Welling United 1-1 Eastleigh

WELLING UNITED 1-1 EASTLEIGH
Saturday 27th April 2013
 
Blue Square Bet South
 
Match report by Paul McNamara

If any remnants of doubt still existed about whether or not Eastleigh can be counted among the very best teams in this division, they were surely wiped away in the course of this performance at the home of its champions.

Welling are the most impressive side to have visited the Silverlake this season and, during a swashbuckling start to this game, looked set to mark their day of celebration with a glittering win.

By the time 90 minutes was up however, the Spitfires had a point and could rightly consider themselves unlucky not to be leaving Park View Road with all three.

Richard Hill had spoken before the match of having no intention of trying to be ‘clever’ with his team selection. Eastleigh’s manager was as good as his word and made only two changes to the eleven which started the play-off berth clinching victory over Truro City on Tuesday night. Adam Watkins was made to settle for a place back on the bench, with Jai Reason stepping straight back into his playmaking role following a two-match suspension. Ross Flitney was the lone regular granted a rest, so allowing Jack Dovey an outing in goal.

The home side took a firm grip on the opening action, with the Spitfires initially letting the respect they had shown the title-winners in forming a guard of honour to greet them onto the pitch, to seep over into a tentative start.

Kiernan Hughes-Mason, operating on the left of a Wings front three, posed much of the early bother for his opponents. The former Millwall player had his first opportunity to bear down on the Eastleigh rear-guard when he collected into his path a lovely Fraser Franks pass out of defence, and quickly slipped a ball inside to Joe Healy. As the wide-man chased onto Healy’s return he went over the challenge of Dovey, and could only poke the ball past the post.

That slick move on five minutes came after an earlier bright burst forward from the home side. Joe Obersteller was sent away down the left by a quickly taken free-kick. The left-back’s deep cross was met by the head of the mammoth Scott Kinch, but without the necessary power or direction to extend Dovey.

Eastleigh’s intial forays into Welling territory were less convincing. Franks intercepted a Lacey pass from deep which was intended for Reason, and Dale Binns was hesitant when in a promising position on the left before half-heartedly going over a defensive leg in the Wings’ box. Binns had been picked out by Mark Hughes after the Northern Irishman’s sharp tackle to rob Kinch in the middle of the field. The midfielder hounded Kinch all afternoon, never allowing the influential Welling man to exert his presence over proceedings in the same manner as he had when the sides met at the Silverlake.

By the 12th minute the home team had a lead, and it had been coming. The Wings were moving the ball speedily and with purpose, and the constant movement and inter-changing of the front three – Hughes-Mason, Kurtis Guthrie, and Ross Lafayette - was unsettling the Spitfires’ defence.

The move for the goal began with Joe Healy – who was dictating the early tempo and play from a deep lying midfield position. He laid a ball out left to Oberstleller, who in turn looked for Hughes-Mason down the line. The attacker’s cross to the near post was met with a crisp Guthrie volley struck low inside Dovey’s right-post.

Almost immediately prior to that breakthrough, Beckwith had managed to scramble clear another Hughes-Mason delivery after Andy Forbes had been forced inside to win a header, so leaving the rampaging winger to drive forward and pounce on an instant forward pass into the space vacated by the visiting full-back.

After Reason had wasted a decent crossing chance from the right of the Welling area, Hughes-Mason was again in the thick of the action. Dean Beckwith was caught under Lee Clarke’s forward header, and Lafayette reacted quickly to set his lively team-mate away. Fortunately for the Spitfires, the attacker’s attempt at goal was poorly struck and easy for Dovey to gather.

With nearly 20 minutes on the clock, and perhaps with a sense of complacency creeping in after his side’s early dominance, Wings’ centre-back Anthony Acheampong momentarily lost concentration and allowed a ball rolled out to him by his ‘keeper, Sam Mott, to roll under his foot. Reason, typically, was straight on the scene, and after trading passes with Damian Scannell on the right, played a square ball to Hughes whose first time effort at goal was diverted away from danger by the leg of Franks.

Hughes-Mason renewed his early one-man assault on Dovey’s goal when he was set away by Guthrie’s flick on Kinch’s towering midfield header. The attacker struck first-time with his right-foot but could only pull the ball wide of the left-post.

Nearly 25 minutes had passed when the away side evidenced the first signs of finding their feet. Southam caressed a lovely pass directly into Scannell on the right, and when the winger burst inside Obersteller, – discomforted at last – the left-back couldn’t live with his man’s pace and clipped him to the floor. Southam’s consequent dead-ball to the back-stick was headed over by a soaring Lacey.

