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Collins stars in Christmas miracle at Silverlake Stadium
Eastleigh pulled off a festive miracle at the Silverlake Stadium this afternoon to keep the heat on Skrill Conference South leaders Bromley.
The Spitfires had Stuart Fleetwood sent off after 64 minutes but defied the odds to beat Bath City 2-1 with ten men.
Substitute Jamie Collins emerged as the afternoon’s hero.
The gritty midfielder was not fit to start but came on and headed home a dramatic winner with just nine minutes of normal time remaining.
Eastleigh had taken the lead somewhat out of the blue on 16 minutes when Ben Strevens’ bullet header from Damian Batt’s cross was ruled to have crossed the line after crashing off the woodwork.
Chris Dillon’s goal-line clearance kept the lead intact, but Bath were playing some superb attacking football and were rewarded with a 29th minute equaliser when the impressive Josh Low side-footed home Andy Watkins’ cross.
Fleetwood had a “goal” disallowed for pushing on 35 minutes, but Eastleigh looked distinctively second best at times in front of a 637 crowd.
Bath continued to threaten at the start of the second half and, after Adam Connolly had had two good early chances – one a header over and the other a shot superbly tipped over by Ross Flitney – Eastleigh manager Richard Hill had seen enough.
He made his first change of the afternoon, withdrawing Batt, switching Dan Spence to right-back and putting on attacking left-back Michael Green.
Bath continued to pose the bigger threat and, after another desperate goal-line clearance by skipper Glen Southam, frustration appeared to get the better of the Spitfires when Fleetwood was shown a straight red for a retaliatory kick on Sekani Simpson.
The game was interrupted again for an injury to Bath’s Dan Ball.
During the delay Eastleigh brought on Collins for Yemi Odubade and then Ball was stretchered off and replaced by Dan Bowman.
Eastleigh looked more organised in the wake of the stoppage and, for almost the first time in the game, forced Bath into a sustained spell of defending.
And suddenly what had looked like being a gloomy afternoon took a major turn for the better as the ten men regained the lead.
With nine minutes to go they were awarded a free kick some 25 yards out.
Jai Reason delivered and Collins, who had been on the pitch for little more than ten minutes, climbed to net a sensational header to the delight of the fans stationed behind the clubhouse end goal.
Flitney made another brilliant save to turn away Bowman’s thunderous free kick from distance.
And the drama continued well into stoppage time when Watkins burst through and went down looking for a penalty as Flitney dived to push the ball off his toe.
For a minute there was bedlam in the Eastleigh area, but referee Michael George restored order by booking the Bath man for diving.
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