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North Leigh 0-1 Eastleigh

NORTH LEIGH 0-1 EASTLEIGH
Friendly

Saturday 10th August 2013

Report by Paul McNamara

Eastleigh concluded their pre-season programme back in Oxfordshire – where last month they recorded a 6-1 win over Wantage Town.

The opponents on this occasion were North Leigh of the Southern League Division One South & West. Despite the two league gulf between the teams, the hosts, owing to a resolute defence and some bright attacking play, provided a stern workout for their more eminent adversaries.

As early as the first minute, Michael Green served notice of his desire to maintain the attacking mind-set which has been evident in his game across this series of friendlies – gliding past Zak Westlake and winning a corner.

North Leigh were quick to respond, and demonstrate their own willingness to get on the offensive. Michael Alexis and Morgan Williams – positioned in the centre of midfield and wide on the left respectively – linked to send Aaron Woodley in behind a high Spitfires back-line which had advanced high enough to catch the frontrunner a yard offside.

It was the home team which had the first genuine threat on goal. Number 10, Elliott Osborne-Ricketts, found space on the right and sent a searching delivery to the far post. Alexis pulled the ball down close to the by-line, and was able to fight his way past Dan Spence. Woodley swooped on the resultant drilled delivery, but was thwarted by the assiduous work of the covering Dean Beckwith.

The initial consequent left-sided corner was miscued behind by Spence at the front-post, but Todd was able to head clear the second dead-ball.

It required another Beckwith intervention to keep the scores level when Fleetwood surrendered possession to Osborne-Ricketts in the middle of the park. The Yellows attacker smashed a goal-bound effort, only to see it cannon away off the towering visiting defender.

Ross Flitney’s first piece of action saw him gather a menacing near-post ball sent in by home right-winger Brian Bowles. Minutes later, the Eastleigh keeper’s opposite number, Sam Warrell, punched Todd’s forward ball off the head of the lurking Jai Reason. Yemi Odubade – who during the opening exchanges had executed a wonderful first touch and reverse pass into Glen Southam on the right flank – could only, in this instance, hit a weak follow up volley wide of Worrall’s left-upright.

The sticky roll of the ball across the long grass was no barrier to some sweet North Leigh combination play. Bowles started one move on the right, with Wayne Turk and left-back, Matt Woodley, then joining to provide Williams a crossing opportunity on the left. A well-struck delivery was bundled away by Ben Strevens who had tracked back to the heart of his own area.

Play immediately switched to the other end and, in the 13th minute, Todd stormed onto Southam’s flag-kick, arriving ahead of Worrall’s ill-judged dart from goal, and crashing a header onto the top of bar and over.

There was no suggestion that the home side were going to retreat into their shells, and Williams was soon seizing on Southam’s under-hit pass, intended for Jamie Collins, and feeding Woodley. The striker strode forward but lost his composure and sent a 25-yard dig far too high to trouble Flitney.

Williams, in alliance with Osborne Ricketts, was a constant nuisance. Both players, with their low centre of gravity, positive intent, and exemplary close control, ensured that Eastleigh’s back-four couldn’t switch off for a second.

Andy Caton, operating on the left of a centre-half pairing, was another distinguished performer among the home ranks. The former Swindon Town player was undone, however, by Strevens’ inherent ability when the 33 year-old collected Spence’s lofted ball on his chest and span away from the defender who could only go to ground and cynically upend his opponent.

Strevens was the attacker, stationed at the back-post, ready to pounce on Reason’s ensuing free-kick, only for Westlake to pop up and steer the ball away.

Odubade was the next visiting player to have a glimpse of goal when Green’s throw made its way through to the attacker. The former Oxford United man’s close range stab was well blocked, and Fleetwood could make nothing of the breaking ball.

Caton was back on his game to cut out Reason’s front post cross, sent over after the playmaker had injected a burst of pace to fly past Woodley. Seconds later, Spence, who had supplied the earlier pass for Reason’s right-wing sally, fired an effort from the tightest of angles just the wrong side of the upright and into the side-netting.

The Spitfires’ spell in the ascendancy didn’t last long. Westlake slipped a pass into Woodley, who was allowed too much time to turn 35 yards from goal. The lone-striker moved possession on to Alexis who roamed forward and, under no pressure, hesitated and – seemingly in (at least) two minds – struck wastefully over from 25 yards.

Since his return from a brief injury lay-off, Odubade has been displaying a knack for winning the ball in the air, and he utilised that facet of his game to flick on a Flitney kick. Reason was the recipient and he applied another headed touch to guide play into Southam on the right. Eastleigh’s skipper charged forward, before cutting inside and unleashing a curling left-footed effort which was bound for the far corner, only for Warrell to dive full-length to his right and turn the ball behind.

Williams was the source of more Spitfires angst when he picked up a short corner on the left and managed to find a yard of space up against Spence. Woodley was first to a well-hit cross, but was unable to control his finish which flew over.

The diligent Woodley was hastily back in the thick of the action. The forward hunted down what appeared a lost cause when Turk hit a ball high on the right. Woodley’s industry, though, forced Beckwith to yield a corner, which Williams swung in deep from the right. Stuart Hole’s head couldn’t make convincing contact, leaving Flitney with the most facile of tasks to safely collect.

Odubade was the next individual on the chase. The pacey attacker reached Collins’ hopeful ball down the left, and turned out to find Reason at the edge of the hosts’ box. The Spitfires Number 10 got hold of a left-footed crack on goal but, in common with many of the game’s previous attempts, his rising effort cleared the bar.

