Ten-man Eastleigh pull plug on Bath

Hampshire Chronicle: Jamie Collins Jamie Collins

EASTLEIGH boss Richard Hill says he may have to rethink his squad’s training regime after signs of “lethargy” against Bath City on Saturday.

But what the Spitfires may have lacked in vibrancy they more than made up for in character as they pulled off the unlikeliest of 2-1 victories over Bath City with ten men.

If there were any justice in this world, Bath – surely the best footballing side to have graced the Silverlake this season – would have returned to Somerset with at least a point in the bag.

But after a moment of petulance had cost Eastleigh’s Stuart Fleetwood a straight red, substitute Jamie Collins climbed to head home a priceless 81st-minute winner for the outnumbered Spitfires who then survived a stoppage-time penalty scare amid a dramatic finale.

Essential With Conference South pacesetters Bromley battling back from behind for a 2-1 win at Whitehawk, it was essential that Eastleigh – eight points adrift of the leaders with two games in hand – did not allow the gap to widen.

Hill later admitted his side “didn’t play great”, but felt his players deserved massive credit for conjuring up glimpses of quality when they need ed it most.

“At times I don’t think we were hard to play against today, but we found that bit of something when we needed to and you can never doubt the character of this team,” he said.

“We didn’t keep possession of the ball very well and we looked tired and lethargic at times, which was a bit sur prising, and I may have to rethink what we do in training.

“We didn’t start very well and we did n’t keep possession very well. But give Bath credit, they’re a good side who pushed us all the way.” In Eastleigh’s defence their options were limited by lingering injuries to Dean Beckwith (thigh), Craig McAllister (chest) and match-winning substitute Collins, who were not fit to start.

Gritty midfielder Collins has been out of the starting 11 since sustaining ankle problems in the FA Trophy win over Gateshead. But, even operating at less than 100 per cent, he still found the spring to meet Jai Reason’s free kick with a looping header that broke the visitors’ hearts.

Hill has been saying all season that teams noticeably raise their game for trips to the Silverlake – and Bath were no exception.

Although their manager Lee Howells said they would have to take defeat “on the chin”, he felt they should have won the game having played their best foot ball of the season “by a long way.”

Bullet It was Eastleigh who had taken the lead out of the blue on 16 minutes when Ben Strevens met Damian Batt’s pin- point cross with a bullet header that shook the top right stanchion before finding its way into the goal.

Unfazed by falling into arrears, Bath responded with some delightful attack ing football and, after Chris Dillon had foiled Watkins with a goalline clear ance, they deservedly levelled on the stroke of the half-hour.

Having been a permanent menace down Eastleigh’s right, the impressive Josh Low was this time the recipient of Watkins’ left-wing cross, sending a close-range flick past Flitney with the outside of his boot.

But for a string of fine saves by Flitney and another goalline clearance by skipper Glen Southam, Bath would surely have had the upper hand by the time Fleetwood got his 64th-minute marching orders for stupidly kicking out at Sekani Simpson after the full- back had blocked him off near the byline in the chase for substitute Michael Green’s throw-in.

Given Bath’s growing superiority, that could so easily have been curtains for Eastleigh.

But Hill reorganised his troops and, against the odds, the Spitfires visibly grew in stature with ten men.

Controversy Suddenly Bath looked less secure at the back, giving away free kicks, and their failure to pick up Collins from Reason’s chipped delivery ultimately cost them dear.

The visitors never gave up, however, and twice forced key interventions from Flitney. The Eastleigh No1 brilliantly turned away Ross Stearn’s powerfully struck free-kick before finding himself at the centre of stoppage-time controversy.

Watkins burst away from Dillon onto Mark Preece’s slide-rule pass and tum bled to the ground as he attempted to jink his way round the diving Flitney.

Chaos erupted in the Eastleigh area as Bath screamed loud for a penalty, but North Walsham referee Michael George restored order before booking Watkins for diving.

“Whether that was a penalty, I don’t know,” said Hill. “But some of the ref ereeing decisions today were dubious. Jai Reason got booked for continual fouling when he didn’t actually foul anyone.

“It (the standard of refereeing) is frustrating because this is a good league full of good players and people with vast experience and knowledge of football.”

Eastleigh are at home again on New Year’s Day (3pm), looking to complete a festive double over rock-bottom Dorchester Town following Boxing Day’s 2-1 win at the Avenue Stadium.

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