Ian Baird’s Eastleigh made it five successive games without defeat, notching up their second consecutive victory thanks to goals from Jamie Slabber and a bullet header to win the game from Chris Holland, six minutes from time.
Following on from the impressive triumph away to Dover Athletic last weekend, Baird stuck with the same starting eleven to face Lewes at the Silverlake Stadium this afternoon.
Lewes were the better side in the first half and could have had at least a couple of goals, which their play perhaps deserved. Eastleigh found themselves carved open by Steve Ibbitson’s youthful visitors, who performed admirably on the counter attack in particular; where they successfully managed to expose the Spitfires at the back. Were it not for a strong goalkeeping display from Eastleigh’s Gareth Barfoot, the hosts may well have found themselves behind at the break.
However, the first opportunity of the game saw Richard Graham’s third minute free kick met by the aerial threat of Chris Holland who headed just wide.
Two minutes later the Rooks’ Simon Wormull lofted the ball over his marker before having a shot on the volley saved well low down by Gareth Barfoot in the Eastleigh goal.
Eastleigh put together a short spell of pressure with a couple of corners and Richard Gillespie then coming close with a left foot drive from the edge of the area that was initially spilled by Lewes keeper Chris Winterton.
Soon after, Eastleigh crafted their best move of the game which led to the deadlock being broken with eleven minutes on the clock. Will Hendry, who before kick off put pen to paper to sign a permanent deal with Eastleigh, began the move with a pass infield to Brett Williams. The on-loan AFC Totton forward neatly back-heeled the ball from a central position just outside the box invitingly for JAMIE SLABBER to run on to before opening his body out as if to shoot towards the far corner of goal but instead the in-form striker tucked the ball low to the keeper’s right for his 6th league goal of the season.
Eastleigh’s lead lasted less than a minute as Lewes hit back with an instant reply. DAVID WHEELER steered a header into the far corner beyond the reach of Barfoot as he latched on to a pinpoint cross from the right.
Lewes could have gone one better in the 13th minute as they broke up field before Danny Smith could intervene in the 6-yard-box to turn the ball behind his own goal for a corner kick.
Wheeler, scorer of the Lewes goal, had a golden opportunity to double his tally with 21 minutes played. Eastleigh were left outnumbered at the back in a 3 v 1 situation in Lewes’ favour as Kane Wills carried the ball forward before slipping a pass to his right. Wheeler had plenty of time and space to fire at goal but failed to hit the target and should really have done better.
Eastleigh came close through a Richard Gillespie strike to the left of goal that was deflected narrowly wide and then midway through the half Gillespie had a cross-cum-shot land on the roof of the net with goalkeeper Chris Winterton back-pedalling.
Back at the opposite end of the field, Lewis Ide found himself clean through on goal but could only manage to force a corner.
Eastleigh appeared to be treading a fine line at times in playing the back four so high up the park. That said, the Spitfires managed to implement the offside trap to good effect over the next ten minutes as Lewes were caught offside on a number of occasions.
On the contrary, in the 38th minute Gareth Barfoot had to come to the rescue of his defence by racing a long way out of goal to deal with a through ball by making an important challenge on Rob Gradwell.
Richard Gillespie was then presented with a good chance for Eastleigh as he found himself unmarked to the right of the Lewes penalty area, however last season’s top goal scorer fired straight at Winterton.
Five minutes before the break, Lewis Ide launched an unbelievable attempt on goal with the rare sight of a powerful header from all of 25-yards that was heading for the top right hand corner until Gareth Barfoot reacted with a finger-tip save to push the ball over the cross bar.
On the stroke of half time, Slabber combined with Gillespie who had a shot well blocked at the far post by the Lewes defence.
HALF TIME: Eastleigh 1-1 Lewes
Eastleigh started the second half brightly with Jamie Slabber coming closest to restoring the Spitfire’s lead in the 47th minute.
Three minutes later, Eastleigh captain Tom Jordan found himself high up the park where the centre back let fly with an audacious half volley from 20-yards that dipped just inches over the cross bar with the Lewes keeper beaten.
Gareth Barfoot continued where he left off by making a brave save to the left of his penalty area to save at the feet of David Wheeler in the 52nd minute, as the Lewes midfielder had broken into the Eastleigh danger zone unattended.
Just past the hour mark, Eastleigh made their first change with Warren Goodhind coming on to replace Brett Williams. The substitution saw Danny Smith pushed further forward into his natural centre midfield position (where he thrived) to allow Goodhind to play in his usual right back berth. At the same time, the switch also meant Jamie Brown moving into the Eastleigh attack from midfield to partner Slabber.
Brown instantly looked more at home playing up top in a striker’s role. The target man caused no end of mayhem in and around the Lewes penalty area through his sheer presence and physical approach to the game.
Richard Graham had a curling effort headed away for a corner in the 68th minute, and then in the 72nd, Graham fired wide of the mark with an attempt from the left hand side.
Jamie Brown crossed to the far post in search of Graham in the 77th minute but Lee Carey cut out the danger with a vital interception at the back post before the ball could be turned home.
Ten minutes from time, Toby Osman was introduced for Eastleigh in place of the match day sponsors choice for Man of the Match, Jamie Slabber.
Richard Gillespie was consequently moved from his make-shift right midfield position to partner Jamie Brown up front for the remainder of the game.
Danny Smith was very unfortunate not to have given Eastleigh the lead as his low, 25-yard shot in the 83rd minute brought out the very best in Chris Winterton, who had to be at full stretch to turn the ball past the post.
The last notable action of the game was the most important as far as Eastleigh were concerned. Just as he had done to secure a result against Havant & Waterlooville on Bank Holiday Monday in August at the death, CHRIS HOLLAND popped up with the goods again, only this time it was to secure all three points.
Richard Graham’s corner into the danger zone was met by a typically powerful, bullet header by the strong centre back Holland. Once he had connected with the ball, it was only going to end up in one place and that was the back of the net. There was no stopping the effort and Holland wheeled away in celebration of his third league goal of the season with victory in the bag.
Whilst the performance at times was not the best we will see this season from Eastleigh, this is a results business and to have come away with three points was all that mattered to keep the unbeaten run going.
Next up for Eastleigh is an away trip to Braintree Town where it is expected Luke Byles will feature on his return from Australia all being well.
Ian Baird’s side have now moved up to 6th in the table by claiming 11 points out of a possible 15 from their last five games.
FULL TIME: Eastleigh 2-1 Lewes
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