WHEN, come May, Eastleigh sit back and reflect on what will hopefully have been a promotion-winning season, chairman Stewart Donald, manager Richard Hill and his quality band of players will rightly head the list of credits.
But Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Gosport Borough underlined the crucial role played by the club’s magnificent supporting cast of fans and helpers who deserved their moment in the spotlight.
With yet more heavy rain saturating the Silverlake pitch on Friday, there were fears that the Borough match would go the same way as Tuesday’s postponed fixture against Dover.
But when Hill turned up at 9.30am on Saturday there was already an army of club officials and volunteers working hard to get the surface water removed and the boggiest areas sanded.
The game duly got the go-ahead and that effort was rewarded as the Spitfires reeled off their seventh straight league and cup victory to keep the heat on Skrill Conference South leaders Bromley.
It wasn’t the classiest of spectacles, but given what Hill described as the “puddingy” surface, it was never likely to be.
But, once again, Eastleigh knuckled down and, thanks to goals from Craig McAllister and Ben Strevens, dug out a hard-earned victory against a feisty Gosport side who are finding the going tough in their debut SCS season.
Hill, who himself rolled up his sleeves and helped rid the pitch of standing water, was immensely proud of an all-round club effort.
He said: “Today we have to pay credit to the people who took the time to get out of their beds, when they would probably have liked a lie-in after a hard-working week, and helped make the pitch playable.
“It’s testament to everyone at Eastleigh FC that we got the game on and, without the supporters, we couldn’t have done this today.
“The pitch was a bit puddingy and, once again, we’ve faced a team who have come here, raised their game and kept going for 90 minutes.
“It was a bitty game again, but you’ve seen another side to our lads today. They’ve dug deep and worked hard on a surface that’s not conducive to the way we like to play and they’ve got the win against a team full of ex-Eastleigh players with something to prove.
“That’s six points we’ve taken off Gosport this season, which is great.
“Credit goes to our players, supporters and everyone for what we’ve done today.”
Eastleigh had scarcely moved out of first gear when Gosport presented them with a ninth-minute lead.
Ex-AFC Totton defender Ian Richardson tried, unsuccessfully, to head the ball back to Nathan Ashmore in the Borough goal and, with the ’keeper caught in no man’s land, McAllister duly lobbed him.
With Gosport’s combative skipper Jamie Brown holding nothing back against his old club, Borough were nothing if not competitive and they came close to equalising on 23 minutes when another ex-Spitfire Danny Smith unleashed a dipping 20-yarder which ’keeper Ross Flitney finger-tipped onto the bar.
McAllister had a ‘goal’ disallowed at the start of a more eventful second-half in which Borough’s agile, young ’keeper Ashmore came into his own. He made two outstanding saves to deny man-of-the match Jai Reason – first diverting a goalbound shot onto the inside of the post and then springing across to deny the Eastleigh No10 as he was about to pull the trigger. With Gosport growing increasingly dangerous on the break following the introduction of pacy pair Mike Gosney and Dan Woodward, the Spitfires’ lead began to look fragile.
But Ben Strevens duly doubled it on 72 minutes when, from Reason’s assist, he shrugged off defender Sam Pearce before firing low across Ashmore into the far corner.
It should have been the knockout blow, but Gosport bounced quickly off the canvas to halve the deficit with a close-range back-heel from Woodward after Bennett’s delivery had caused mayhem.
Hearts were in Eastleigh mouths when, in trying to clear the ball, Flitney slammed it into lively ex-Follands striker Rory Williams and it rebounded past his right-hand post.
But in the closing minutes the Spitfires carved the Borough defence open at will and only some wayward finishing, more Ashmore heroics and a failed penalty shout for Brown’s challenge on Strevens kept the score respectable from the visitors’ angle.
Acknowledging the quality of Hill’s side, Gosport boss Alex Pike said: “Eastleigh are the benchmark, but then you’ve got to look at where Gosport have come from.
“I’ve been here eight years now and who would have thought we would have been competing in the same league and actually giving them a game and a run for their money?
“We’re in a relegation dogfight, but we gave it a go today and we’ve got to be proud of ourselves and take the positives out of it. We’ve come up against one of the best sides in the league and we haven’t been overawed.”
Eastleigh – away to Weston-super-Mare tomorrow – remain 11 points adrift of Bromley with four games in hand.