With the first period nearing its end, the visitors kept the Yellows pushed onto the back-foot. Prior to making their telling breakthrough, Eastleigh strung together a fluid move which culminated in Fleetwood planting a headed effort wide of Warrell’s right-post. Southam, aware of Spence to his right, directed a header into the full-back’s path. Spence picked out Strevens inside him, who then looked up and saw Southam had made his way into the North Leigh area. After taking his colleague’s intricate pass, the indefatigable captain created Fleetwood’s opening.

The afternoon’s only goal, scored in the 42nd minute, came moments after Todd had extinguished a flicker of home hope – the centre-half getting a vital toe to the ball and sending it back to Flitney with Woodley in close attendance.

Possession was worked to the other end of the field and, after a spate of patient passing, Green, located on the left and 30 yards from goal, chipped a ball in towards Reason. The playmaker showcased yet another string to his multifaceted bow by planting his feet and engaging his neck muscles to send a header from the penalty spot looping slowly inside Warrell’s right-post.

The visitors would take their lead into the interval, but only after one more Yellows raid. Caton skilfully dispossessed Odubade and drove a ball down the left which Woodley, having run off the back of Todd, latched onto. As Green and Williams tussled for the low cross, both players tumbled to the floor. To the immense relief of the away team, the referee judged that Williams was the sinner. The alternative would have seen the hosts awarded a penalty. If play had been waved on, there were Yellow shirts lurking in numbers and ready to spring onto the loose ball.

Soon after the break, Reason was close to doubling the Spitfires’ advantage. Collins rolled a free-kick into his team-mate, who took control with his back to goal and swivelled sharply before hitting a dipping right-foot effort which whistled over the bar.

Odubade and Southam were next to drive their side forward, capitalising on some stellar midfield work by Strevens who wrested possession from Osborne-Ricketts on half-way. The pair linked beautifully on the right, concocting an opening for Southam to dink a ball to the far post which Westlake bundled safely behind.

The Yellows immediately enjoyed a slice of fortune when Reason’s corner span off the head of Williams and through a clutch of players into his ‘keeper’s gloves.

Richard Hill will have held his breath when Collins stayed down after tumbling under the challenge of Alexis as he surged onto Strevens’ return pass in midfield. Thankfully, after receiving attention, the ex-Havant & Waterlooville man was able to continue without showing any outward ill-effects. Chris Dillon – on for Todd – was lucky to avoid needing medical assistance of his own when only his quick feet allowed him to evade Alexis’ wild lunge.

As the second-half unfolded, Eastleigh were perceptibly asserting some authority over proceedings. Reason lobbed a Spence pass inside to Fleetwood, whose run and eventual shot was diverted behind by Hole.

The same visiting attacker’s next dip at goal came with a free-kick on the hosts’ 18-yard line. The set–piece was awarded after Reason pirouetted on a ball into his feet by Southam, only to be dumped to the turf by Caton as he shaped for a strike at goal. Fleetwood’s arcing effort was pawed past his right-stick by Warrell.

That would be the former Luton Town man’s last notable involvement. He left the field on the hour mark, along with Odubade. The attacking pair was replaced by Damian Scannell and Craig McAllister.

The latter’s first deed was to ping a first time pass to Spence on the right. The right-back flew into the area and struck a booming effort wide of the near-post. That concluded the afternoon’s finest exhibition of football. The Spitfires were making a concerted effort to apply more patience to their work – and were being exhorted to keep the ball moving by their manager. Collins, Green, and Strevens, all fulfilled both criteria in this case, before Southam gave McAllister the opportunity to set Spence away.

The introduction of McAllister had a marked impact on his team’s ball retention. The target-man’s natural inclination to come deep and provide an option – a particularly reliable one with his strength and aptitude for bringing others into play – provided more cohesion between Eastleigh’s midfield and their attacking areas.

Spence’s attempt preceded a flurry of activity at either end. Strevens, having pushed the ball out of his feet, was denied a shooting chance by the covering James Organ – a second-half substitute.

Dillon’s volleyed clearance then smashed into the back of Josh Dutton-Black, and broke for the forward’s fellow substitute Jon Mills whose fleeting free-sight of goal was rapidly blacked out by the imperious Beckwith. The centre-half was on top of his game all afternoon, mixing a typically steadfast defensive display with his terrific use of the ball from the back.

Southam was another sterling visiting performer, but it was his mix-up with Scannell which enabled Westlake to snatch possession just inside his own half. The right-back laid a pass inside and charged into the Spitfires’ 18 yard-box. Osborne-Ricketts deftly picked out his colleague’s run. Westlake took a touch and sent a toed shot flashing narrowly over.

Back in his accustomed berth, Westlake could only steer Scannell’s in-swung cross straight back out to Green but the away side’s left-back could only snatch at a right-foot volley which bounced comfortably into the hands of substitute stopper Adam McHugh.

A combination familiar to all Spitfires followers, McAllister and Reason, came to the fore when the latter intelligently checked his forward run to swat Southam’s ball first time to his striking team-mate, breaking on the right. McAllister strode into the Yellows’ area and struck a firm effort which McHugh pushed away from above his head.

A late North Leigh bid to draw level was rendered futile when Flitney demonstrated a fine piece of handling to claim Bowles’ cross, whipped in low from the left by-line. The ‘keeper was in action once more in the dying seconds when, with Mills in hot pursuit of Caton’s punted clearance, he was well positioned to sweep up outside his area.

A late run-out for Sam Wilson, as replacement for Southam, ensured a key aim of the afternoon was achieved with a number of the first-team squad getting more valuable game time into their legs.

The phoney war is over then. Six more sleeps, and the real stuff can begin.

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