Eastleigh went down by two goals to nil at the Silverlake Stadium for the second game running, following on from Saturday’s defeat to league leaders Braintree Town just two days before.
Tonight’s loss at the hands of Dover Athletic saw the Spitfires fail to score in consecutive games for the first time this season.
The Spitfires were still without key players including Richard Gillespie, Luke Byles and Warren Goodhind who all missed out through injury; and suffered two more casualties over the course of this evening’s game with Anthony Riviere and Danny Smith having to be withdrawn. Ian Baird made just one change to his starting line-up with Shaun McAuley taking a place on the substitute’s bench allowing for Ross Bottomley to start at right back. Gareth Barfoot retained his place in goal as his suspension for being sent off at the weekend had not begun.
With two games in quick succession, it is again great credit to grounds man Tony Shiner and the volunteers who helped to prepare the pitch to a playable condition, considering the fact that Havant & Waterlooville had yet another game postponed tonight!
Eastleigh got off to the worst possible start by conceding a goal with just two minutes on the clock. BARRY COGAN ensured the visitors got off to a flyer as he opened the scoring for the Whites so soon after the first whistle. Cogan got into the Eastleigh penalty area down the right with ease, casually side-stepped Barfoot who had gone to ground, before tapping the ball into an empty net from close range. The goal was made to look worryingly easy and the defending left a lot to be desired.
Despite suffering this early blow, Eastleigh responded well and had the majority of possession and the best of opportunities for the remainder of the half, starting in the fifth minute. Anthony Riviere came so close to an equaliser after an inviting cross from the left by Richard Graham, but the midfielder saw his header from point blank range well saved by Dover’s goalkeeper Ross Flitney.
The hosts continued with a spell of pressure that saw Tony Taggart force an Eastleigh corner, from which Chris Holland headed comfortably wide at the back post.
In the 10th minute, Taggart’s dangerous in-swinging corner had to be cleared off the line as Dover defended excellently from a testing set piece with the likes of Tom Jordan and Holland lurking in the six-yard box.
Taggart was proving to be a potent threat for Eastleigh and was at the heart of a lot of attacking play with his close ball control, trickery and invention. A great example of this saw the former Havant & Waterlooville winger weave his way into the box before playing the ball across the front of goal to pin Dover back deep in their own penalty area. Jamie Slabber was in the right place to connect with Taggart’s cross, but the ball didn’t quite fall kindly for his left foot, and Dover were able to clear the immediate danger.
At the opposite end, Tom Jordan headed the ball narrowly over his own cross bar, following a cross into the box at pace from Dover’s right flank.
Eastleigh soon began to find some rhythm to their passing and began to dominate once more, but unfortunately lacked the killer instinct in the final third to really test Flitney, and make their possession count.
A flowing move in the 21st minute saw Richard Graham combine neatly with Anthony Riviere who in turn sprayed a neat pass out to his right to find Tony Taggart. Taggart opened out and worked room for the cross to find the run of Riviere to perfection, only for the final touch of the attack to be headed wide of the target.
Midway through the half, Lewwis Spence hit a snapshot from outside the area but his effort was comfortably wide of Gareth Barfoot’s goal.
Moments later, Richard Graham provided a pinpoint cross to find Jamie Slabber free in the centre, just 6-yards from the Dover goal. Eastleigh’s top goal scorer was in the right place at the right time, but couldn’t make it count on this occasion as the striker’s diving header flew wide of goal.
Ian Baird’s side continued to trail but were performing well in the first half and had they taken their chances, we could have been looking at a different story.
Riviere took the ball past Flitney following an accurate through ball from Graham, but the midfielder was brought down for what could have been given as a penalty kick, however there appeared to be few complaints from the Eastleigh players and a corner kick was given instead.
Ten minutes before the break, Slabber took control of a loose ball that had rebounded off his marker to spin in behind the Dover defence and close in on goal only to fire straight at the keeper.
Arguably Eastleigh’s best chance of the half came on 37 minutes following another excellent delivery from Graham on the far side. Peter Adeniyi attacked the ball well at the back post but will perhaps be disappointed not to have got his header on-target from close range.
The hosts kept taking the game to Dover and Eastleigh didn’t look like a side deserving to be a goal down, but if you don’t take the chances that come your way then at some stage it will cost you points.
In the 39th minute, a cross from Taggart saw the ball somehow avoid finding the net. Riviere was in close attention but Dover’s defence stood firm and deflected for a corner to thwart Eastleigh.
Taggart, who was later voted as man of the match for Eastleigh, tried to walk ball into the goal before squaring to his left. Another good chance went begging, as there was no one on hand to apply a finishing touch.
On the stroke of half time, Dover finally had a chance of their own when Spence sent the ball through to Adam Birchall. The Whites’ striker sent a low shot across goal that Barfoot managed to get a vital touch to slow the ball, before Bottomley mopped up by clearing off the line.
HALF TIME: Eastleigh 0-1 Dover Athletic
The second half failed to live up to the action-packed first forty-five minutes with the only chance in the first quarter of an hour coming two minutes after the re-start.
Combative midfielder Danny Smith bustled his way forward and won a free kick in good territory just outside the box. Brett Poate stood over the ball and saw his set piece take a slight deflection off Tom Jordan on its way through to the goalkeeper, Ross Flitney.
It was a slow start to the second half indeed with both sides seemingly cancelling each other out, it wasn’t until the 63rd minute that there was to be another attempt on goal. A Tony Taggart free kick was met by Slabber – but the header lacked any real power and provided a comfortable save for the keeper.
Eastleigh’s first change was enforced due to an ankle injury to Anthony Riviere – Shaun McAuley was brought on to replace the midfielder.
In the 68th minute, a flighted cross into the penalty area from Brett Poate saw Tony Taggart connect with the delivery by looping a header narrowly over the cross bar.
A minute later, Taggart cut in from the left before drilling a low shot inches past the far post with the keeper beaten.
Eastleigh made a second change with Justin Bennett coming on to replace Richard Graham with fifteen minutes remaining, and the Spitfires were soon forced to make their third and final substitution owing to another unfortunate injury. Danny Smith suffered from a hamstring injury to add to Eastleigh’s woes, nine minutes from time. Smith was replaced by Neil Sharp who was making his first appearance since his return to the club.
Dover substitute Harry Baker made a lively impact and contribution when he came off the bench in the late stages of the game and forced Barfoot into two saves. First in the 84th minute and then the 86th, when his swerving shot was initially too hot to handle for Barfoot – the Eastleigh stopper smothered the ball into his grasp at the second attempt.
Jamie Slabber had a shot charged down well by the Dover captain Rob Gillman, before Gareth Barfoot made an outstanding save two minutes from time to deny Spence.
Five additional minutes were added for stoppages and the visitors made full use of the time by sealing the game and all three points with a late goal from ADAM BIRCHALL. Harry Baker ran through unattended into the Eastleigh area and had a shot saved by Barfoot only for the ball to be pushed straight into the path of Birchall who couldn’t miss.
FULL TIME: Eastleigh 0-2 Dover Athletic