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Eastleigh 0-1 Whitchurch United - Hants Senior Cup

Tuesday 1st October 2013

Hampshire Senior Cup

Match report by Paul McNamara

A largely inexperienced Eastleigh team slipped out of the Hampshire Senior Cup at the hands of Wessex League outfit, Whitchurch United. The visitors were full value for their single goal win which was earned by a Curtis Angell strike on the stroke of half-time.

Will Evans was the highest profile name among the home ranks who took to the field. The imperious midfielder continued his return from a pre-season knee injury by playing 55 minutes, a period during which he was largely content to ease valuable game time into his legs and, on occasion, adorn proceedings with a sprinkling of effortless class.

Geoff Dunn, operating behind Sam Wilson and Braiden Hamilton in a system similar to that adopted by Richard Hill’s regular side, sparked the match’s first move by sliding a ball into the overlapping left-back Ben Wilding. Wilding’s cross was smartly cleared by Adam Pearson, with Jamie Bulpitt waiting to administer a decisive touch.

Whitchurch quickly showed that they had come to the Silverlake with their sights cast far higher than mere damage limitation. Pa Touray struck a terrific ball from the centre of the park over the head of Wilding, to set Isaac Sedu into space on the right. Chris Dillon – starting at centre-half alongside Tony Lee – came across to snuff out the danger at the expense of a corner. Pearson’s looping header from James Tennant’s subsequent flag-kick was facilely claimed by Jack Dovey.

Lee had a half-chance when Wilson cutely laid Ryan Fuller’s cross into his path, but the defender could only smash over from 20 yards.

The same player was unlucky to see his defensive header snap back off Chris Smalley and land perfectly for Luke Walker to have a free run at goal. The left winger purposefully charged into the Spitfires’ box, where Dovey came out to smother and rescue his team.

The Jam Boys were establishing a discernible ascendancy, and Shane Lock exhibited a wonderful touch to gather Tennant’s ball down the left, before jinking inside and pulling a weak right-footed shot past the near-post.

Sedu’s energy was causing the hosts a series of problems and, when the wide-man robbed Dillon on the right, he retained his composure to stride forward and hit an audacious 30 yard strike which Dovey’s fingertips managed to deflect onto the bar and over.

Fuller put the initial left sided corner behind, but the second delivery was spilled by Dovey, opening up a shooting chance for Tennant, who slammed left-footed past the keeper’s right stick.

The visitors’ steadily increasing comfort and appetite for their task was best exemplified by a delightful piece of Walker trickery that took the winger out of a tight spot and away from Evans and Bulpitt on the left. The ensuing move, which saw the ball worked patiently to and fro across the pitch, ended with Whitchurch winning a corner on the right. Tennant’s dead-ball reached the back-post, where Alex Pickering couldn’t make sufficient contact to extend Dovey.

A rare piece of cohesive home play concluded with Evans finishing a move that he had begun, by unleashing a 25 yard effort which bounced up in front of Tom Hindmarsh and into the keeper’s arms. Wilding had taken Evans’ initial pass into his stride on the left, before switching play inside to Elliott Cross, who teed up the former Hereford United player for his dig at goal.

Evans was soon having another stab at chiselling out an Eastleigh breakthrough. The 21 year-old received a short corner from Dunn at the edge of the United area and crashed a fierce low attempt into the legs of Touray. 

Dunn, meanwhile, was slowly bearing his influence on the action. The young attacker was continually ready to make himself available for the ball, and willing to take responsibility for trying to inject some much needed creativity into his team’s play.

Wilding had a speculative long-range effort fly harmlessly over after Evans – having picked up possession when right-back Fuller stood firm in an aerial battle with Smalley – glided away from Touray to find his young team mate.

Whitchurch secured their deserved advantage from a corner that was won by Lock’s tireless hassling of Lee which forced the centre-back run the ball behind. Tennant’s delivery from the right was met at the far post by Pearson, who headed back across goal and into Angell for the unattended right-back to gleefully drill home a left-footed volley.

With the interval just seconds away, Fuller’s lax clearance fell for Walker to have a crack at doubling the United lead. The powerful ex-Tadley Calleva man, though, sent his right-footed effort whistling over Dovey’s bar.

Whatever was said in the Spitfires dressing room at the break, it immediately inspired the hosts’ brightest 15 minutes of football on the night. Wilding began this more purposeful spell by sending over a fantastic deep cross from the left. Wilson, racing to meet the delivery at the back-post, slid in to make contact but lifted the ball up and over the target.

