Eastleigh 1-0 AFC Hornchurch

EASTLEIGH 1-0 AFC HORNCHURCH
Saturday 6th April 2013

Blue Square Bet South

Match report by Jamie Montigue

Eastleigh took another step towards securing a play-off place by winning a third successive league fixture having picked up all three points at home to AFC Hornchurch this afternoon.

As we approach the business end of the season, the Spitfires have hit a rich vein of form at precisely the right time to climb to sixth in the table, with games in hand over the sides currently occupying spots in the top five.

Make no mistake, there is still a lot to do between now and the conclusion of the campaign; but Eastleigh are certainly heading in the right direction and as things stand – matters are in their own hands. The other promotion hopefuls are perhaps starting to feel the pressure as well with three of the top five losing today.

Adam Watkins is fast earning the tag of 'super-sub' as the on-loan Luton Town midfielder came off the bench to grab an important goal. Watkins, who scored twice as a second-half substitute at Basingstoke Town a little over a week ago, proved to be the match winner by netting the only goal of the game in the 82nd minute.

Since losing to Welling United on the 1st December, Eastleigh have been unbeaten at the Silverlake Stadium winning seven and drawing twice in the nine games that have followed.

Continuity has proven to be a factor in recent weeks as Richard Hill has named the same starting eleven for the past three matches, all of which have resulted in the Spitfires taking maximum points.

Today's game saw AFC Hornchurch win a corner in the opening stages, which was half-cleared by Glen Southam before a shot from Chris Bourne went high and wide of goal.

Eastleigh soon looked to get on to the front foot and in the sixth minute, willing-runner Chris Zebroski held the ball up on the right looking for support in the middle. As Zebroski rolled the ball across, Hornchurch were able to clear the danger with a clearance to stop the ball from reaching Glen Southam.

With ten minutes played, Ross Flitney's kick up the pitch to Jai Reason was controlled by the Eastleigh top goal scorer before the ex-Braintree man played a superb first-time pass into Zebroski. The striker was forced wide by the opposition defence but Zebroski still managed to send a cross into the area. The attack came to a halt when Dale Binns was adjudged to have handled the ball in front of goal.

The visitors found themselves having to do most of the defending as Eastleigh continued to play on the front foot. AFC Hornchurch stood firm to crowd out Zebroski just as he was looking to shoot. Moments later Damian Scannell then cut in and saw an effort blocked too.

Joe Woolley was called into action with 14 minutes on the clock as the lively Chris Zebroski forced a save out of the goalkeeper when he was played through into the penalty area.

In the 19th minute, a fantastic corner kick from Jai Reason narrowly evaded the head of Zebroski at the far post.

Lewis Smith had the first chance for the visitors when he cut in from the left hand side but curled his shot high over Ross Flitney’s goal.

Midway through the half, a great flick around the corner by Michael Green set Dale Binns on a run down the left. Binns worked his way into the area and looked to be tripped, but no penalty was given.

Just a minute later, another claim for an Eastleigh penalty was turned down. Reason was adamant that he was brought down unfairly, but the referee awarded a free kick against Reason instead, much to the bemusement of the home crowd.

The game became a little frustrating as persistent free kicks and stoppages meant neither side could find any rhythm for a spell.

From the 37th minute to the end of the half though, both sides had opportunities to score.

Lewis Smith, who was arguably AFC Hornchurch's most lively player, peeled away to the left and set up Joey May who screwed his shot wide from the edge of the area.

Jai Reason sent a testing corner in to the box that was nudged towards goal but then cleared off the line and away from danger. At the opposite end of the pitch, Smith fired over the bar.

Four minutes before the break Reason teed the ball up for Glen Southam to shoot, but the skipper's effort from 25-yards flew harmlessly over the bar.

A minute later, Eastleigh worked a good opening with Chris Zebroski linking with Southam inside the area, only for the athletic striker to poke his shot agonisingly wide of the post.

The last action of the half saw Smith come close to opening the scoring but Ross Flitney made a fantastic instinctive save. It wouldn't have mattered anyway as the flag went up for offside, but it was a fine save all the same.

Despite the Spitfires seeing more of the ball and enjoying the majority of the possession, at the half way stage the scores were level.

HALF TIME: Eastleigh 0-0 AFC Hornchurch

After the break Damian Scannell sent a cross in to the area with his left foot after good play from right-back Mitchell Nelson in an advanced position. Chris Zebroski met the cross in the centre and beat goalkeeper Joe Woolley to the ball in the air with a brave, towering header only for the ball to crash against the woodwork and go out of play.

In the 52nd minute, Reason curled a free kick to the far post where Dean Beckwith hooked a high ball back into the six-yard box. Woolley claimed the ball in the air to relieve the pressure for AFC Hornchurch.

A dangerous looking cross from Lewis Smith right across the face of goal was difficult for the hosts to deal with, where Chris Bourne couldn’t quite reach the ball at the far post to take advantage of the situation.

The combative Mark Hughes, who again put in a steady and hard-working display in the middle, combined with Jai Reason just outside the penalty area. On this occasion Jai's effort was fairly tame and straight at the keeper. Soon after, Chris Zebroski was presented with a good opportunity as he spotted Woolley off his line. Zebroski looked to lob the ball over the keeper and into the net but the attempt was sent narrowly off target.

Just past the hour mark, Smith played a one-two with Bourne though the former couldn’t control his shot that failed to trouble Ross Flitney.

As the half progressed, Eastleigh were increasingly putting pressure on their opponents forcing them back in to their own half for sustained periods.

Mitchell Nelson played the ball into the box where Damian Scannell nodded the ball into the path of Zebroski, who hit it first time on the volley but sent the ball wide to the right of goal. Nelson was threatening the Hornchurch defence once more when he delivered a low ball into the area that had to be deflected behind for a corner.

With 72 minutes played, Zebroski sent the ball out to the left where Dale Binns fired a shot over the bar. It was to be Binns' last contribution to the game as Adam Watkins was called upon as Richard Hill's first substitution of the game. Not for the first time, Watkins' quality on the ball and impact as a substitute helped Eastleigh to finish the game strongly.

The defining moment in the match came in the 82nd minute when ADAM WATKINS broke the deadlock in style with a composed finish, after sidestepping a challenge to plant a shot into the bottom corner beyond the reach of the keeper. On the face of it, the goal and ultimately the victory was no less than the Spitfires deserved.

From then on it was all about managing the game and making sure the clean sheet was kept in tact. Alex Lacey was brought on for Scannell late in the game to shore up the defence with an extra body in there and Craig McAllister replaced Jai Reason as Eastleigh's third and final change.

Deep into injury time, Eastleigh conceded a free kick in a central position around 25-yards from goal. Kieron St Aimie had the opportunity to possibly draw level and rescue a point but cleared the stand behind the goal with a poorly struck effort.

For Eastleigh, this third successive victory sees the Spitfires climb to sixth in the table to maintain their pursuit of finishing the season strongly and reaching the play-offs. If the current form is anything to go by, Eastleigh fans will have plenty to shout about and celebrate if these high standards are maintained.

FULL TIME: Eastleigh 1-0 AFC Hornchurch

Eastleigh v AFC Hornchurch - 06.04.13 by Eastleigh FC

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