Eastleigh were at their worst and hopelessly destroyed 8-2 by a well-organised Thurrock side who fired on all cylinders this afternoon.
Hakan Hayrettin’s play off hopefuls were streets ahead of Ian Baird’s Eastleigh on the day, as Thurrock made the most of the Spitfires’ appalling display punishing the home side with lethal finishing and all round commitment.
At the start of the game, it was seen as imperative that Eastleigh picked up a win to keep their promotion hopes alive. Eight goals conceded and 90 minutes later, Eastleigh dropped to 11th in the table and now have a tall order; but importantly not impossible task on their hands, to get back within touching distance of fifth place.
With a mounting injury list, Eastleigh were patched up somewhat and had no recognised wingers on the pitch due to sidelined duo Tony Taggart and Shaun McAuley’s absence. This meant Andy Forbes operated in the unfamiliar role of left midfield with Jo Tessem and Richard Gillespie leading the attack.
Eastleigh’s three new additions to the squad: Ross Bottomley, Sam Butler and Lee Roache, all began the game on the bench for the hosts.
Before the first goal went in, Eastleigh had a couple of half chances. In the 9th minute a fine reverse pass by Peter Adeniyi sent Anthony Riviere into the penalty area. The midfielder was twice thwarted by a double save from goalkeeper Joe Woolley.
Riviere had another attempt kept out, this time from the edge of the area, as Eastleigh forced successive corners. Andy Forbes came closest from Brett Poate’s delivery to the far post and saw his header cleared off the line.
Sadly, that was to be the last time Eastleigh came close to threatening for a long time as the beginning of a bad nightmare was initiated by the opening goal of the game.
A freak own goal by Brett Poate handed Thurrock a 14th minute lead, when the left back only just back from injury, saw a bizarre clearance over his head loop high towards goal. After what seemed an age and Eastleigh fans fearing the worst, Jason Matthews was caught off his line and failed in his attempt to punch the ball clear after back-pedalling.
Eastleigh never recovered and from here on, events spiralled out of control none more so than the score line as things went from bad to worse to horrific.
Just three minutes later DAVID BRYANT raced on to a through ball down the left flank finding himself in acres of space with no defender in sight. The forward who scored a hat-trick back in August when the two sides last met (in a 3-2 win for Thurrock), doubled the visitors lead with a cool finish that nutmegged the stranded Jason Matthews.
A brief moment of hope at the opposite end saw Tessem and Forbes combine after a throw in from the right. Tom Jordan swung his left boot at the ball only for his 10-yard effort to go comfortably wide.
Still only 21 minutes had been played when Thurrock stormed into a comprehensive 3-0 lead even at this early stage. LEON McKENZIE exploited the vulnerable right back position and made a difficult finish look incredibly easy as the ball bounced kindly for him to pick out the top corner of goal with a stunning half volley.
With Thurrock in dream land and probably not believing their luck, Eastleigh in stark comparison were in complete disarray.
There was no let up in the visitors’ wave of attacks as they continued to press and stay firmly on the front foot. Bryant headed over the bar from ex-Spitfire Matt Bodkin’s cross midway through the half.
A minute later, Thurrock were awarded a penalty when Leon McKenzie got the wrong side of Tom Jordan, who let the ball run dangerously through to Matthews. The Eastleigh stopper couldn’t get both hands on the ball as McKenzie’s excellent pressure won him the ball fairly. Just when the striker was about to roll the ball home, Matthews made a professional foul bringing his opponent down leaving the referee little choice but to point to the spot.
Matthews was lucky to escape without a card, especially as he was the last man but it was to be of no benefit to Eastleigh either way as Thurrock made the score even more embarrassingly one-sided at 4-0. LEON McKENZIE picked himself up to despatch the ball confidently into the corner from 12-yards.
It was a torrid afternoon for Matthews and Eastleigh who were second best all the way through, and the keeper made a rash decision to race off his line needlessly soon after the fourth goal. Matt Paine took full advantage of the situation by skipping past the keeper but had his tame effort cleared off the post by the covering Aaron Cook.
To add to Eastleigh’s ever-increasing injury woes, Jo Tessem limped out of the action nine minutes before the break following a strong challenge. His replacement was 6 ft 6” Ross Bottomley who played a target man role in attack.
Thurrock soon made it 5-0 through a third goal from hat-trick hero LEON McKENZIE. The striker was in scintillating form and found the net once more in some style with an exquisite chip over Matthews. Craig Pope was instrumental in creating the goal following a strong run down the right and a neat through ball.
You would have been wrong to think that things couldn’t get much worse than this for Eastleigh; the defending was questionable and suspect at best and sure enough Thurrock dealt out another blow with a sickening sixth goal on the stroke of half time.
Matt Bodkin was allowed to run 25 yards across the face of the Eastleigh penalty area from right to left before having his shot spilled by Matthews. DAVID BRYANT helped himself to his second goal of the half from close range taking advantage of the gift presented to him with the simplest of tap-ins.
I don’t like to say it, but Eastleigh truly sunk without trace in a horrid first half.
HALF TIME: Eastleigh 0-6 Thurrock
At the interval, Ian Baird made his second change bringing on Ian Oliver in place of Matt Day, who sadly had a game to forget but was not alone on this account.
A minute after the restart, Thurrock forced a corner on the near side and from it, Bryant shot off target.
In the 50th minute, Eastleigh finally had an attack of their own as Ross Bottomley forced a splendid save out of Joe Woolley from point blank range after linking with Richard Gillespie.
The tiniest glimmer of hope came in the form of RICHARD GILLESPIE scrambling the ball over the line from a Brett Poate corner six minutes into the second half.
Young winger Sam Butler was then handed a debut having been introduced for Poate.
Matt Bodkin played a free kick to the edge of the penalty area in the 55th minute for the visitors to find the completely unmarked Lee Flynn. The captain let fly with a decent left-foot strike, which came a mere inches away from hitting the target.
After Eastleigh had claims for a penalty turned down, at the opposite end, MATT BODKIN cut in from the left flank and drilled a low right foot shot towards goal that found the back of the net with the help of a slight deflection off Tom Jordan. An hour played, Eastleigh trailed by an astonishing five goals with the score reading: Eastleigh 1-7 Thurrock.
Eastleigh momentarily put up a fight with Tom Jordan nodding wide following a corner kick and then Andy Forbes sliding in at the back post a few minutes later, coming close after latching on to Butler’s diagonal cross-field pass.
Richard Gillespie got the better of Kenny Clark after running into the penalty area thanks to an inch-perfect pass from Adeniyi. The centre back, who hadn’t put a foot wrong all game for the visitors up to this point, sent Gillespie tumbling resulting in an Eastleigh penalty kick. Just as Matthews earlier in the game should have been given his marching orders for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity, Clark likewise prevented the same chance for Gillespie but referee Matt Rushton saw fit to issue only a yellow card.
PETER ADENIYI scored no more than a consolation in the 76th minute as he sent Woolley the wrong way from the penalty spot. Unbelievably the scoring was still not finished here yet.
In the 90th minute MATT BODKIN rubbed salt into the wounds of his former side with his second and Thurrock’s eighth goal of the game. Matthew Judge played the ball through down the left and the flag stayed down as Bodkin did all the rest by rounding Matthews skilfully and from here, there was only going to be one outcome.
There was still time for one last Thurrock chance as Pope’s cross from the right was headed wide by Phil Anderson with the goal gaping and at the substitutes mercy.
The sooner Eastleigh get this game out of their systems the better. They face near neighbours Basingstoke Town on Tuesday night and will be looking for drastic improvements.
FULL TIME: Eastleigh 2-8 Thurrock