GOALKEEPER Ross Flitney took the plaudits as Eastleigh finally broke their Grimsby Town hoodoo with a 0-0 Vanarama National League draw at Blundell Park on Saturday.

The Spitfires No1 played out of his skin on an afternoon when, for the second year running, Eastleigh were reduced to ten men on Humberside.

But whereas last season Deon Burton got his marching orders in the last knockings of a 2-1 defeat, this time the Spitfires had to battle through almost the entire second half undermanned after Josh Payne had got his 48th-minute marching orders.

And still they came away with a point!

Payne went into a tackle on Richard Tait at full stretch, sparking a melee near the touchline as Grimsby’s bench sprang to their feet in protest.

He was shown a straight red by referee Michael Salisbury, making it the eighth Spitfires dismissal this season, cementing the club’s unwelcome place at the top of the VNL ‘card count’ league.

It was a decision that manager Chris Todd clearly disagreed with, albeit that he kept his counsel when speaking about the incident afterwards.

Choosing his words carefully, he said: “I don’t want to get myself into trouble, but I’m not happy with the red card, no. I’ve gone to see the referee. Everyone makes decisions, sometimes they’re wrong and sometimes they’re right. But I’m not happy, no.

“Big decisions change games and it’s happened again this week.”

Payne’s dismissal aside, Todd was chuffed to finally prise a point out of a Grimsby side who beat them four times times last season – including twice in the play-off semi-finals – and again at the Silverlake in November.

Not only that, they kept a sixth clean sheet in nine games – no mean feat against a Mariners outfit whose home goal tally of 43 is second only to champions elect Cheltenham.

“It’s been a long time coming!” said Todd, delighted to have exorcised the Grimsby curse.

“Our performance today was very good considering we were down to ten men and I’m pleased with that.

“The boys have been working extremely hard on the training ground and that sort of resilience and attitude can only be good for the run-in, knowing we can keep clean sheets.”

With Flitney in such blinding form it’s small wonder that, with five games to go, Eastleigh – now unbeaten in seven – remain optimistic of reaching the play-offs.

The 31-year-old ex-Barnet, Dover and Gillingham stopper was imperious between the sticks – the pick of his saves coming on 75 minutes when he denied Jon Nolan at point-blank range.

“We’re coming away pleased, there’s no doubt about it,” said Todd.

“Ross was top-drawer, he pulled off some great saves and showed what a good keeper he is.

"That’s what goalkeepers are paid to do and all credit to him and the rest of the lads because that could be a vital point for us in a few weeks' time.

“The whole team dug deep and deserved to come away with at least a point.”

Eastleigh remain seventh, but are now four points shy of fifth spot following Tranmere’s 1-0 win at Torquay.

They have, however, got two games in hand, starting with Tuesday's (7.45pm) hugely important free-entry showdown with mid-table Barrow at the Silverlake.

Eastleigh: Ross Flitney, Joe Partington, Michael Green, Jamie Turley, Paul Reid, Ben Strevens, Josh Payne, Andy Drury, James Constable, Matt Tubbs (Yemi Odubade, 66), Jai Reason. Subs (not used): Will Evans, Jack Midson, Dan Harding, Matty Fanimo.

Referee: Michael Salisbury

Attendance: 4,011