Saturday 8th November 2014 was a day in the history of Eastleigh Football Club that Spitfires fans will never forget.
Eastleigh entertained fellow conference side Lincoln City in their first ever home tie in the FA cup.
Before the game, Jai Reason, Eastleigh player of the month for October, was presented with his award by young Eastleigh footballer Josh Hoey.
This was followed by the playing of the Last Post before the players and spectators held a minute’s silence in remembrance of those whose lives were lost in conflict.
(Quick link to new book on Eastleigh FC: The More We Win, The Better It Will Be)
After 90 minutes, during which the rain remorselessly danced down on the Silverlake Stadium, it was Eastleigh that moved through to Monday’s draw for the second round of the FA Cup. And it wasn’t until the very last of those 90 minutes, when Ben Strevens coolly stroked a low finish past Paul Farman in the Imps’ goal, that the game’s decisive moment arrived.
The thrilling conclusion to a frenetic, sometimes chaotic, cup tie never seemed likely during an opening period in which the Spitfires threatened to completely overwhelm their visitors. The early pattern was set on two minutes when Paul Reid – back in at the centre-half for the suspended Dean Beckwith, in the only change to the hosts’ line-up that started last Saturday’s win over Chester – pulled clear of Hamza Bencherif to head Jai Reason’s corner onto the meat of Farman’s bar.
That near miss was followed by another just five minutes later. James Constable released Stuart Fleetwood down the right, with the Welshman then picking out Reason in the middle of the box. Typically composed, Reason almost brought time to a standstill as he sized up the opening, before clipping a shot at goal that brought a fantastic one handed save from Farman; the ‘keeper getting enough of a glove on the ball to turn it over his bar.
Bencherif was encountering all sorts of bother trying to get to grips with Reid at set-pieces and from another flag-kick on eight minutes the Eastleigh defender headed into the side-netting.
Sixty seconds later the Spitfires were in front – and it was a measure of their dominance at that stage that the breakthrough felt long overdue. Fleetwood turned a pass back to Craig Stanley, who delivered a crisp pass into the stride of Dan Spence. The right-back took a touch and then dug out a humdinger of a cross that was just asking to be buried. Craig McAllister wasn’t going to disappoint, planting a header low past Farman to put his side one up.
The suspicion, once McAllister had found the net, was that Eastleigh had broken the back of their afternoon’s work. Richard Hill’s men would have been eager to keep Lincoln – who came into this clash after a turbulent week that saw manager Gary Simpson placed on gardening leave and Chris Moyses and Grant Brown take joint caretaker charge at the Imps – in the doldrums. Seizing a ninth minute lead would have appeared the ideal way to do just that.
One could have become two on eleven minutes when Fleetwood carried the ball at the heart of the visiting rear-guard, only to squander a golden opportunity when he opted against sliding in McAllister, who had peeled off into space on the right. Possession was relinquished, but the feeling pervaded that a second goal would be along imminently.
The Imps’ back-four, during their sticky opening, was all at sea; centre-halves Nat Brown and Thierry Audel routinely being caught way behind their full-backs and looking awfully vulnerable to any ball played through the middle. Going forward, meanwhile, the away side were lightweight, with their wide-players – Marcus Marshall on the right, in particular, – being pinned back by their superior hosts.
Marshall did hint at his attacking menace on 15 minutes when he got the better of Michael Green on the right corner of the box to fire Lincoln’s first effort at goal, the former Rotherham United man slamming his strike into the side-netting at the near-post.
Eastleigh didn’t waste much time in taking the game back to the slightly shell-shocked away side. A minute after Marshall’s pop at goal, McAllister unselfishly squared for Reason, who knocked the ball goal-wards where Audel heroically hacked off the line to keep his team within touching distance of their rampant opponents.
Reason’s first-time passing was a feature of the Spitfires’ fast-paced first-half football and one ball knocked forward from half-way by the playmaker was latched onto by Constable, who cut inside to shoot left-footed just past the near-post.
