MANAGER Richard Hill took partial blame as Eastleigh let a dream opportunity slip through their fingers with a dismal 3-2 defeat at Concord Rangers.
Bromley, the side the Spitfires have been chasing months at the top of the Skrill Conference South, stuttered once more with a 3-1 defeat at Chelmsford.
But, once again, Eastleigh failed to take full advantage as wasted chances, the sending-off of Reece Connolly, two poor pieces of defending – and even the idiotic actions of one travelling supporter – cost them dear on a galling afternoon on Canvey Island.
After on-loan Salisbury striker Ben Wright had squandered a clear chance early on, Concord took the lead with a glorious 37th-minute Sam Collins strike into the top corner..
Eastleigh hit back with a well-taken Wright volley three minutes into the second half but their task was made tougher when Connolly was a shown a straight red for what was deemed a dangerous challenge on home skipper Steve King.
Hill re-jigged his side by taking off forward Stuart Fleetwood and introducing Chris Dillon as a third centre-back.
Initially it proved an inspired decision as Ben Strevens capitalised on a shambolic defensive mix-up to put the ten men 2-1 up.
But the Spitfires were none too smart defensively either and were punished when Tony Stokes levelled with a header from a corner before, in the last minute, Steve Cawley won it with a looping header from Gary Ogilvie’s cross. Hill said: “I’d like to see the Reece Connolly challenge again, but to me it didn’t look like a sending off. “His studs were showing, but he was stretching for the ball. “I won’t blame the referee, but what I would say is that prior to being sent off, Reece had been subjected to one disgraceful tackle which could have broken his leg if the lad had caught him and he also came over for treatment for blood coming from his mouth having been clearly elbowed.
“The sending-off was a definite turning point, but Ben Wright’s missed an early chance that he should have scored and we haven’t defended at all well for the second and third goals. It doesn’t matter who you are, you’re not going to win a game conceding soft goals like that.”
Putting his own contribution under the microscope, Hill added: “I’m partially to blame. “When it was 1-1 and we went down to ten, I changed to three centre-halves because I sensed we could still be an attacking force. “But once we’d scored, I should have changed to 4-4-1 because, by not doing so, we conceded a bit out wide. “I can see now it was a bad decision and I’m prepared to hold my hands up.”
Similarly Hill would like an honest response from the Eastleigh fan whose actions halted first-half proceedings when he threw a glass onto the pitch and, subsequently, the travelling support was moved from behind the home goal.
“I’m not sure if it was glass or plastic but, either way, the fan threw it at their ’keeper and there was a four-minute break in play and their manager asked our fans to move,” said Hill.
“Our travelling fans are always very exuberant and 99 per cent of them are well behaved 99 per cent of the time. “People can be critical of me as manager, and rightly so, but throwing a glass was wrong and I’m sure whoever did it knows that. “We’re bigger than that as a football club and as people.”
Eastleigh, still five points off top spot with two games in hand, host Bromley’s conquerors Chelmsford tomorrow (7.45pm).