With the backdrop of expulsion from the F.A. Cup, a series of disappointing League results this season leaving the club second from bottom of the Nationwide South, and managerless while the search for a replacement for Steve Castle continues, the casual observer may have assumed that The Saints would not relish their first ever visit to Eastleigh, 5th in the Ryman Premier League, for this F.A. Trophy match.
Miguel De Souza contratulates scorer Lee Clarke
However, this City side is coming into form, playing good football, and showed great character to win comfortably despite playing the majority of the second half with 10 men following the dismissal of Gary Wraight for a clumsy tackle on 50 minutes.
Miguel de Souza remains in temporary charge of team affairs and selected himself in place of the youngster Chris Seeby to partner Ben Martin in the centre of the defence and with Scott Cousins and Dean Hooper at full back on either flank, the back four were comfortably in command and rendered the home side toothless.
Both sides were slow to settle with early half chances falling to Saints' striker Tom Beech before the opening goal in the 12th minute. Lee Clarke harried the full back wide on the left, and the Eastleich keeper was drawn to attempt a clearance. Clarke intercepted and played a short pass wide to Ben Walshe who hit an inch perfect, first time effort from 30 yards into the right hand top corner of the empty net.
Somewhat against the run of play, Eastleigh equalised three minutes later. Sam Wyeth cleared from defence and set free Nicky Banger wide on the right. The home striker cut inside at pace and hit a speculative long shot from distance which was sure to finish well wide but struck Hooper 15 yards out to be deflected into the goal past the stranded John Armand.
Playing controlled football, the visitors regained control and threatened through Walshe on the left in particular. A Wraight free kick presented Clarke with an opprtunity but his header was just wide and moments later the N. Ireland U21 striker was denied by a fine last ditch tackle after a jinking run into the area.
Eastleigh regrouped and enjoyed their best spell of the game in the 10 minute period before half-time. 19 year old Armand who continues to deputise for the injured Mel Capleton in the City goal, was called into action in the minutes before the break. After quick interplay with Danny Smith, Banger hit
a firm shot which was well blocked by the keeper and moments later Armand made the save of the game at full stretch to deny a fierce Martin Thomas effort.
The shape of the game changed on 50 minutes when Wraight was a shade late to a 50:50 tackle with Smith and was somewhat harshly shown the red card. De Souza withdrew Beech, leaving Clarke as the lone striker and Eastleigh were unable to exploit their one-man advantage against a spirited City defence.
Goalmouth action and scoring opportunities were rare in the second period. The Saints seemed the more likely to add to the scoreline and the tie was put beyond doubt on 73 minutes. A short corner to Matt Hann, who returned to the City bench having missed 7 games through injury, was played back to the impressive Walshe who hit a first time cross to be met by the head of Clarke who hit home from close range.
The visitors largely shut up shop for the remaining 17 minutes of the game and the home side lacked the skill and endeavour to unlock a tight defence.
Report by Tom Lewis