Play-off eliminator

Wrexham 0 Eastleigh 1 (aet)

EASTLEIGH’s heroes are one win away from Wembley after an incredible night of drama at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground.

This gripping National League play-off eliminator had everything – including a goal-of-the-season contender by Spitfires skipper Danny Hollands which ultimately separated the sides in extra time.

There were heroes in grey and black all over the park, but it was Eastleigh’s man in yellow, goalkeeper Luke Southwood, who took the man-of-the-honours with a string of brave saves.

Wrexham did everything but score, clattering the woodwork and being denied by two goalline clearances during a frantic extra half-hour.

But it was Hollands' strike – a stunning 20-yard volley – that silenced the 6,723 crowd, sending Eastleigh to Salford City for the semi-final on Sunday,.

Former Bournemouth midfielder Hollands said: “Wrexham are a good team. We had to dig deep and Luke was fantastic.The goal was out of character, but it was nice to score!” Manager Ben Stevens agreed: “It was really stressful, a tough night, but we've had a moment of magic from our skipper who’s been an unsung hero all season long. Even Wrexham’s goalkeeper was up there at the end, but the boys put themselves on the line to get the result.”

Eastleigh had the first chance on 19 minutes when giant defender Reda Johnson looped a header over.

Southwood then came into his own, spreading himself to deny Stuart Beavon after keeper Rob Lainton’s long punt upfield had prised open Eastleigh’s defence.

The on-loan Reading youngster was tested again on 35 minutes, doing well to tame Luke Young’s 25-yard swerver.

A minute later Green chipped a decent ball into the box, but Hollands headed straight at the keeper Lainton who, with the setting sun in his eyes, then did well to turn behind Yeates’ strike from distance.

The Spitfires had a lucky escape on 55 minutes when Dragons skipper Shaun Pearson clattered the bar with a header from the first of two corners.

From the second, Kieran Kennedy put the ball in the net after it had been dropped by Southwood but, much to the disdain of the home crowd, it was ruled out for a foul on the England U21 keeper.

With Eastleigh living a charmed life, the woodwork was rattled again just after the hour when Bobby Grant’s shot on the turn smacked the bar.

Panic over, the Spitfires regained their composure, but made little headway against a Wrexham side boasting the league's second best defensive record.

With Joey Jones, Josh Hare (both injured) and Ben Williamson going off, Eastleigh sent on the fresh legs of Oscar Gobern, Chris Zebroski and young Jack McKnight.

It was nailbiting last few minutes with Johnson surviving a penalty appeal as Grant went down in the box and then Hollands’ deflected strike flashing inches wide. From the corner, Johnson’s looping header was carried over the line by Lainton, but Zebroski was penalised for a push.

More boos rang round The Racecourse eight minutes into extra time when Grant went tumbling in the box, but Green had done nothing wrong.

After Sam Matthews had replaced the tiring Yeates and Southwood had pulled off another big save from sub Jermain McGlashan, all hell broke loose in the Eastleigh box after Johnson and Pearson had tangled on the floor – order finally restored after both men had been booked.

But quickly the game turned from scrappy to sublime as skipper Hollands struck as good a goal as Eastleigh have scored this season following a corner.

A Wrexham corner from the same place threatened to wipe out that lead, but top scorer McCallum intervened with a magnificent goalline clearance from Pearson’s header and Green followed suit in the dying embers of a truly magical evening that will live long in the memory of Spitfires' fans.

Eastleigh: Luke Southwood, Josh Hare (Jack McKnight, 80), Michael Green, Reda Johnson, Alex Wynter, Andrew Boyce, Joey Jones (Oscar Gobern, 73), Danny Hollands, Paul McCallum, Ben Williamson (Chris Zebroski, 80), Mark Yeates (Sam Matthews, 101). Subs (not used): Cav Miley.

Referee: Martin Woods.

Attendance: 6,723 (148 Eastleigh)