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Report: Chairboys Too Strong for Spitfires

EASTLEIGH 0-3 WYCOMBE WANDERERS
Tuesday 9th July 2013

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Report by Paul McNamara

EASTLEIGH: Flitney, Spence, Green, Evans. Beckwith (c), Todd, Scannell, Collins, Odubade, Strevens. Smith. Substitutes: Southam, Dovey, McAllister, Reason, Wilson, Rose, Ross, Fountain. Not used: Gray, Robinson.

WYCOMBE WANDERERS: Ingram, Arnold, Hamilton, Fletcher, Hause, Kretschmar, Cowan-Hall, Lewis (c), Morgan, Morais, Wood. Substitutes: Kewley-Graham, Horlock, Stewart, McCoy, Dunne, Spring, Paul Pittman, Kuffour, Johnson.

The extra work already in the legs of the Silverlake’s League Two visitors was readily evident on Eastleigh’s return to action after the summer break. There was, nevertheless, enough in patches of the home team’s performance to provide some early cheer writes Paul McNamara.

While the Spitfires only began their pre-season work last Monday, Wycombe’s preparation is further advanced due to the Football League’s common sense decision to begin their campaign a full two weeks before their Conference South counterparts will get going.

The Chairboys benefited from their extra sharpness as early as the 4th minute when, after Dean Beckwith was caught beneath a searching ball delivered by Kortney Hause from deep on the visitors’ left, Dean Morgan was free to take possession and attempt to drift past Ross Flitney. 

The forward stumbled over Flitney’s outstretched arms, before re-composing and hitting the resultant penalty, right-footed, sweetly into the roof of the net.

Despite the opening 20 minutes being the period in which Wycombe’s edge was most prominent, the Spitfires still managed to fashion their own chances on goal.

Yemi Odubade, making his first appearance at the Silverlake, seized on Hause’s hesitancy under Flitney’s forward punt, and bustled his way in on goal, only to fire too close to Matt Ingram.

Of Richard Hill’s men, Ben Strevens was showing up best early on, his clever movement –particularly when dropping to link play – and use of the ball, evidence of years of Football League experience. When the summer recruit from Dagenham & Redbridge was bundled over to the right of the visitors’ area, Will Evans – brought in from Hereford United – flung in a well struck dead-ball which just evaded a cluster of white shirts at the far post.

Jamie Collins – another debutant, operating in the centre of the park – looked to have been impeded as he sought to meet Evans’ delivery but, in a pre-cursor for the rest of his night, the busy referee waved away home protests, and spoke to Collins for good measure.

On the quarter-hour mark, Flitney was called on to make the first stop of his 45 minutes on the pitch – the ‘keeper dealt with everything thrown at him, penalty aside, although in truth, he would have expected to be equal to anything he faced.

The ‘keeper’s first save came after the Chairboys skipper, Stuart Lewis, stole in front of Evans and ran at the Spitfires’ rear-guard, before switching play right, into the path of Junior Morais. The young Jamaican’s drilled low effort was parried away by Flitney, before Michael Green saw out the danger.

Wycombe’s extra time spent working with the ball at their feet showed in one particular exchange on the right involving Nick Arnold, Max Kretzschmar, Lewis, and Morais, which featured the slick one and two touch football, and fleet of foot, which is borne of hours on the training ground.

Chris Todd’s positioning and judgement suffered no adverse reaction to his time off, and he made a vital block to cut-out Morgan’s low pass, struck from deep in the Eastleigh half, which, without the centre-half’s intervention would have freed the former Woking forward, Paris Cowan-Hall, for a clear run on Flitney’s goal.

Todd’s savvy was utilised more than once, on a night when his side had to contend with an energetic and intelligent Wycombe midfield, allied to their four-pronged mix of pace and – through Morgan – power, in attack.

As the evening’s action evolved it was becoming apparent to every one of the 150 devoted souls inside the Silverlake, that Richard Hill has a serious asset on his hands with the presence of the graceful Evans.

The 21 year-old’s vision and first time passing caught the eye – one glorious ball, hit from a central area out left to Danny Smith, (a pre-season trialist) will linger in the memory. That moment was preceded by a fine exhibition of hold-up play from the deep-lying Strevens, who, with his back to goal, held of three snapping visiting tackles before clipping a tidy ball into the path of the returning Dan Spence.

When Evans swept an earlier ball wide to Damian Scannell, the winger hit a deep cross, only to look up and see that Odubade, Strevens, and Smith, had all made for the near-post.

Todd did err in the 24th minute, when he was outwitted on the dead-ball line by Kretzschmar. The subsequent cross was headed past Flitney’s right-hand upright by Morais.

Soon after, Lewis picked out the excellent Kretzschmar’s forward run. The teenager, who bears an uncanny resemblance to an adolescent Luis Suarez, was afforded far too much time in the Spitfires’ box, as he gathered possession and struck his shot too high to trouble Flitney.

Kretzschmar’s rushed finish was incongruous with a performance which, although not quite reaching the heights of his Uruguayan double, was extremely polished. His progress will be fascinating to observe.

Beckwith was struggling to find his match legs, but did well to halt a move which began with an inspired burst from the back by Tom Fletcher who, after swapping passes with Kretzschmar, displayed a refreshing willingness to continue his gallop forward. After Eastleigh’s starting captain for the night had stepped in, Evans and Spence showcased their respective sure touches and confidence to play neatly out of defence.

