4:23pm Monday 7th October 2013
By Wendy Gee
RICHARD Hill had mixed feelings on behalf of Eastleigh fans following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Concord Rangers.
He believes Spitfires supporters have been blessed with the best squad of players the club have ever put together and are arguably being served up the best football an Eastleigh side have ever produced.
But the flipside of that coin is that more and more teams coming to the Silverlake Stadium are either not bold enough, or not simply not good enough, to play the Spitfires at their own game.
And Hill fears that the longer his leaders are in and around pole position in the Skrill Conference South, the more visiting teams will, as Jose Mourinho would say, “park the bus” on their trips to Stoneham Lane.
Eastleigh bossed vast chunks of the game against promoted Concord but, not for the first time in recent weeks, found themselves up against opposition who had primarily come to defend.
But unlike Eastbourne Borough and Hayes & Yeading, the Canvey Island-based Beach Boys did go away with a point having taken a 13th-minute lead through Leon Gordon before Jai Reason exquisitely snuffed it out 20 minutes later.
With second-placed Bromley also drawing, Eastleigh remain top going into tomorrow’s test at Ebbsfleet United who romped home 6-0 at third-placed Weston-super-Mare.
While congratulating his players on a “fantastic” performance, Hill was once again left wishing the visitors had helped make it more of spectacle for the fans.
“Take nothing away from Concord. As I said beforehand, we’ve got no divine right to win every home game and teams aren’t going to come here and just roll over,” he said.
“But I’m a bit frustrated in respect of the last three league games that we’ve been the only team trying to win.
“I feel sorry for our supporters for what they’ve seen today and in the last couple of league games, but they’d better get used to it because this was ‘Welcome to the rest of our season at home’.
“If I’m going to be critical of our lads, we weren’t clinical enough with a couple of the chances we had and we didn’t play well enough without the football, but they had 11 players behind the ball for us to break down.
“Opposition managers and coaches choose their tactics and it either works or it doesn’t, but I don’t get the luxury of trying to draw a football match and then celebrate as if we’d won the Champions’ League.
“Concord are a gutsy bunch, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I thought their job was to actually win games.
“People might say it’s just sour grapes from me but, crikey, how can you claim a moral victory out of a draw?
"I’m not saying we wouldn’t celebrate a draw away to higher opposition but, the difference is, we’d go there to try and win.”
In fairness to Concord, when they did cut loose, they were pretty effective on the break and took the lead when Sam Collins’ belting, low strike from the edge of the box was too hot for ’keeper Ross Flitney to hold and Gordon gobbled up the rebound.
But the Beach Boys spent most of their time holding back wave after wave of Eastleigh attack and it was a credit to their concentration levels – and the agility of their hard-worked goalkeeper Jamie Butler – that they weren’t mesmerised into surrender by the sublime passing and movement of the home side.
Eastleigh goals are seldom ordinary these days and their 34th-minute leveller was a superbly-crafted affair.
Seizing on an intelligent ball out of defence by Dean Beckwith, Reason played it to feet of the outstanding Stuart Fleetwood who, despite having three yellow shirts buzzing around him, managed to roll a return pass to the talented No10 who finished left-footed into the bottom corner.
The Spitfires did their best to build on that after the break, but a combination of die-hard defending, great goalkeeping and missed chances – notably when Ben Strevens teed up the unmarked Will Evans who fired just past the post – denied them.
But when the game got stretched, Concord looked increasingly dangerous on the break and there was a huge let-off for Eastleigh when Chris Todd lost his footing, allowing Sam Higgins to drive through the centre of the home defence.
Flitney saved the day with a smart stop and, as the ball ran loose to Collins, Beckwith got back to redirect his effort to safety.
The Spitfires almost won it deep into stoppage time when, following more good work by Beckwith, sub Craig McAllister sent the ball goalwards.
But the ball was marginally out of reach of Todd and Concord somehow managed to scramble it clear and bring an end to Eastleigh’s five-match winning streak.
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