Eastleigh began their season in the finest style imaginable, overcoming a tenacious, at times confrontational, Southport team, to record a 4-0 victory on Merseyside.

Jai Reason broke the deadlock for Richard Hill’s side shortly before the interval, with Jamie Turley, Ben Strevens from the penalty spot and substitute James Constable adding second-half strikes following the dismissal, for an awful tackle on Joe Partington, of Amari Jones.

The away side were first to show up offensively on a sweltering afternoon, with Ross Lafayette, one of four Spitfires making their competitive debuts for the club, heading Reason’s early free-kick too high to trouble Coughlin.

Another Eastleigh new-boy, Dan Harding, was similarly luckless with a free-kick bent wide of the keeper’s left-upright from 20 yards.

With an already fractious contest ten minutes old, the hosts arrived as an attacking force, when Connor McCarthy latched onto Louis Almond’s hopeful ball down the left. The striker strongly held play-up, with three visiting defenders swarming all around him, to tee up the advancing Almond, whose curling shot was tipped away to his left by a fully extended Michael Poke.

Andy Drury was soon in the thick of the action, starting and finishing a move that ended with Eastleigh’s summer recruit from Luton Town swooping onto Will Evans’ low cross, but snatching his shot wide of the right post.

It was the sort of broiling afternoon on Merseyside that had players grabbing for drinks bottles by the mid-way point of the opening half, but not before Harding had misjudged Andy Wright’s punt forward from midfield, enabling Andrai Jones to lash a drive at goal that whistled a yard over Poke’s bar.

Southport forward Richard Brodie had set out from the first-whistle to antagonise his opponents and, on the half-hour mark, the former York City man was going down easily in the Spitfires’ box under a challenge from Turley, but without being able to convince referee Jason Whiteley to point to the spot.

As the half entered its final ten minutes, the visitors began to take a grip on proceedings. Drury and Jack Midson cleverly fashioned an opening on the right of the Sandgrounders’ penalty area, with Reason unable to connect properly when Midson eventually centred, allowing Josh Thompson to snuff out the danger.

Sixty seconds later, and Reason was delivering a corner from the right, which Lafayette, stationed at the far post, caught flush on the volley, only to see his fierce effort crash back off a defensive body.

In keeping with his side’s growing ascendancy, Reason, having switched wings with Midson, was gradually beginning to exert his influence on the match. The attacker was picked out in a pocket of space by Harding, before prodding a pass forward for Yemi Odubade, who couldn’t keep his effort sufficiently low to trouble Coughlin.

Eastleigh and Reason didn’t have to wait long for their breakthrough, however. The rampant ex-Braintree man collected Drury’s throw into his feet, wrestled his way free of the clutches of Will Beesley, and away from Wright, to send an unerring low strike across Coughlin and into the bottom left corner of the net.

The Spitfires were nearly made to pay for a lapse of concentration on the cusp of the break; Brodie finding himself completely unmarked, six yards from goal, when Almond swung in a cross from the left.

The bolshie centre forward hesitated, fatally, although his shot at goal still required a terrific point-blank save from Poke to maintain the Spitfires’ lead.

There was a portent of what would follow immediately after the break as Evans and Brodie squared up at the half-time whistle; Brodie needing to be ushered down the tunnel by his own coaching staff to avoid a dust-up unfolding.

Turley, for all his best efforts, had only been able to help Reason’s flag-kick delivery the wrong side of the left upright a minute after the resumption, when the second-period exploded, in the most unseemly fashion. Jones lunged into a horrific over the top-challenge on Partington, as the Eastleigh player strode into the home team’s half.

After an ensuing delay, which saw Brodie hurl himself theatrically to the ground following Reason’s hand-off on the charging Southport man, Jones was red carded, with Reason receiving a caution for his involvement – a decision greeted with howls of derision by a furious home support.

Despite retaining their two-pronged strike-force after the sending-off, the Merseysiders’ numerical deficiency effectively drew the competitive sting from the game, with the visitors oozing professionalism, and no little style, as they shifted the ball around quickly and authoritatively.

Reason had a snap-shot blocked by the giant frame of Luke Foster, but when the same Eastleigh player slung in a 53rd minute left wing corner Turley charged in at the back post, rising above Foster to direct a header low past Coughlin to double the away team’s advantage, Odubade was soon close to making it three, spinning on the immaculate Drury’s low pass into the box, to clip a shot marginally beyond Coughlin’s right-post.

Brodie’s last contribution, prior to his withdrawal for Jamie Allen, was to take a tumble in the Spitfires’ area with Harding at his back. Referee Whiteley, once more, was entirely uninterested.

Midson’s appetite for work was one of many standout features of Eastleigh’s second-half superiority, and when the former Oxford United player harried substitute Charlie Joyce out of possession the ball ran for Drury to bludgeon a 25-yard effort that smashed back out off the left upright.

The Ole’s were ringing out from a joyous away end at Haig Avenue as Odubade’s joy at forcing home from Lafayette’s knock-down was cut-shot by a linesman’s flag. On 74 minutes, however, the celebrations among the travelling band of Spitfires were for real.

Substitute Lee Cook, on alongside Constable, with Reason and Odubade both giving way, took Drury’s pass, before feeding Lafayette to his left in the area. As the striker dipped back in onto his right foot, defender Matty Challoner hung out a leg, sending the striker to the deck.

Skipper Ben Strevens assumed penalty duties, rifling emphatically into the left of goal, sending Coughlin the wrong way in the process.

Aside from a few forays by Brodie’s lively replacement, Allen, one of which drew Poke into action after Gary Jones’ shrewd through ball had split Turley and Partington, it was always a case of ‘how many?’ from here on in.

The answer was four. Drury was denied by a sprawling Coughlin, the ‘keeper tipping the midfielder’s curling shot past his right-post, while Midson had a speculative strike that fizzed fractionally over the frame of the goal.

The concluding goal was all the work of Cook, who took up the cudgels after Poke had saved once more from Allen, the ex-Barnet man leading the break, dribbling half the length of the pitch and then teeing up Constable, who swept, magnificently, high into the net.

It was a fitting way to end what was a perfect afternoon for Hill and his impressive team.

By Paul McNamara