Eastleigh defeated rivals Havant & Waterlooville thanks to a spirited second-half fight back to make it three league wins on the trot – their fourth successive victory including the FA Trophy replay at Sutton United.
The festive season and New Year has begun with a one hundred per cent record for Eastleigh with a maximum return of nine points in the league.
It was the first home league game that the Spitfires had played in over fifty days but the 822 crowd were in for a treat at the Silverlake Stadium as Ian Baird’s side came out triumphant over his former club.
Eastleigh were unchanged from the side that beat Farnborough by two goals to one on New Years Day and took to the field in the 4-5-1 formation that has proved to be so successful in recent weeks.
Inside the opening five minutes, the Spitfires had the first chance of the game when lone striker Brett Williams headed narrowly wide from a Tony Taggart cross.
The hosts came close again shortly after when Taggart weaved past two defenders to the right of goal before teeing the ball up for Anthony Riviere. Riviere had his effort blocked and cleared off the line as Eastleigh kept the pressure on by forcing successive corners.
It wasn’t until the 19th minute that Eastleigh goalkeeper Gareth Barfoot had a save to make. Leon Cashman had a shot from the edge of the area for the Hawks, but it was a comfortable save for Barfoot.
With 27 minutes played, Eastleigh broke the deadlock when the excellent BRETT WILLIAMS capitalised on a Hawks defensive error; making the visitors pay. The lively striker intercepted a stray ball just outside the area before using his pace to get inside the box, round goalkeeper Aaron Howe and finish in style with his left foot.
Havant stepped their game up a level after the opening goal and ended the half the better side.
Mustafa Tiryaki had a free kick deflected off the Eastleigh wall and safely through to Barfoot in the 29th minute, before two goals in six minutes from the visitors saw Shaun Gale’s side level in the 39th before taking the advantage just before the break.
LEON CASHMAN somehow found a way past Barfoot with a lofted shot from a tight angle to score an equalising goal, and it got worse for Eastleigh a minute before half time.
Guiseppe Sole found the ball at his feet inside the Eastleigh penalty area but scuffed his shot tamely towards goal. The mis-hit proved to be to the advantage of Havant & Waterlooville as the Eastleigh defence were caught out and MUSTAFA TIRYAKI pounced on the loose ball to smash the ball home from six-yards to give Havant the upper-hand.
There was time for one more attempt before the half time whistle when Wes Fogden forced another good save out of Gareth Barfoot.
HALF TIME: Eastleigh 1-2 Havant & Waterlooville
After the break chances were few and far between in the opening stages but emotions were running high in this fiercely contested Hampshire derby.
Tiryaki, who scored Havant’s second goal, was lucky to be on the pitch when he made it 2-1 because of his earlier altercation with Luke Byles (in an ugly first half incident which left the Eastleigh defender motionless on the floor momentarily); but despite somehow escaping punishment from the referee, the striker was substituted at the break by Liam Sewell.
There were five yellow cards in all, with Leon Cashman, Sam Pearce, Guiseppe Sole and Liam Sewell all finding their way into the book for Havant & Waterlooville. Peter Adeniyi was the only Eastleigh player to be shown a card.
Ross Bottomley headed wide of the post early in the second half for the hosts before Cashman had an effort cleared off the line at the opposite end with the clock approaching the hour mark.
Baird switched to plan B for the final half hour by reverting to 4-4-2 with Jamie Slabber coming on to face his former club and partner Brett Williams in attack.
The move proved to be a stroke of genius as the Spitfires not only got themselves back in the game, but went on to take all three points despite the 2-1 deficit at the break.
Bobby Hopkinson let fly with a volley from distance that whistled low past the upright in the 65th minute, then in the 72nd – the Spitfires began their revival.
Eastleigh captain Tom Jordan silenced the opposing fans (who had given the ex-Hawks skipper a lot of abuse throughout the afternoon), as he put the Spitfires back on level terms with a goal that changed the shape of the game.
TOM JORDAN rose high to meet Richard Graham’s pinpoint free kick delivery to loop an unstoppable header into the top corner. Baird’s men grew in confidence and got their just rewards for all the hard work they put in, by sealing a comfortable win thanks to an exciting finale to the game.
Havant had a couple of chances with Manny Williams blazing high over the bar when put through on goal by Sewell in the 76th minute; and then the same player had the ball in the back of the net in the 89th but the referee’s assistant had his flag up for offside.
Just when the game seemed to be heading for a 2-2 draw, BRETT WILLIAMS elated the Spitfires faithful by popping up with his second and Eastleigh’s third goal of the game with a fine header, which in itself justified his man of the match winning performance as it looked like being the winning goal. Tony Taggart was the provider with a typically brilliant cross to set up Williams for his sixth goal of the season, his fifth in the league.
Eastleigh were not finished yet however, as Williams then won a penalty in injury time for yet more exciting drama for the home fans. JAMIE SLABBER made no mistake from the spot, converting his penalty convincingly by sending the keeper the wrong way. It was Slabber’s 10th goal of the season in all competitions since his move from Woking in the summer, and in terms of today’s match, made the victory all the more sweeter and resounding.
The team and management must be praised for such a spirited display and a win that we can all look back upon with fond memories. Eastleigh have now lost just once in nine games and will head into their next match against Lewes looking for their fifth straight victory.
Long may this rich vein of form continue as Eastleigh’s promotion charge gathers momentum.
FULL TIME: Eastleigh 4-2 Havant & Waterlooville
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