St Albans City’s stay at the top of the Conference South proved to be painfully short as a fast improving Eastleigh chalked up their first away win of the season on Saturday with some spectacular goals ending the Saints record breaking run of seven consecutive clean sheets at Clarence Park.
Lee Clarke attempts to break through the Eastleigh defence
Eastleigh have taken a little time to get accustomed to life at this level following promotion at the end of last season but a run of six unbeaten matches suggests that the Hampshire side are now finding their feet and on the back of this highly impressive display will prove a handful over the coming months.
For City, however, there are a number of points of concern. For a number of weeks they have not looked like a side mounting a title challenge and until manager Colin Lippiatt is able to field a settled back four – while Chris Seeby was making his 100th appearance for the club his three fellow defenders took their combined total of appearances to just seven – and add steel and creativity to the midfield they his side will struggle to cling to the leading pack.
Eastleigh were ahead inside three minutes when a poor Nick Roddis free kick was swiftly cleared with Andy Forbes sending Neville Roach away. After charging forward the former City striker was afforded far too much space which he gratefully accepted and with a beautifully curled drive beat Paul Bastock via the inside of the keepers left hand post.
Keen to consolidate their table topping position City dominated the remainder of the half but Eastleigh’s thoughtful use of the ball made them a constant threat on the break with Roach terrorising the City defence. St Albans main threat came down the right where Seeby, who had an excellent first half, linked well with Matt Hann who was in scintillating form until the Saints stopped passing to him after the break.
Indeed it was Hann alone who offered any genuine threat of beating the Spitfires outstanding if somewhat rotund keeper Wayne Shaw. Three times in seven thrilling minutes Shaw denied the electrifying Hann. On 21 minutes Shaw saved low to his right from Hann, then a glorious first time effort from the marauding winger forced Shaw into a block that was hacked to safety before Shaw made his best save of the afternoon to tip over Hann’s powerful drive after he had turned his man inside out.
Andy Forbes wasted a good position when freed by Roach before Bradley Thomas, already booked for a foul and dismissed in his two most recent games against the Saints, handled a Hann cross in the penalty area but fortuitously escaped unpunished.
City’s dominance was rewarded right on half time when Paul Hakim collected a Bastock goal kick wide on the right and cut inside into the penalty area where his scuffed shot wrong footed Shaw and rolled inside the keepers left hand post for the equaliser.
St Albans came out after the interval with all guns blazing with Aaron Barnett having a goalbound shot blocked by Martin Thomas before the central defender drilled a blistering drive just over the bar. But City were let off the hook when a slip by Seeby let in substitute Tyronne Bowers whose shot was safely gathered by Bastock.
The relief was shot lived though as on 52 minutes the unmarked Bowers unleashed a stunning first time half volley that whistled across the diving Bastock and into the far corner of the Hatfield Road goal. With that strike the Spitefires extinguished City’s resistance and with Steve Forbes in sublime form in midfield the visitors took a grip on proceedings.
Eastleigh struck for a third time on 67 minutes when Lee Clarke headed a Bowers corner only as far as Danny Smith who laid it back into Bowers path for him to supply the perfect cross for Bradley Thomas to score with a clinical header.
With a late attacking flurry City set about salvaging something from the game but when Seeby sent an excellent ball across the face of the goal without a striker willing to throw himself into the goalmouth it was evident which way the points were heading. Even so the deficit was reduced on 84 minutes when a deep Mark Graham corner was knocked back into the goalmouth by Hakim where Sean Hankin, at the third attempt, forced home a goal on his home debut.
The possibility of a dramatic City revival was curtailed three minutes later when Eastleigh broke swiftly from a City corner but looked to have been denied when Hankin slid to block the ball on the halfway line only to be dispossessed by Mark Peters whilst still grounded and could only look on as the on loan Basingstoke striker raced away to hammer the fourth Spitefires goal through the legs of Bastock.
Match report by Dave Tavener. Kindly supplied by The St Albans Observer.