View From Spitfires
March 8, 2015
THE PIRATES 1. v. 2. THE SPITFIRES
Eastleigh recorded a famous victory as they beat Vanarama Conference leaders Bristol Rovers 2-1 at the Memorial Stadium today.
The Spitfires ended a five-game winning streak for the Gas and a 20-match unbeaten run which started all the way back in October.
In an incredible afternoon for the play-off chasers, who would have turned many heads with this outstanding victory, Michael Green gave them an early lead.
Jack Midson struck just past the hour to double it as Eastleigh sealed a memorable win in front of a 7,371 crowd – the biggest to ever watch the Spitfires play.
Rovers, who had the best home-record in the Conference at the start of the day, were consigned to just their second defeat at the Memorial all campaign, just a day after manager Darrell Clarke picked up the league’s Manager of the Month Award.
Gas top-scorer Matty Taylor set-up a tense finale on 78 minutes to make it 2-1 but the away team saw it out to further confirm their place among the play-off hunters and damage Bristol’s title charge.
Eastleigh made one change from their emphatic 4-0 win over Macclesfield Town last weekend, with Midson reinstated to the starting line-up in place of benched Craig McAllister.
Meanwhile, Rovers installed goal-hero from the 1-0 win at Gateshead, Ellis Harrison, into the opening XI for Nathan Blissett, who was a substitute.
Adam Dawson – who played against the Spitfires for Nuneaton in a 2-1 defeat earlier in the season – also came in for injured star midfielder, and former Salisbury City man, Stuart Sinclair.
Ollie Clarke, who scored an absolute belter and was sent-off when the two sides drew 1-1 at the Silverlake Stadium back in September, returned after injury, but started on the bench alongside ex-Saint Neal Trotman.
The Spitfires made an excellent start and within the opening 20 second had already caused havoc as Midson rushed into the box and won a corner.
That was one of three corners Eastleigh had in the opening ten minutes and, from one of them, Craig Stanley drove powerfully from the edge of the box for the first shot of the game, which was blocked.
More importantly, however, they managed to take the lead.
On six minutes Jai Reason was fouled just outside the box on the right side by Tom Parkes.
Green stepped up to take it. It looked a very average free-kick, in fact, it should have been routine for keeper Steve Mildenhall to collect-in at his feet.
Instead, though, the Gas custodian was left completely embarrassed as the ball wriggled between his legs and into the net.
The away side continued their energetic start, with Midson, James Constable and Reason impressing.
Reason made Mildenhall work for it as he tried to lob him with a glanced header, but the stopper wasn’t to be fooled this time, and tipped away.
The number 10 then fired just over from the near-post in a glut of first-half chances for Eastleigh, as they began this game just as impressively as they finished the Macclesfield game.
Constable and Midson were involved in some great link play and were causing the Gas constant trouble at the back.
The centre midfield trio of Stanley, Ben Strevens and Harry Pell were also excellent.
The ex-Rovers and AFC Wimbledon man, Pell, hassled and harried all the time for the ball and was fantastic all game.
On one occasion the towering middleman sprinted from the edge of the Bristol area to chase down Harrison to win the ball back.
Spitfires stopper Ross Flitney had to be alert to block as full-back Daniel Leadbitter burst into the box on 31 minutes, before squaring to top-scorer Matty Taylor, who could only hit into the keeper’s body.
Then Harrison, the Welsh under-21 international, slammed into the side netting minutes later, which brought false celebrations from some quarters of the stadium, who’d thought it had gone in.
It wasn’t long before Eastleigh returned to restricting the Gas getting forward.
Richard Hill’s side ended the first-half on top as Constable zipped a header goalwards for Mildenhall to spectacularly tip over from a Reason free-kick.
Green hit a free-kick well over to end a superb half for the visitors.
The only worry for Eastleigh was that Midson and Dan Spence had picked up bookings.
Eastleigh, who worked tirelessly in the first 45 minutes, would surely fatigue after the interval.
But they started the second period well, as Constable linked with Midson to eventually fire at goal from inside the box.
Rovers were improving, especially after committing an extra man to attack with Blissett coming on for Leadbitter, though Eastleigh remained tough to break down.
And they had their second as they attacked on the break on 63 minutes. Former Rovers man Stanley zipped the ball across the pitch before it was worked down to right-back Spence deep on his flank.
Spence’s cross was delivered into the six yard box where Midson was waiting to pounce.
The industrious forward controlled, almost looked up to check if he was offside, before slotting under Mildenhall.
It could have been three moments later but Strevens fired over.
The home support were baffled by Eastleigh’s dominance that continued as Craig McAllister and Deon Burton were introduced to replace strike duo Midson and Constable.
McAllister was straight in the action and was almost on the scoresheet when he tapped in from close range, only for Parkes to clear off the line.
Goal-line technology may have adjudged it to be a goal but the assistant referee waved away appeals.
Taylor then set-up a tense final 12 minutes as the forward slammed into the bottom left of the goal from just outside the box.
And that man Taylor could have levelled but he squandered a chance in the box.
The 233 travelling fans were then in fine voice as they helped their side see out the game.
Eastleigh: Flitney, Spence, Green, Beckwith, Stanley, Constable (Burton 66), Reason, Midson (McAllister 66), Strevens, Partington, Pell. Subs not used: Todd , Howard, Walker.