Eastleigh 0 Barnet 3.

EASTLEIGH’S hopes of climbing to fifth in the National League were sunk on a night to forget at the Silverlake Stadium.

With AFC Fylde held 1-1 and leaders Leyton Orient beaten, the seventh-placed Spitfires could have made serious inroads into the higher play-off spots – and even the title race – had they beaten Barnet.

But a loss of discipline cost them dear as skipper Danny Hollands was red-carded after 42 minutes of a dismal 3-0 home defeat.

It had all started so brightly for Eastleigh as they bombarded the Barnet box, playing with all the confidence of a team with eight wins from their last ten games.

Josh Hare delivered three dangerous crosses, the best falling to Sam Matthews whose venomous blast was fended off by Bees’ No1 Mark Cousins, who then denied Mark Yeates at his near post.

Barnet, 16th but unbeaten in six, had the ball in the net on 12 minutes, but Medy Elito’s header was flagged offside.

Eastleigh weren’t so fortunate the next time though, stung by a 24th-minute Bees’ opener. There was an unseemly scramble as Elliott Johnson’s corner came in from the right and Callum Reynolds’ goalbound shot was poked home by Shaquile Coulthirst.

Barnet were now bossing it, although keeper Cousins had to be alert to shut down Ben Williamson after the Spitfires striker had been played through by Yeates.

But Eastleigh’s world was shattered three minutes later as Hollands saw straight red.

Referee Josh Smith reached straight for his pocket for Hollands’ challenge on Craig Robson right in front of the dugouts, sparking a mass shoving match.

The Eastleigh bench – as well as the crowd – were fuming and referee Smith slid further down the popularity ratings by brandishing another red at goalkeeper coach Ross Flitney on the stroke of half-time.

The ten-man Spitfires sacrificed loan defender Shaun Hobson after the break, sending on fit-again top scorer Paul McCallum.

But, come the 52nd minute, they were plunged deeper into trouble when Barnet’s Harry Taylor fired goalwards and Ephron Mason-Clark flicked in a close-range header.

Two became three just after the hour when Michael Green, now wearing the captain's armband, needlessly brought down Mason-Clark on the edge of the box and Coulthirst sent keeper Luke Southwood the wrong way from the spot.

A double Eastleigh substitution followed with Chris Zebroski and Oscar Gobern replacing Matthews and Williamson and, having had a handball appeal turned down by the underfire official, the Spitfires were almost the beneficiaries of a Robson own goal.

Sub Dave Tarpey and Elito could have deepened the Eastleigh gloom before McCallum rifled a stoppage-time effort against the base of the far post.

Boss Ben Strevens had no quibbles with Hollands’ red card but said: “We all thought the (Barnet) lad fouled Sam Matthews before he got the ball and then Dutchy flew into it. It was one of those where you’re either going to smash or be smashed.

"We started really well and were on the front foot for the first ten minutes and had a couple of chances which would have gone in on another day.

"But after the initial bright start we gave the ball away a lot and that led to frustration."

Eastleigh: Luke Southwood, Josh Hare, Michael Green, Andrew Boyce, Shaun Hobson (Paul McCallum, 46), Alex Wynter, Sam Matthews (Oscar Gobern, 63) Danny Hollands, Ben Williamson (Chris Zebroski, 63), Mark Yeates, Cav Miley. Subs: (not used) Jack McKnight, Ollie Dennett.

Referee: Josh Smith.

Attendance: 1,579