Eastleigh 2 Harrogate Town 1

ELATED Eastleigh will head into Christmas buoyed by their first home victory since September 25.

Substitute Cav Miley's late winner got the festive party going as the Spitfires recovered from an early setback to beat third-placed Harrogate Town 2-1 at the Silverlake Stadium.

Max Stryjek’s hopes of a clean sheet in his last Eastleigh appearance before returning to Sunderland were sunk inside the opening 65 seconds as Harrogate rocked the Spitfires with a shock early goal.

Goalkeeper James Belshaw’s long free-kick bounced once on its way through to JOE LEESLEY on the left of the area and the Eastleigh defence could only watch in despair as the winger thumped it first time across Stryjek and into far corner.

The Spitfires responded positively but, apart from gathering a couple of crosses from Mark Yeates and Michael Green and a soft Yeates strike, visiting keeper James Belshaw had little to do in the first 20 minutes.

But Eastleigh gradually wound up the pressure and, after a couple of promising moves had seen Josh Hare’s heavy touch nudge the ball into touch on the right byline and then Ben Williamson’s strike deflected behind for a corner, they dug out a deserved 27th-minute equaliser.

Stryjek had just been called into action to claim Lloyd Kerry’s low strike from distance when the Spitfires surged back on the attack.

The ball was played out to Hare on the right and, not for the first time this season, the wing-back delivered an enticing, low cross which was swept home by WILLIAMSON for 1-1.

Eastleigh continued to call the tune until, on 35 minutes, they had a narrow escape when Ryan Fallowfield’s cross from the right fell for Jack Emmett, who sidefooted the ball just wide of Stryjek’s right-hand post.

But if that was a wasted opportunity, it had nothing on Eastleigh’s Paul McCallum who completely mishit his shot from point-blank range on 38 minutes, spooning the ball over from Joey Jones’ cutback following good work by Williamson.

Eastleigh were now stroking the ball around beautifully on a mild, still December afternoon and ex-Spitfire Callum Howe’s none-too-subtle shove on the marauding Yeates earned the Harrogate defender a 45th-minute booking.

Yeates kept conjuring up his magic and it took a flying saves by Belshaw to deny the twinkle-toed Irishman just before the half-time whistle as he looked to bend one into the top corner.

Half-time: Eastleigh 1 Harrogate Town 1.

The open, end-to-end action continued after the break as Leesley teed up Emmett for a low shot, saved by Stryjek, as Harrogate began the second half with some urgency.

In response, Michael Green’s cross-shot from the left took a looping deflection over, earning Eastleigh their first corner of the half.

A frantic, scrappy spell followed with Eastleigh defending manfully but, with Harrogate tirelessly snapping at their heels, they struggled to rediscover the attacking rhythm they had found in the second quarter of the match.

Harrogate rang the changes by throwing on substitutes Michael Woods and Aaron Williams and it was the visitors who were looking the more threatening - albeit with no end product - with Stryjek getting a powerful punch to Liam Kitching’s teasing cross.

Eastleigh boss Ben Strevens responded with a double 78th-minute substitution, taking off goalscorer Williamson and defender Andrew Boyce and throwing Oscar Gobern and Cav Miley into the mix.

It worked a treat as, within four minutes of going on, MILEY brought the roof off the Mackoy Community Stand by rifling Eastleigh in front.

From out of nowhere, Yeates burst through the middle and ran at the Harrogate defence. He swiftly released the ball into the path of the young Channel Islander, who bent a superb shot past Belshaw and into the net for his first league goal since January 6.

George Thompson’s shot was blocked as Harrogate laid late siege to the Eastleigh goal.

With four minutes of added time indicated, Strevens then sent on a third sub, handing new signing Jack McKnight a debut in place of Yeates.

Eastleigh mustered a couple of late chances with Gobern curling an effort wide and new boy McKnight desperateluy unlucky to be denied by keeper Belshaw’s legs at the near post.

There was still some last-ditch defending for Eastleigh to do, but they refused to bow under pressure, rounding off the 2018 home programme with three precious National League points.

Eastleigh: Max Stryjek, Josh Hare, Michael Green, Alex Wynter, Reda Johnson, Andrew Boyce (Cav Miley, 78), Joey Jones, Danny Hollands, Paul McCallum, Ben Williamson (Oscar Gobern 78), Mark Yeates (Jack McKnight, 90). Subs: (not used) Jack McKnight, Chris Zebroski, Ollie Dennett.

Referee: Will Finnie.

Attendance: 1,622.