The lively Fleetwood, whose form is unquestionably on an upward trajectory, jinked his way straight through the heart of the visitors’ rear-guard just after the half-hour mark, with Farman rescuing his side again by diving low to prevent the attacker from finishing his run in the best possible style.
For Hill’s side, the chances kept coming – and going; Reason the next to have a shooting chance when he blasted a 25 yard free-kick too high to trouble Farman. Most troubling for the rookie Lincoln managerial duo at this point would have been their team’s inability to even compete on equal terms. One Stanley challenge that sent the ball crashing out of play in the Imps’ half, with Arnaud Mendy merely a partially interested bystander summed up the contrasting displays and attitudes of the two teams.
The tone of the afternoon was, though, soon turned on its head. Ross Flitney had already been called upon to race from his area to clear ahead of the pursuing Conner Robinson when Lincoln, right on the cusp of the break, dished up a real warning of what was to come. Marshall ghosted his way past Green on the right, reaching the by-line before sending a delivery across goal that the lunging Robinson, dashing in from the left, was inches from connecting with.
The manner of the visitors’ agonising brush with an equaliser on 45 minutes preceded much more of the same when the teams returned from their break. Reason, soon after the re-start, did lift one Constable ball high of the target, but Lincoln were a team re-born.
Bencherif, who had looked woefully off the pace in the first period epitomised the altered narrative, suddenly coming to life in the middle of the park. The Algerian nodded the first of a stream of excellent Sean Newton deliveries too close to Flitney – and it was the same player bursting forward on 49 minutes to provide the previously anonymous Jordan Burrow with a gilt-edged chance to square the scores. Bencherif’s cross from the left found the striker just yards out and with a seemingly simple task to ram the ball home. With everybody inside the Silverlake expecting the net to bulge, Burrow somehow lifted his effort well over Flitney’s bar.
Burrow couldn’t make solid contact on another Newton cross before, on 55 minutes, referee Nicholas Kinseley handed the Spitfires a let-off. The increasingly spritely and influential Robinson escaped Green as the pair battled for a ball slung forward from deep in Imps’ territory. On the wrong side of his man in the box, the left-back appeared to tug at Robinson who crashed to the turf. Mr Kinseley, however, saw nothing wrong, pointing for a goal-kick.
Lincoln were, by now, mixing up their approach to good effect. Reid and Will Evans were forced to deal with any number of straight, aerial balls. Evans, especially, was in outstanding nick; giving arguably his most commanding defensive performance since he arrived at the Silverlake in the summer of 2013.
Newton, meanwhile, was understandably a favoured outlet for the visitors, the left-back’s delivery almost unfailingly causing all manner of bother in the Spitfires’ box. A model example of the away team’s new found spirit came with Newton’s 61st minute cross from deep that found his fellow full-back Tom Miller galloping in at the far post. Miller’s downward header brought a splendid stop from Flitney, plunging low to his left to maintain Eastleigh’s lead.
Burrow had time called on his endeavours 70 minutes in, and soon after the luckless former Stevenage man had guided yet another fizzing Newton cross over the target. Burrow’s replacement, Delano Sam-Yorke, was instantly up to speed with proceedings. The ex-Basingstoke Town player won his side a corner within moments of his arrival, before being halted by a linesman’s flag as he got on the end of Miller’s cross.
Make no mistake, Eastleigh were rattled. Hill’s team couldn’t keep hold of the ball and were starting to lose a bit of shape. The manager sought to steady matters by introducing Yemi Odubade for Constable. Nevertheless, before the change could take its desired effect the scores were level.
With the on-pitch re-shuffle taking place, Flitney’s goal-kick was returned straight into the path of Sam-Yorke. The forward strode forward and clinically slipped a low finish past Flitney, before charging away to celebrate in front of a jubilant and increasingly geed-up away following. The reaction in the visitors’ dug-out was no less excited, the majority of its occupants racing to the side-line to revel in the moment.