As Richard Hill correctly pointed out when reflecting on the evening’s events, the desired cohesive football and shape to his team will come with time spent on the training pitch. This game was, in effect, the Spitfires’ fifth session of their pre-season, with their work to date not yet focusing on patterns of play, nor anything technical or tactical.

The move which began with the composure of Evans and Spence concluded with Green earning a corner on the left. Evans’ flag-kick fizzed across the six-yard box without a crucial touch being applied.

The ex-Hereford man’s set-piece delivery was unerringly reliable all night, – another string to the bow of the new recruit, to go with his inherent knowledge of when to press or sit, his range of passing, and strength on the ball – and is a boon for a team which carelessly wasted too many similar promising situations last season.

With half-time approaching, Morais jinked inside Green, and provided Cowan-Hall with the chance to drill a fierce effort on goal, which Flitney beat away from in front of his face.

Morgan, coming short again, collected a ball from Lewis, who had tricked his way beyond Evans, and sent an audacious chip on target which Flitney was on-guard to collect.

After Collins had left his mark on a wailing Cowan-Hall, Kretzschmar’s precise radar was to the fore again when he floated a pass left to Morais, who had pulled off Todd’s shoulder. The striker spun and snapped in an effort from 18 yards which required Flitney to dive away to his left and palm clear.

The second-half opened with the newly introduced Glen Southam introducing himself to the fold by upending Morais. What followed from Eastleigh’s captain was a typically high-octane and competitive display. He approached his work with an appetite no less voracious than if he were involved in an end-of-season promotion tussle.

The next significant action saw one of Wycombe’s plethora of half-time substitutes, the experienced Matt Spring, stride onto a smart slide-rule pass into the heart of the Spitfires’ back-line, and slip a cute finish between the legs of Jack Dovey- on for Flitney.

Southam was integral to his side’s attempts to make a swift reply. The midfielder, who was stationed alongside Collins with Evans dropping into the centre of defence, completed one-two’s with both Collins and Sam Wilson, before finding Jai Reason, whose low shot was easy for Ingram to gather.

A little more fluidity was creeping into the home team’s game and, when Todd abruptly ended Jo Kuffour’s lively run, Southam took over and drove forward before finding Wilson in his right-wing berth. The attacker, back at the Silverlake after a year away, marginally over-hit his forward ball in search of the marauding Reason.

When Evans had crashed a free-kick into the Chariboys wall, he needed every extra yard afforded him by his lengthy stride to chase back and execute a perfect tackle on the breaking Kuffour. Prior to his hasty retreat, Evans left a foot on an opposition player, his second such indiscretion of the night. That is one habit he’ll need to lose, with eager Conference South officials determinedly seeking out the merest of offences.

Spence’s recovery powers were put to the test when he and Todd were discomfited by a high ball sent in their direction, and left Kretzschmar momentarily alone with only Dovey between him and the goal. As the midfielder shaped to strike though, Spence slid in and nicked possession from his toe.

With a little over 25 minutes to play, Wilson dropped a pass into the forward surge of Reason but, in a further example of the visitors’ match sharpness, Eastleigh’s playmaker was crowded out as soon as he took control of the ball.

Evans applied the gloss to his personal showing when he drove powerfully out from the back in the manner of a young Rio Ferdinand and, with a slew of Wycombe bodies left in his wake, slipped an intelligent pass out to his left.

The visitors were close to extending their lead when Marvin McCoy’s right-sided cross was met by the head of Jon-Paul Pittman, whose looping header was pushed out by Dovey. The ball landed at the feet of Kretzschmar, who was flagged offside.

Eastleigh closed the game with sporadic bursts of more flowing play. Reason hit one terrific pass firmly into Southam’s feet at the edge of the visitors’ box. The ex-Barnet man moved play on to Craig McAllister who, in turn, found Romone Rose (another trialist) wide on the right. Rose’s fizzing delivery flashed across goal.

Another Rose delivery was headed clear, after Reason and Southam had combined to produce an opening, before Green, Wilson, and Reason, linked astutely. When the ball arrived with Rose he opted to shoot – his dig was comfortably blocked -, a decision which visibly irked Southam whose lung-busting forward charge was rendered futile.

Green – now paired with Evans in the middle of defence – marred what had been a solid and characteristically defensively sound showing, when he was robbed on the by-line by Kuffour, who instantly looked up and picked out the lurking Pittman to sweep home Wycombe’s third and final goal.

After Southam had been booked for dissent – a yellow card which came moments after Richard Hill was spoken to by an increasingly baffling referee, whose pernickety nature was frustrating both dug-outs in equal measure – there remained time for one more Spitfires’ scoring opportunity.

Southam picked up McAllister’s smart flick and guided a ball into the night’s third home trialist, Jack Ross, who, from an inside left-position, struck a right-footed effort awakwardly out of his feet which Charlie Horlock pushed away.

Richard Hill acknowledged that there were elements of his side’s performance that he would be disappointed to see again four games from now. The manager’s predominant view though, was that this was a valuable early pre-season exercise, and an opportunity to assess various personnel and formations which will not present itself as the campaign opener draws closer.

A good workout then, against league opposition who are primed to start their serious work in three-and-a-half weeks’ time

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