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Spitfires soar to top of table
Elated Eastleigh are enjoying the view from the top of the Skrill Conference South after finally reeling in long-term leaders Bromley.
While the Kent side stumbled yet again, this time beaten 2-1 at Farnborough, the Spitfires were busy beating ten-man Bishops Stortford at the Silverlake Stadium.
Man of the match Ben Wright helped himself to a hat-trick as Richard Hill’s men moved a point clear at the top with two games in hand of their rivals.
The Spitfires stuck with the same starting line-up from Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Chelmsford. Jai Reason and Jamie Collins featured on the bench after suspension and injury respectively.
The game got off to an indifferent start on a gloriously sunny Spring afternoon. Eastleigh’s best early effort was a dangerously swerving Michael Green free kick cleared by the bandaged head of centre-back Callum McNaughton.
Then, on seven minutes, home defender Chris Dillon – starting again in place of Chris Todd – played a sloppy ball out of defence which fell to Harry Baker who fired wide.
But it took the Spitfires just 12 minutes to get their noses in front when CRAIG McALLISTER put the finishing touch to Green’s cross from the left.
There was more trouble to come for Stortford.
With McNaughton off having treatment after re-opening a pre-existing head wound, teammate Jordan Brown got himself sent off.
He and Eastleigh right-back Dan Spence went in for a 50-50 ball just to the right of the home dugout. Spence was caught and in some pain, prompting Boston referee Stephen Ross to pull out a straight red for the visiting left back.
Stortford reshuffled by withdrawing Baker and bringing on defender George Allen with 21 minutes gone.
Three minutes later their catastrophic opening to the game took a turn for the better when they equalised with the softest of goals.
With Eastleigh seemingly snoozing in the sunshine, the patched-up McNaughton headed a tame Matt Johnson cross goalwards and ANTHONY CHURCH nipped in front of goalkeeper Ross Flitney to net a shock equaliser.
It was a goal that never should have happened but Eastleigh regained their composure to retake the lead on 32 minutes.
Craig McAllister controlled a long bouncing ball down the middle, looked up and played a perfectly weighted pass into the path of BEN WRIGHT. With at least three visiting defenders helpless to stop him, the on-loan Salisbury striker strode on and flicked the ball past exposed keeper Joe Lumley to make it 2-1.
Half-time: EASTLEIGH 2 BISHOP STORTFORD 1 The game took another surprise twist on 53 minutes when ten-man Stortford unexpectedly levelled again, this time from the penalty spot.
Flitney came tearing out to the edge of his area to deal with the threat of Cliff Akurang on the right.
The striker went down comfortably outside the area but the referee pointed to the spot and booked Flitney.
Skipper REECE PRESTEDGE arrowed a powerful spot kick into Flitney’s bottom left-hand corner.
But once again Eastleigh picked themselves up and took the lead for a third time with 57 minutes gone.
Stuart Fleetwood found Spence to the right of goal and the full-back laid it back for WRIGHT to sweep in his second of the game.
On 71 minutes WRIGHT greedily completed his hat-trick at the back stick after Stuart Fleetwood had weaved his way enticingly along the opposite byline and teed him up with a perfect cross.
It was the first time Eastleigh had hit four in the league all season and it so nearly became five two minutes later when Reason, on for Reece Connolly, floated the ball in from the right and Wright caught it superbly on the volley, drawing a smart block from Lumley.
With confidence flooding through the home ranks, Spence went close from distance before Wright departed to a hero’s reception to be replaced by Yemi Odubade.
To their credit, the ten-man Bishops never gave up and Michael Richens wasn’t too far wide with a bold strike from 25 yards.
With a minute of normal time remaining, Stortford’s Church was booked for a foul on Reason on the right edge of the box, but Green couldn’t make the most of the free kick.
But by then it was all academic as the title-chasing Spitfires notched up another important win.
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