All square with 17 minutes to play, there was no sense that Lincoln would draw in their horns; happy to re-convene at Sincil Bank for a replay in ten days’ time.
Despite their bolstered numbers in the centre of the park – Odubade was primarily operating from the right, leaving McAllister to take up the bulk of his side’s central striking duties – Eastleigh couldn’t re-locate their earlier authority.
Bencherif turned the tables on Reid, finding a yard of space to head a corner wide. It was Robinson, though, who really could have clinched victory for his side. Newton – of course – sent in a fine delivery from the left. Robinson ducked inside Green but, on the slide, directed his effort across the face of goal and past the post.
The Imps wouldn’t take a backwards step, now frequently emptying their midfield and pouring men forward in pursuit of a winner. Mendy planted a header over from Robinson’s cross – the latter then succumbing to cramp and having to be replaced by former Havant & Waterlooville striker Sahr Kabba.
And then, Eastleigh stirred as an attacking force once more. Reason forced Farman to tip around his left-post – albeit when the subsequent corner came to nothing the tie seemed destined for a replay.
As the clock ticked down, however, there were two sides searching for a winner. Ben Wright had come on in Fleetwood’s place for the last five minutes, and it was the striker who was on hand when Odubade made a nuisance of himself to keep play alive after McAllister’s 90th minute hopeful hook forward from deep.
Under pressure from Odubade, Brown could only prod the ball toward Wright. The ex-Salisbury City attacker is blessed with a clear head whenever he finds himself in the penalty area throng, and that attribute served him beautifully here. Wright saw Strevens out of the corner of his eye, and assuredly rolled the ball to his colleague, who slotted low into the right corner of goal.
Even after the bedlam that greeted Strevens’ dramatic strike, there was time for Lincoln to tear forward in search of an equaliser. Two Imps corners set nerves in the home stands on edge. On the field, though, the set-pieces were dealt with by a home team that was determined to cling onto its renewed lead – although a penny for the forlorn Kabba’s thoughts as he stood guard on the half-way line while Farman joined his team-mates in the box for those last gasp flag-kicks.
When the whistle blew on a fantastic afternoon’s entertainment, Eastleigh had done enough, just. It was a day when the reward for doing enough will be a first appearance in the second round of the FA Cup in the club’s 68 year history. The good times keep rolling at the Silverlake.
Eastleigh must now travel away to the winners of Dagenham and Redbridge or Southport in the 2nd round of the FA Cup on Saturday 6th December KO 3pm. Further details can be found at Eastleigh FC Website.
Follow me on twitter Paul McNamara (@McNamara_sport).
Read more about Paul McNamara’s writing and Tony Smith’s stunning pictures about Eastleigh FC in this post about their new book: The More We Win, The Better It Will Be.
The More We Win, The Better It Will Be by Paul McNamara
Eastleigh Football Club is an ambitious semi-professional club that in 2013/2014 competed in the Football Conference South.
Ten years earlier, they were a much smaller club, playing in their local regional league.
Progress from that lowly status saw the team spend the 2013/2014 campaign challenging for the Conference South league title and promotion into the Conference Premier Division.
This is the story of Eastleigh’s momentous 2013/14 season. The book provides a compelling insight into the day to day life of the club, on and off the pitch. It recounts the events of the season as experienced by all those involved.
This is a limited edition first book from Paul McNamara.
This book costs £13.99.
We are now selling books about Eastleigh Football club. All of our books are signed by the author. pic.twitter.com/xv5827D9PC
— Eastleigh Museum (@EastleighMuseum) November 15, 2014
Book talk and signing at Eastleigh Library
Paul McNamara writes match reports, interviews and articles for the Southern Daily Echo Sports Pink Edition. His work has also featured in UK Tennis and Late Tackle magazines.
Saturday 15 November 10.30 – 11.30am
Thursday 20 November 2.00 – 3.00pm
Free tickets available from Eastleigh library or call the booking line on 023 8061 2646.
Image Credit: Tony Smith