ON paper Eastleigh’s 1-0 victory over high-riding Chelmsford City on Saturday looked a close-fought affair.
In reality, the Spitfires would have had a more comfortable ride were it not for the stubborn resistance of the Clarets’ on-loan Arsenal goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook and some frustrating misses by Spitfires’ targetman Craig McAllister.
Having headed home the goal that had seen off league leaders Salisbury City by an identical scoreline four days earlier, McAllister’s touch deserted him.
Three times he should have scored – twice when he fluffed his lines from Jai Reason assists, and once when he latched onto Dean Beckwith’s ball over the top but, under pressure from marker Kenny Clark, shot tamely at the keeper.
But Eastleigh boss Richard Hill, pictured below, reckons it’s just as easy to overlook the many plus points of McAllister’s game as it is to highlight missed chances.
He said: “I feel sympathy for Macca because he works his nuts off and, what people don’t see, is that he gets beat up in every game.
“He takes some right stick off defenders with little or no protection from referees.
“He comes in after every game with his body bruised because he’s always in tight contact with central defenders, making sure the ball gets into good areas for the likes of Dale Binns, Jai Reason, Glen Southam and Mark Hughes.
“On another day he could have scored a couple, but every game he plays he gives a good, honest, hard-working performance.
“And the fact he scored in such a tight game against Salisbury says it all. That’s the mark of a goalscorer.”
Although Hill would far rather Eastleigh remain under the radar when it comes to Blue Square Bet South promotion talk, their recent surge of form is hard to ignore.
Saturday’s win – settled by a 43rd-minute Reason penalty – was their fourth victory on the bounce and their sixth from the last seven league games.
It hoists them up to sixth, just two points outside the play-off zone – and marks an incredible turnaround by a club that, just three weeks ago, were second to bottom.
“It was another tough game against Chelsmford and the more you win, the greater the pressure becomes to win the next one,” admitted Hill, who leads his side to Hayes & Yeading this Saturday.
“But we’ll carry on trying to win as many games as possible and see where it takes us.
“It was a very, very professional performance against Chelmsford. Concentration levels have to be there for the whole 90 minutes and, if one player has a lapse, the others have to be there to cover. That’s what being a team is.”
Hill was forced into an early change on Saturday when Damian Scannell bowed out after 12 minutes with a groin problem.
It meant Mitchell Nelson pushing into a more advanced role on the right, new signing Dan Spence switching across to right-back and substitute Michael Green reclaiming the left-back berth.
The re-jig temporarily unsettled Eastleigh, but they were soon giving the Clarets defence nightmares and, in one almighty goalmouth scramble on 27 minutes, any one of around five Spitfires might have scored.
In the event, they had to wait until the 43rd minute to make the breakthrough when Nelson flicked the ball on to Reason who panicked defender Mark Haines into bringing him down.
Haines got booked and was later yellow-carded again for another foul on the Eastleigh midfielder in the dying seconds of the game.
Charles-Cook guessed the right way for the penalty but Reason squeezed it beyond reach inside the keeper’s right-hand post. Eastleigh survived a couple of second-half scares – notably when Donovan Simmonds sliced a clear chance wide from close range – but Chelmsford were sorely missing the cutting edge of suspended leading marksman and ex-Spitfire Jamie Slabber.
Hill’s men continued to drum up danger with the menacing Dale Binns racing onto McAllister’s pass and steering his shot just wide of the far post.
But the outstanding moment of the half belonged to 18-year-old Charles-Cook who pulled off a remarkable point-blank reaction save off his own player, Haines, after Binns had delivered a fierce, driven cross to the near post.
“No one else in this league would have made that save, not even (Eastleigh’s) Ross Flitney,” said Hill.
Admitting his side had struggled in the first half, beaten Chelmsford boss Glenn Pennyfather said: “We were out-thought and outfought and our goal lived a charmed life.
“They deserved to go into half-time ahead because, for the first time in a long time, it was 45 minutes where we hadn’t competed.”