Eastleigh secured a potentially vital three points to get the Spitfires’ play-off push back on track, following a home victory over promotion-chasing rivals Chelmsford City.
The Spitfires had lost a bit of ground in recent weeks due to successive defeats to both Braintree and Dover, before losing two more games to the weather (postponed fixtures against Maidenhead and Farnborough).
On the back of signing a new contract as manager of Eastleigh Football Club, Ian Baird celebrated the deal with victory this afternoon.
Making two changes to the starting eleven, Eastleigh replaced suspended goalkeeper Gareth Barfoot with Jason Matthews, and handed on-loan Forest Green Rovers midfielder Ian Herring his debut in place of the injured Danny Smith (hamstring).
The first half was largely uneventful but it was the visitors Chelmsford who had the first real chance of the game as early as the fifth minute. A free kick from the right hand-side found it’s way to the unmarked Adam Tann at the far post whose header struck the Eastleigh cross bar and somehow stayed out.
Just prior to this let-off for the hosts, Chris Holland fired over the bar from 12-yards.
The games opening goal saw Eastleigh take the lead in the 11th minute. A long ball up field by Jason Matthews was brought down with excellent control by Spitfires captain TOM JORDAN. The towering centre-half took the ball into his stride and finished elegantly with a goal that any good striker would have been proud of. Jordan lofted the ball over the advancing, former Eastleigh goalkeeper, James Pullen to find the net in some style. It was Tom’s sixth goal of the season and nudged him one ahead of Chris Holland in the race for highest scoring Eastleigh defender.
Chelmsford had a few corners and free kicks where they looked to put the ball into dangerous areas, but time and again Jason Matthews claimed the ball safely under pressure with good handling.
Richard Graham saw a lot of the ball on the left wing and put in a number of good crosses throughout the course of the game. Unfortunately for Eastleigh, a lot of the time Chelmsford defended the deliveries well.
Towards the end of the half, another Graham cross to the far post was headed goal wards by Chris Holland, but was comfortable enough for Pullen to make the save.
Five minutes before the break, Taggart looked to steer a header back into the six-yard box to the right of goal, but Chelmsford managed to clear their lines.
On the stroke of half time, Jamie Slabber went down under a challenge from Pullen; however the referee wasn’t interested in any claims for a penalty.
During the first half, a Spitfire plane piloted by Carolyn Grace did a victory roll over Eastleigh, which could be seen from the Silverlake Stadium. It was a good omen for Eastleigh FC as they lead 1-0 at the break.
HALF TIME: Eastleigh 1-0 Chelmsford City
Starting the second half brightly, Eastleigh came close through a Brett Poate free kick that was heading for the top corner of goal, only for James Pullen to pull off a good save diving to his left.
In the 52nd minute, JAMIE SLABBER doubled Eastleigh’s lead with a glancing header. Richard Graham provided the assist with a pinpoint cross from the left, whilst the Chelmsford goalkeeper Pullen was caught out of position, perhaps contributing to the goal being scored. It was the Eastleigh top scorer’s 18th goal of the season, Slabber’s fourteenth league strike of the campaign.
Moments after conceding a second goal, Chelmsford won a free kick just outside the penalty area, which Dave Rainford fired tamely into the Eastleigh wall.
Chelmsford enjoyed a better spell of pressure and nearly reduced the deficit when the ball bounced dangerously around the Eastleigh six-yard box. It was eventually scrambled away by Brett Poate, who turned the ball inches past his own goal for a corner kick.
Midway through the half, Chelmsford were awarded a penalty kick and were handed the chance to pull a goal back. The penalty came following a dubious initial decision outside the box when Ross Bottomley won the ball fairly, only to be penalised for an alleged foul. Whilst Eastleigh contested the decision, Chelmsford took a quick free kick and got the ball into the box, where Chris Holland was adjudged to have held an opponent back. DAVE RAINFORD took the opportunity from 12-yards to fire the ball past Matthews, making no mistake with his spot-kick.
The game now finely poised with Eastleigh leading 2-1, Tom Jordan headed wide of goal from a corner in the 70th minute, before Chelmsford were reduced to ten men fifteen minutes from time.
Curtley Williams was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Jamie Slabber. A red card followed and the Clarets midfielder was given his marching orders by the referee.
Eastleigh were solid and resolute at the back and combative in midfield where they won their duels for the vast majority of the game. New signing Ian Herring made a good impression on his debut with a combative display at the heart of the midfield, as well as some neat passing and proving to be a threat with his long throw set-pieces.
In the 78th minute, Mark Nwokeji was handed his Eastleigh debut as the striker came off the bench for a run-out replacing Tony Taggart for the remainder of the game. The AFC Wimbledon loanee showed he has pace in abundance with some powerful runs towards the end of the game.
The ten men of Chelmsford tried to salvage a point as the clock ran down, and they came extremely close when substitute Kiernan Hughes-Mason saw his looping header beat Matthews but come back off the cross bar in the final ten minutes.
Richard Gillespie made a welcome return from injury as he replaced Jamie Slabber in the closing stages of the game.
Chelmsford’s recent new signing, striker Lee Boylan, broke into the Eastleigh box late in the game, but was stopped in his tracks by an excellent, clean sliding challenge from Brett Poate.
The Spitfires saw out an additional four minutes of stoppage time, and will be extremely pleased with the result to avenge their 3-0 away defeat against Glenn Pennyfather’s side back in August.
Having picked up, the all important three points, Eastleigh will look to back this win up with a further positive result on Tuesday night when they take on Bromley.
FULL TIME: Eastleigh 2-1 Chelmsford City
Photos by ©Graeme Horobin. More match shots and aerial photography here