WRIGHT man. Right place. Right time.
If new league leaders Eastleigh are to achieve their dream of being crowned Skrill Conference South champions, the loan of Ben Wright from Salisbury City could turn out to be one of manager Richard Hill’s most astute signings.
For a long time on Saturday it looked as though ten-man Bishop’s Stortford just didn’t know when to lie down – much to the bemusement of an expectant 601 Silverlake Stadium crowd who were willing Eastleigh to reel off their second crucial home win in the space of five days.
Twice the Spitfires went ahead and twice the battling Bishops equalised, making light of the 17th-minute dismissal of left-back Jordan Brown for a reckless challenge on Dan Spence. But, whereas at times this season Eastleigh have lacked that extra firepower to kill teams off, ex-Peterborough, Crawley and Forest Green hitman Wright has supplied it. With one goal already in the bag, he hungrily completed his hat-trick with strikes in the 57th and 71st minutes to crown a 4-2 win – the first time the Spitfires have hit four in a league match all season.
And, with former pace-setters Bromley stumbling to yet another defeat – this time crashing 2-1 at Farnborough – Hill’s men climbed a point clear at the summit with the luxury of two games in hand.
Wright has now hit six goals in seven starts for his adopted club and, though Hill prefers never to single players out for praise, even he had to admit: “It was Ben Wright’s day today.”
Just prior to arriving at Eastleigh, Wright had been out on loan to his home town club Basingstoke and he arrived at the Silverlake with a glowing recommendation from Camrose boss Jason Bristow.
“Ben’s a player I was aware of and when I took him I just felt I needed to bring something different to the club,” Hill explained. “I spoke to Jason Bristow and he said Ben did fantastic in his month at Basingstoke and suggested that if I was in a position to take him, I should.
“Basingstoke were in no position to keep him themselves and Jason gave me a very good shout.
“Ben can lead the line, but he also brings something a bit different. We’d been asking a lot of Macca (targetman Craig McAllister) physically and Ben helps take the load off him. “Like I said to Macca, Ben’s not here to take your place, he’s here to help you.
“I’ll give Ben his due, he’s worked hard to adapt to a different way of playing and to the tempo of our training.
“He’s not here because I just decided I wanted to sign someone, he’s here because he’s a good player.”
It was experienced war horse McAllister who put Eastleigh ahead on 12 minutes, applying the finishing touch to Michael Green’s whipped-in cross from the left.
With the Bishops’ bandaged-up defender Callum McNaughton off having treatment on a pre-existing head wound, the visitors’ afternoon looked to have imploded when Brown was red-carded after he and Spence had challenged for a 50-50 ball just yards from the Eastleigh dugout.
But, against the odds, Stortford caught the Spitfires snoozing in the afternoon sunshine to net the softest of 24th-minute equalisers. Matt Johnson delivered from the right, McNaughton was left in acres of space to head goalwards and Anthony Church seized on hesitation from goalkeeper Ross Flitney to prod the ball home.
When Wright plundered the first of his hat-trick on 32 minutes, slipping the ball past Flitney’s opposite number Joe Lumley from McAllister’s perfectly weighted pass, it looked as if the game was up for the Bishops.
But the ten men started the second half on the front foot and levelled again on 53 minutes, this time with a confidently taken penalty from skipper Reece Prestedge after Flitney had taken out Cliff Akurang on the right edge of the area.
Despite howls of protest from the Bishops bench, Boston referee Stephen Ross showed Flitney yellow rather than evening up the numbers. That pacified those of an Eastleigh pursuasion who felt the challenge had been outside the box in any case.
From there the Spitfires shifted up a gear and Wright coolly stroked them ahead for a third time from a pull-back by Spence, who had been picked out by Stuart Fleetwood, lurking to the right of goal.
And it was the masterful Fleetwood who magically set up Wright for his hat-trick, leaving Michael Richens for dead on his jinking run along the left by-line before expertly picking out the on-loan Salisbury hitman at the back stick.
Wright almost got another before exiting to a hero’s ovation on 76 minutes, but his first-time volley from sub Jai Reason’s floated cross was smartly blocked by Lumley. “Give Ben credit for his hat-trick, but what about Fleetwood’s lead-up play for his third goal!” marvelled Hill, pictured left.
“There isn’t another player in this league who could have done that.”
Eastleigh now take their table-topping show on the road to Whitehawk tomorrow (Tuesday) and Staines Town on Saturday, looking to improve on a paltry return of one point from their last two away games.