Eastleigh 2 Braintree Town 1.

EASTLEIGH fought tooth and nail to rack up their fourth straight National League victory on a truly extraordinary afternoon at the Silverlake Stadium.

Virtually everything that could have gone wrong for the Spitfires did as they conceded a penalty, lost three senior players to injury and had substitute Cav Miley sent off with more than 30 minutes remaining.

Yet they dug deep into their reserves of character to valiantly protect a 2-1 half-time lead earned by another sensational brace from top scorer Paul McCallum.

The Spitfires, shorn of injured striker Ben Williamson, drafted Chris Zebroski into the starting line-up to partner 17-goal McCallum up top.

And the Eastleigh no11 was prominent in the opening exchanges, making his bulldozing presence felt down the right.

But before the Spitfires had had a proper chance to settle into their rhythm they were dealt an early blow when defensive linchpin Reda Johnson went down with hamstring trouble inside his own area and was forced off with less than seven minutes gone.

It was precisely what Eastleigh’s small squad could have done without with two players - Williamson and ex-Saint Oscar Gobern - already in the treatment room.

Joey Jones, an impressive presence in the centre of the park in recent games, was forced to drop back and join Andrew Boyce and Alex Wynter in the back three, while sub Cav Miley filled the midfield vacancy.

Eastleigh, though, are made of determined stuff these days and, within ten minutes of that setback, they were 2-0 up and flying.

Once again, it was leading marksman McCALLUM who did the damage with a quickfire double, just as he had at Aldershot the previous week.

It was a painful case of deja-vu for the bottom-of-the-table visitors as they conceded two near identical goals in the space of five minutes.

Both came from corners, both beautifully delivered by set-piece maestro Mark Yeates from the left and both headed home in carbon-copy fashion by former Leyton Orient targetman McCallum.

To their credit Braintree heads didn’t drop and on-loan West Brom striker Callum Morton, scorer of their late winner against Salford City last week, looked a constant threat.

But twice young Eastleigh goalkeeper Luke Southwood denied him – the second time in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Having foiled the Braintree No24 out with his feet, the on-loan Reading keeper then found himself facing a Morton penalty with 27 minutes gone.

Eastleigh had spent the best part of two minutes protesting the decision with referee Sam Allison and his assistant after Korrey Henry had gone down in the area under a challenge from Jones, who was subsequently booked for arguing.

The ref stuck with his original decision to point to the spot, but Eastleigh had the last laugh as Southwood stuck up a strong left arm to deny Morton from 12 yards.

The roars from the home crowd had barely subsided when the temperature shot up again as Yeates and young Braintree defender Robert Atkinson ended up grounded after a hefty challenge right in front of the visitors’ dugout.

Fortunately both players were able to continue after treatment but there was an air of dismay around the ground when it was Yeates, rather than the Braintree man, who was shown a yellow card.

With both defences looking less than secure, there were chances aplenty at both ends with McCallum poking a shot wide of the far post under the close attentions of Atkinson.

But Eastleigh were playing with fire at the other end and, after one narrow escape when Jones’s error was pounced on by Sam Kelly, Braintree pulled a goal back with 42 minutes gone.

Ricky Gabriel swung a cross from the left to the far edge of the area where CAMERON JAMES lashed a low volley into the opposite corner.

 It almost got worse for the Spitfires minutes later, but man-of-the-match Southwood again came to the rescue to keep Morton out with his feet.

Yeates threatened again from a dead-ball delivery in the five minutes of added time, but his fizzing free-kick from 20 yards was turned behind by Atkinson.

Half-time: Eastleigh 2 Braintree Town 1.

Eastleigh were dealt another blow for the start of the second half as two-goal hero McCallum bowed out with a back/shoulder injury to be replaced by young midfielder Jack McKnight.

But, once again, the Spitfires put their woes behind them to carve out the first two chances of the half.

McKnight had the first, planting a free header straight into the hands of Braintree keeper Ben Killip from Michael Green’s cross.

Zebroski then carved out the second for himself, brushing his man aside on the left and unleashing an angled thunderbolt that Killip punched behind at his near post.

But with Yeates bothered by a back problem stemming back to that earlier collision, this was turning into a test of resolve for Eastleigh’s rapidly diminishing squad.

The last thing they needed was a sending-off but, with 62 minutes gone, that’s exactly what happened.

It was a tragedy for young substitute Miley who, having been booked for a clumsy 56th-minute tackle on Henry, was quickly punished again for a mis-timed challenge on Morton, reducing Eastleigh to ten men with just over an hour gone.

It got worse on 70 minutes when, despite the attentions of physio Andy Cook, Spitfires’ skipper Danny Hollands also limped off with groin trouble, bringing young Tom Bearwish into the fray.

With referee Allison having booked four Eastleigh players – Jones, Yeates, Hollands and Boyce - in addition to Miley, there was sarcastic applause from the home crowd when Morton became the first Braintree yellow-carded for going in late on Southwood.

The Spitfires defended heroically as The Iron desperately tried to make their extra man count and, on 84 minutes, Boyce made a crucial goalline clearance from Atkinson’s goalbound volley.

Jones’ stinging shot from the left was then parried by Killip and, as Braintree broke, sub Oscar Borg embarked on a solo run which ended with his dipping shot just clearing the bar.

With the tension almost unbearable, four minutes of injury time were announced.

But Eastleigh fought like tigers to hold off the tangerine tide and the roar that greeted the referee’s final whistle from the 2,120 crowd said it all.

The Spifires left the field to a richly-deserved standing ovation.

The same couldn’t be said for the officials…..

Eastleigh: Luke Southwood, Josh Hare, Michael Green, Andrew Boyce, Alex Wynter, Reda Johnson (Cav Miley, 7), Joey Jones, Danny Hollands (Tom Bearwish, 70), Paul McCallum (Jack McKnight, 46), Chris Zebroski, Mark Yeates. Subs (not used) Ollie Dennett, Ben Scorey.

Referee: Sam Allison.

Attendance: 2,120.