Southam was next to benefit from Scannell’s tricky wide-play, after the ex-Southend player spun on Forbes’ throw and passed inside to his captain who pulled a left-foot blast well off-target.

Much of the Spitfires’ attacking endeavours were being launched aerially – it was noticeable that neither full-back was seeking possession from Dovey’s hands. It was via this route that Franks became the third of the hosts’ back-four to experience some difficulty – being unable to compete fairly with McAllister for a high ball and so being penalised for climbing all over the lone striker.

A free-kick 20 yards from goal should have represented a golden opportunity for the away team. Their consistent inability to make such promising situations pay any dividend continued however. Michael Green’s effort was fired harmlessly at the defensive wall.

To add to the frustration, a similar chance was carelessly wasted only minutes later. Clarke was penalised for a high-foot on the edge of his box, as the Wings’ captain looked to relieve a considerable bout of pressure that had been built by some excellent Eastleigh possession play.

Despite vociferous home appeals the award was correct, but Welling anxieties were rapidly soothed when Reason slammed the set-piece – rolled to him by Southam – well over Mott’s bar.

With the impending stakes so high, and the likely prospect of two extremely tight affairs against Dover, the Spitifres’ ambitions would be done a world of good if they can find their range from the number of these gilt-edged opportunities they work so hard to create.

Clarke’s frustrations were beginning to boil over, with Hughes’ and Southam’s authority on the midfield battle growing – a hold the superb Eastleigh pair was never to relinquish. After Forbes had beaten the Welling man in the air, Clarke’s howls of protest regarding the challenge led to his name being taken by the referee.

Soon after, Forbes gave a demonstration of his football class when he halted Obersteller’s searing burst with a wonderfully timed tackle, before instantly exhibiting his renowned composure and awareness by skipping away from Kinch’s lunge and hitting a decisive pass into the feet of Scannell. Pure Andy Forbes.

With the league’s top-dogs having retreated into their shell, Eastleigh continued to search for a goal which would take them into the break on level terms. When Scannell’s forward pass clipped Reason’s heels, the Spitfires’ man was able to re-gather possession and steer a ball to Binns on the left. The winger flew by Loui Fazakerely and drove a cross towards McAllister which required the attendance of three home defenders to close out any threat.

For all Eastleigh’s growing stature, they were perilously near to facing a two-goal deficit as the half came to its end. Forbes had cleared a dangerous free-kick sent over from the Wings’ right, when the home team came straight back at their visitors.

Clarke rose above McAllister to head into Healy who, in turn, moved the ball onto Lafayette. From deep on the left, the Welling striker struck possibly the pass of the match with the outside of his right foot and perfectly into the forward run of Hughes-Mason. As the 21 year-old broke onto his colleague’s delivery, Dovey came charging from his goal and flattened the wide-eyed attacker. The Sptfires’ stopper was spared the red card, for which a populous home crowd was baying, by the backtracking Beckwith’s presence behind him.

There followed a series of niggly scuffles in the lead-up to the taking of the free-kick – something which wouldn’t have helped visiting nerves. Kinch was booked for his attempts at unsettling Dovey. Beckwith received the same punishment after being deemed over physical in his tussling in the wall. After all the drama in the warm-up, the main act of the set-piece itself was rather less notable. Franks pulled a low right-foot crack past the left upright.

In keeping with his first-half involvement Hughes-Mason had the second-period’s first dig at goal, striking a right-foot volley, after Lafayette’s cute headed lay-off, which required Dovey to dive to his right and push wide.

Eastleigh gave the first glimpse of their revived attacking intent ten minutes into the half – and from there the screw would be slowly but deliberately turned. Reason’s link-play was to the fore when he exchanged passes with Forbes, before feeding Scannell on the right. The winger won a corner, which, when taken, ran to Binns on the left. The former Woking player drifted inside and fashioned an opening on his right-foot – that initial good work was wasted though with a shot more likely to trouble passing traffic behind the stand rather than Mott in between the Wings’ posts.

On 57 minutes, Richard Hill made a change that was perhaps forced on him by Beckwith – with a caution already to his name – having been picked up for another couple of minor infringements and therefore starting to tread a fine line with his ability to last the afternoon.

Mitchell Nelson came on at right-back – his first football since the home win against Bromley on 16th April – and Forbes moved across to fill Beckwith’s centre-half role.

The Spitfires’ forward sorties were taking a more promising hue, with the ball now now being moved with far greater quality and urgency than had been the case early on. Southam had a shot steered off-target by another Fraser block after a crisp trading of possession with Binns.

