ELATED Eastleigh are through to the quarter-finls of the FA Trophy for the first time in their history.
They left it late, but finally saw off ten-man Dover 3-2 at the Silverlake Stadium thanks to a late, late winner from Jamie Collins.
The result is the perfect boost for Richard Hill’s men ahead of Tuesday night’s crucial Conference South fixture when Dover are again the visitors.
The Spitfires were without suspened duo Glen Southam and Stuart Fleetwood, but named a new signing on their bench – former Aldershot striker Reece Connolly from Conference South rivals Farnborough.
In Southam’s absence, centre-back Dean Beckwith donned the captain’s armband while Sam Wilson – back from loan at Fleet Town – was named among the subs Eastleigh looked full of beans after a fortnight’s break and took the lead with less than two minutes gone. Yemi Odubade scampered into the area, slightly to the right of goal, and unleashed a shot, which deflected off teammate Jail Reason and flew past wrong-footed goalkeeper Mitch Walker at his near post.
The home side had already done the Dover defence with a deep Reason cross from the left, headed into the six-yard box by Craig McAllister, but there was no one on hand to capitalise.
Dover’s first foray forward took 11 minutes, as Tom Murphy tested Eastleigh keeper Ross Flitney with a firm low delivery from the left.
On 18 minutes Michael Green’s cross was deflected out for a corner. Reason swung it out to Green on the edge of the area, but the left-back pulled his shot well wide.
Eastleigh though, failed to build on that early pressure and were punished as Dover hit back with a soft equaliser just after the half-hour.
The visitors were awarded a free-kick for a push on Nathan Elder on the right. James Rogers flighted the ball in and Michael Kamara got up highest with a downward header that skirmed under Flitney.
But, having got a footing into the tie, Dover undid their good work with an unnecessary red card.
Elder stupidly leant towards Jamie Collins with his head as the pair confronted each other in the centre circle.
Collins reacted furiously and, as players from both sides gathered round, referee Nicholas Kindsley showed Elder a straight red and Collins a yellow.
From the subsequent free-kick, Dover scrambled the ball behind for a corner following successive headers by centre-backs Beckwith and Chris Todd.
And, with the pink-shirted visitors once again under pressure, Walker turned Reasons’s stinging low drive out for another corner before Will Evans thundered a pile-driver well wide.
The Spitfires made a purposeful start to the second-half, with Green’s cross landing on the top netting and Reason sending a deflected shot into the side netting before Dover’s Tom Wynter screeched a dangerous low delivery across the face of the Eastleigh goal.
Reason then sent an equally dangerous ball across the Dover six-yard box after beating Terrell Forbes on the left and, at that point, the Spitfires looked the likeliest scorers.
But ten man Dover were dangerous on the break and, on 55 minutes, they snatched the lead via the penalty spot.
As Liam Bellamy burst into the area, pursued by Beckwith and Todd, he was deemed to have been caught by the latter as he went crashing to the ground.
Barry Cogan stepped up to take the penalty, thumping the ball home off the underside of the crossbar to put the visitors 2-1 up.
Flitney then had to be quick off his line to dispossess Bellamy as he again bore down on goal.
By then Eastleigh boss Richard Hill had made another double substitution, withdrawing Obubade and Evans in exchange for Damian Batt and Connolly.
The new signing wasted no time in making an impression, laying the ball sweetly into the path of McAllister, whose deftly curled shot went just side of the post.
Eastleigh kept playing their slick passing game and, though Walker comfortably dealt with half chances from McAllister and Connolly, home persistence paid off with ten minutes to go.
A quality passing move involving Reason, Strevens and Connolly ended with substitute Batt sending a slide rule pass into the path of Strevens on the right of the area and the classy No. 8 duly lashed home the equaliser.
Still there was danger for Eastleigh, with Rogers letting fly from distance but sending the effort wide.
Reason then took aim from 25 yards at the other end, after being played in by Collins, but his shot went well over.
With two minutes remaining Dover defended bravely as the impressive Connolly squeezed a shot in on the turn and the ball hit a Dover defender and fell to McAllister, whose follow-up appeared to go out off a defender, but no corner was given.
Eastleigh go the last laugh, however, when, following a mistake by Walker, Strevens’ shot rebounded off a Dover player and out for a corner.
And, once again, it was midfield man Collins who emerged as the hero, biding his time as Reason’s flag kick dropped to him inside a busy six-yard box before hooking home the winner deep into stoppage time.