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Eastleigh close gap on leaders
EASTLEIGH narrowed the gap on Skrill Conference South leaders Bromley with a vastly improved second-half display at the Silverlake Stadium this afternoon.
While table-topping Bromley were held 2-2 by Bath City, the Spitfires recovered from the blow of missing a penalty in a goalless first-half to see off Weston-super-Mare 3-1 in front of a 602 crowd.
The Spitfires, looking to avenge a 3-2 January defeat at Weston, again started without holding midfielder Jamie Collins.
Although he was named on the bench on his comeback from ankle trouble.
On-loan Salisbury man Ben Wright again spearheaded the attack and sent a diagonal shot wide of the far post five minutes in after exchanging passes with Reece Connolly.
The first hint of any pressure from Weston took 11-minutes coming when Dayle Grubb shot from Callum Laird’s cross slammed off defender Dan Spence. The ball eventually came out to Ashley Kington, who blazed a long range effort wide.
Five minutes later Spitfires centre-back Dean Beckwith was booked for a foul some 30-yards out. Grubb delivered Weston’s free-kick and Kane Ingram flicked a header wide.
Referee Antony Coggins incurred Weston’s wrath when he denied them a potential break, instigated by Navi Diallo by pulling the game back for a foul.
Eastleigh responded with back-to-back chances from Wright in the 24th minute.
First he had a point blank shot deflected over after Ben Strevens had pulled the ball back from the by-line.
Then he headed Michael Green’s corner straight at keeper Lloyd Irish. The Spitfires came closer still on the half-hour when Jai Reason drove across from the right and teed-up Connolly who was desperately unlucky to see his shot crash down off the woodwork.
Strevens entered the referee’s notebook following a minor skirmish with Ingram and the next time referee Coggins brandished the yellow card it should have had dire consequences for the visitors.
Laird wrestled Stuart Fleetwood down on the byline after the ball had been played in by left-back Green.
Mr Coggins pointed to the penalty spot, but for the second Saturday running, Reason fluffed his lines from 12-yards as Irish dived to his left to carry the ball away.
Eastleigh goalkeeper Ross Flitney was called into action for the first time on 43 minutes, touching over Kington’s awkward, dipping shsot from distance. Kington tried his luck again after exchanging passes with Grubb following a corner, but Reason was back to block.
Eastleigh were sent out early for the second-half, presumably with a few choice words from manager Richard Hill stinging their ears.
They responded positively, but luck cruelly deserted them yet again on 49 minutes when Wright turned brilliantly on the edge of the area and thundered a shot against the crossbar.
Three minutes later Fleetwood played in Reason on the right of the six-yard box but, with only Irish to beat, he dithered on the ball allowing a posse of defenders to race across and snuff him out.
Reason atoned with an excellent pass to Spence over by the corner flag.
The right-back picked out Wright with an excellent cross, but the forward’s firm downward header was smothered by Irish on the goalline.
Apart from a shot by left-back Martin Slocombe, which drifted wide, Weston offered little at the start of the second-half.
By now Eastleigh were well on top, but it was going to take something special to turn their luck.
That piece of magic materialised on 59 minutes with a superb individual strike by loanee Wright.
Taking possession on the right of the area, he skilfully weaved his way past three defenders before smashing the ball home from close range.
Five minutes later it was 2-0 to the Spitfires with Wright expertly holding the ball up and turning provider for Reason to fire home from the left of the area.
With the game looking safe, Collins replaced Strevens with 66 minutes gone.
But, out-of-the-blue, the Seagulls replied five minutes later when Grubb crossed deep from the left and Chas Hemmings rose highest to head home at the far post.
Craig McAllister replaced Connolly in the aftermath and it was the big target man who restored Eastleigh’s two goal cushion on 76 minutes, beating keeper Irish to a through ball and expertly lifting it over him from the edge of the box.
As three minutes of stoppage time was announced Weston substitute Alex Fidders made space for himself on the edge of the area and fired just over.
Then, at the other end, Reason delivered a corner which McAllister headed wide.
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