading into that fixture can only have been raised another notch after this display which contained a blend of goalkeeping solidity, defensive assurance, midfield tenacity and energy, and attacking strength and guile.

All that, and the feeling remains that there is more to come from a unit whose momentum continues its steady upward course.


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