Eastleigh’s left-back, after executing a sharp give-and-go with Dunn, caused Hindmarsh to become flustered under another searching centre. The visiting stopper failed to collect as he came from his line, although Wilson didn’t have time to react and take advantage when the ball dropped in his vicinity.

Dunn continued to look purposeful, and he initiated a foray into Whitchurch territory which culminated in Wilson teeing-up Wilding’s ball for Evans to send a 20 yard dig swerving beyond the right-post.

There was brief respite for the Jam Boys when Touray had an optimistic strike deflected away for a corner, but the Whitchurch man – who just edged out his captain and central midfield partner, Ali Brown, as the game’s outstanding performer – was soon conceding a free-kick in a perilous location for his side.

The infringement, high on the Eastleigh left, was perpetrated on Cross as the Spitfires player took a return pass from Dunn, who did well to direct play back out from a congested spot by the corner-flag. Dunn sent a teasing in-swinging set-piece towards the area which Dillon glanced narrowly beyond the back-post.

Eastleigh strove to sustain their forward momentum, and Cross spread a lovely ball out to Fuller on the right. The full-back managed to nudge his way past Tennant, but was cut off at the by-line by the covering Walker. The United winger appeared to sustain a knock in the course of his defending, and was soon forced off to be replaced by Ashley Ledger. Ledger took up a front-running position, and Lock shifted across to the left.

Whitchurch steadily re-asserted a degree of authority onto affairs and, after Harrison Weeks – on for Evans – was dispossessed in his opponents’ half, Angell and Lock launched a swift counter. The latter, after a flurry of passes between the two, slid a pass into the former’s penalty-area run. Some keen defensive work by Lee prevented the visitors from fully capitalising on their sortie.

Wilding was unfortunate to receive the night’s sole caution when he caught Sedu, who had diligently chased back to foil the left-back’s attempt to send in another cross. The resultant free-kick was sufficient punishment.

With an equalising goal proving elusive and, in truth, looking somewhat unlikely, James Jennings entered the fray in place of Dunn, and the tiring Wilding made way for Jack Smith. Smith took up a central defensive berth, necessitating Dillon’s shifting across to left-back.

When Dillon’s throw to the heart of the United area was tamely headed at Weeks’ feet 10 yards from goal, there was a flicker of home hope. The midfielder, despite making firm contact on the ball, couldn’t gain the required direction on his attempt which whizzed past Hindmarsh’s left-upright.

Weeks’ direct running and intelligent use of the ball had a positive effect on Eastleigh’s tempo and purpose. When the substitute found Dillon’s adventurous gallop forward on the left, the former Christchurch player’s centre squeezed through to Jennings whose low shot was on target but safely held by Hindmarsh.

As the clock ticked down, Whitchurch’s approach understandably took on a more conservative nature. Jason Graham, on as a half-time substitute for Smalley, had little option but to try his luck from well out when he looked up to see only one colleague in support of his attacking raid – and seven blue shirts back behind the ball. Graham’s effort was never close to troubling Dovey.

Troublingly, a comparable scenario unfolded at the other end. When Fuller swept over a cross from the right, Wilson was the only Spitfires player to have made his way into to visitors’ box. The teenage striker did manage to get a head on the ball, but was unable to do any more than send it trickling past the left-post.

Ledger was dropping deep from his forward role, supplementing his midfield and making space hard to come by for the home team. Indeed, with the 90 minute mark impending, United were happy to surrender possession and retain an orderly shape which their hosts couldn’t muster the requisite guile to breach.

Whitchurch remained rigid until the last whistle. Pearson made one particularly strong armed tackle on Wilson near half-way – a challenge which left both players in need of treatment, with Pearson eventually hobbling off. It mattered not. One last Jennings pass, which sought to spring Hamilton free in the Jam Boys’ area, came to nothing when two red and white shirts blocked the roving forward’s route to goal. That typically assiduous piece of defending capped a fine visiting performance.

With this competition placed a distant fourth in the Spitfires priority list behind the League, F.A. Cup and F.A. Trophy, any hurt felt at this exit will be short lived. There will, nevertheless, be more than a few individuals ruing the passing up of a golden opportunity to impress their watching first-team manager.

Conversely, Whitchurch can move onto the next stage with a deal of confidence. Jim Macey’s men went to the home of a far higher ranked adversary and achieved a wholly deserved victory with a disciplined, gritty and, intermittently, bold performance.


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