Minutes later, Adam Watkins entered the fray in place of Scannell - another change which served to increase the visitors’ attacking purpose only further. Watkins was, characteristically, at once to the centre of events. After McAllister had won another free-kick close to the Wings’ box, Hughes slid the ball into the game’s newest entrant whose low drive was veered off-target by a home leg. Lacey was first to Southam’s resultant corner, hit to the near-post, but could only plant his header wide.

With Watkins arrival had come a tweak to the Eastleigh set-up. Hughes, Southam and the substitute formed what is becoming a familiar second-half midfield three. Reason moved to a position wide on the left, with Binns working the other side of McAllister.

Mindful of Chelmsford trailing at Farnborough, and therefore knowing a point would lift his team a place up the league standings, Eastleigh’s boss was frantically urging his men forward. That offensive desire left the away side vulnerable to a counter-attack. So it proved when a loose Southam touch set Lafayette running at the heart of the Spitfires’ backline, only to be denied by a fantastically timed Forbes interception which took the ball away for a corner.

That flag-kick was headed goal-bound by Kinch , but scrambled from the line by a combination of Green and Binns.

Watkins forced yet another free-kick in a precarious position for the hosts, after he had first hassled Healy off the ball and was then impeded by Kinch as he took Binns’ return pass. Yet another encouraging set-piece petered out to nothing when Fazakerely guided Southam’s delivery away, and then Reason’s return cross from the left was comfortably dealt with by the Wings’ defence.

Lacey had been yellow carded for unceremoniously halting Clarke’s break, when the Spitfires pushed on again. Watkins displayed quick-feet to find Reason on the left, from where the Number 10 played forward to McAllister who shaped to shoot before slipping a pass to Binns on his right. The increasingly effective winger’s effort was smothered away, but he was soon integral to a fine and merited equaliser.

Mott had already seen yellow for time wasting and, additionally, had struggled with his kicking on a distinctly windy afternoon. A weak punt forward was well-taken down by Nelson, who strode forward and hit a pass inside Obersteller for Binns to gallop onto. The lightning Eastleigh man came inside and hit a left-foot shot on the run which Mott managed to push up and onto his bar. When the ball looped lazily back off the woodwork, McAllister was on hand to knock the simplest of finishes over the line before, arms aloft, basking in the celebrations of a jubilant band of well-oiled travelling supporters behind the goal.

The new message from the Eastleigh dug-out was clear. Reason and Binns dropped their starting positions by five yards, and both Green and Nelson – the latter of whose attacking dynamism had added to the Spitfires’ play since his introduction – showed less marauding inclination.

Nevertheless, Watkins wouldn’t be subdued and he twice tried his luck from distance. Feeding off a McAllister header the bubbly midfielder hit a left-foot drive over then, with his other foot, - and after another give-and-go with McAllister – struck similarly high.

A strangely flat Welling team couldn’t regain any of their early impetus, and Guthrie and Fazakerely became the latest names to enter the referee’s notebook for respective late challenges on Green and Reason.

After McAllister was thwarted from making capital on Hughes’ volleyed pass forward by an alert Mott racing from his goal, the Spitfires were terrifyingly close to being undone at the death.

Green displayed considerable strength and defensive savvy to muscle Guthrie away from a threaded low ball sent into the forward’s path. Then came what could have been the cruellest of blows. Forbes hit a ball back to Dovey with the mind of a man who didn’t think there was any home player in the way. Unfortunately there was. Guthrie collected the errant pass and, with it, had the game in his hands. Seconds later, the ball was in Dovey’s, as, with his mind seemingly frazzled, the Wings’ Number 9 chipped harmlessly at the ‘keeper. A Welling winner would have been indescribably harsh on Eastleigh and, even more so, on the otherwise magnificent Forbes.

So, a 42 match season is over, and a new mini-campaign that will define the year begins as soon as Tuesday night at home against Dover Athletic. Richard Hill faces some markedly tough selection conundrums – a situation he will relish given those dilemmas are borne of the strength of his hand. Today’s decision to go with the vast majority of his main men has been proven correct. All Spitfires will hope their boss’ knack for getting the big calls right continues.

The Whites finished the regular slog with a four point advantage over Eastleigh. Furthermore, when reflecting on the teams two league encounters, the men from Kent can boast of a 5-1 aggregate score-line in their favour. Across a minimum of 180 minutes, and five tension-filled days, expect things to be much closer.

Welling United v Eastleigh - 27.04.13 by Eastleigh FC

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