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Eastleigh draw at home to Concord Rangers
Eastleigh’s five-match winning streak in the Skrill Conference South came to a halt this afternoon.
The Spitfires were held to a 1-1 draw by newly promoted Concord Rangers in front of a 551 crowd at the Silverlake Stadium.
But, with second place Bromley also drawing, Richard Hill’s men remain at the top of the table heading into Tuesday’s game at Ebbsfleet.
The Spitfires welcomed back right-back Damian Batt after illness but with Craig McAllister nursing a slight knock, Will Evans retained his place in the starting line up, moving into a midfield role while Ben Strevens pushed up front.
Eastleigh immediately got down to business on an unseasonably still and muggy afternoon – Strevens testing the keeper with a flicked header from Glen Southam’s second-minute delivery following a short corner.
But, after seven minutes of Eastleigh dominance, Concord threatened with their first attack with Sam Higgins having a low, angled strike from the edge of the box tipped round for the visitors’ first corner.
The next time Concord attacked it proved to be fatal for Eastleigh as the Canvey Island-based Beach Boys hit the lead.
Chris Todd initially did well to dispossess Higgins inside the area but the ball broke to Sam Collins 18 yards out and he unleashed a fierce, low strike which keeper Ross Flitney was unable to hold and in nipped Leon Gordon to bury the loose ball.
The Spitfires responded with a superb in-swinging cross by Michael Green and a 20-yard blast by Evans, both of which were put behind for corners.
As Eastleigh pressed, they forced yet another flag kick from Green’s 21st-minute cross and this time Dean Beckwith’s header from Stuart Fleetwood’s delivery was cleared off the line.
With Green finding all sorts of space on the left, he again delivered into the danger zone on 28 minutes. Strevens almost casually lifted a first time pass into the path of Jai Reason who couldn’t quite find the desired finish.
Strevens then stung keeper Jamie Butler’s hand with a strike from distance and, but for a minor scare when Concord’s Steve Cawley almost threaded the perfect ball through for Gary Ogilvie inside the Eastleigh area, the game was almost exclusively being played in the visitors’ half.
The Spitfires finally got the reward their patient, passing football merited on 34 minutes with another goal of the highest quality.
Reason played in Fleetwood who managed to keep hold of the ball just inside the area with three yellow shirts buzzing around him.
He played it back into the path of REASON who guided a superb, low strike into the bottom corner.
There were angry words exchanged between the opposing dug-outs shortly afterwards when Evans made an overlapping run into the left of the area and went down under contact with Concord skipper Steve King.
The referee went along with the visitors’ view, booking Evans for diving. Eastleigh began the second half on the front foot forcing keeper Butler to block out Fleetwood one-on-one inside the opening minute.
With the busy feet of Fleetwood, Reason and Strevens causing havoc and Todd and Beckwith threatening at set pieces, the hard-worked Concord defence was doing brilliantly to hold them.
On 61 minutes Eastleigh boss Richard Hill replaced Batt with Romone Rose.
Apart from a slight lapse when Ogilvie burst into space down the left channel and fired over on the angle, Eastleigh still had the upper hand.
And they should have gone ahead on 63 minutes when the unmarked Evans lifted his shot wide of the gaping net following good work by Strevens on the left of the area.
But, with the game becoming stretched, Green played a slack pass straight to Higgins and Todd, at full stretch, forced a save from his own keeper as he attempted to cut out the striker’s dangerous, low ball into the six-yard box.
Eastleigh then needed some last ditch defending to keep out first Higgins and then Collins after the former had driven through the heart of the home defence.
With just 15 minutes to keeper their winning streak going, the Spitfires introduced targetman McAllister for Evans.
Five minutes later Reason rolled the ball into the path of skipper Southam whose shot on the run went out for a corner off the excellent Butler.
With Concord counter attacks becoming ever more frequent, the visitors had a failed penalty shout for Rose’s challenge on Higgins before Todd and then Green made crucial interceptions under fire.
Fleetwood, a class act throughout, continued to terrorise the visitors’ defence but, try as they might Eastleigh couldn’t break down the gutsy Beach Boys who held strong for a hard-earned point.
There was excitement in stoppage time when, following good work involving Rose and Beckwith, McAllister had a last-ditch opportunity to win it, but the ball just wouldn’t run for the Spitfires as Concord scrambled it to safety.
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