Eastleigh denied Wembley trip in heartbreaking penalty shootout

Paul McCallum

Paul McCallum equalised for Eastleigh (credit: eastleighfc.com)

Salford City beat a brave Eastleigh side on penalties after an exciting semi-final to set up a National League promotion final with AFC Fylde at Wembley.

Salford, who look to achieve a fourth promotion in five seasons led through Carl Piergianni’s header.

But Eastleigh’s top scorer this season Paul McCallum sent clever header that drew the visitors level after the restart.

Both sides had chances to win it, but Chris Neal’s stunning penalty save from Chris Zebroski earned Salford a date with Fylde on Saturday, 11 May.

Salford, who have been co-owned by former Manchester United players Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt since 2014, finished two places and four points ahead of Fylde in the regular season.

A match full of chances seemed to be heading Eastleigh’s way when Ammies top-scorer Adam Rooney was hopelessly off target with the first spot-kick.

But goalkeeper Neal made a decent stop to keep out Sam Matthews’s penalty and then produced a wonderful save to deny Zebroski with the 10th and final kick.

An even contest had seen Salford pose the greater first-half threat against a side who had had to play 120 minutes of a gruelling eliminator on Thursday to reach the semi-final.

Liam Hogan blasted a shot over and Mani Dieseruvwe slid an effort just wide after good work by Scott Wiseman.

But the best opportunity of the first 40 minutes fell to Adam Rooney, whose downward header was well saved by Luke Southwood, with Gus Mafuta off target with an instinctive follow-up.

The respite was brief however, Salford taking the lead three minutes later minutes when centre-half Piergianni outmuscled three defenders and headed home.

Eastleigh almost levelled in stoppage time, but Alex Wynter’s clever half-volley came back off the bar with Neal beaten.

The Spitfires played with greater tempo after the interval and began to get on top. Mark Yeates was denied, but from the resulting corner McCallum’s clever back-post header looped into the far corner.

Wynter went close with a header for the visitors and then cleared off his own line at the other end, while Southwood made two excellent saves to deny Danny Whitehead.

Extra-time time in a gripping match brought further opportunities, Dieseruvwe’s glancing header hitting the outside of the post for the hosts and McCallum seeing a header pushed just wide by the excellent Neal.

And it was Neal who proved the Salford hero in the shootout to keep them on track for promotion and leave a brave Eastleigh side a long trip home with nothing to show for but their pride.