We headed across the New Forest for what is one of our closer encounters against one of our increasingly familiar foes, Eastleigh FC. They beat us 2:1 a few weeks back, and despite a second-half surge, this young Eastleigh side outperformed us on that day. We arrived under no illusion. We had to be up for this contest.
Five minutes in, we had settled on the ball and looked dangerous, so it was a blow to find ourselves 1:0 down. A great show of pace and a neat through-ball unlocked our defence, and for all our neat passing, Eastleigh had reminded us that football is a game of simplicity.
We restarted and settled once more. Benjamin and Taylor assured in the middle, a platform that allowed Gubb freedom to take risks. Her experienced vision of Mosley’s skilled movement on the blind side led to the equaliser.
Unfortunately, we still looked a little shakey at the back and had not got a foothold in the wide areas, so seldom was our midfield dominance exploited. Eastleigh broke on the left, played across our back three and while we retreated, they took aim from a distance. A powerful shot was enough to beat Clarke in goal; 2:1.
During half-time, the mood was positive. We had prepared for a tough test, but this time the players knew deep down that the scoreline was not a reflection of the game. Sports had to go out and keep up the tempo and limit the quick Eastleigh strikers. That they did for the most part, and with positive pressing, Nash, on her debut, deflected the ball to Mosley’s path for her to slot home a second, 2:2.
A clipped through-ball with a measure of backspin put in the busy Plummer, who had the speed to beat the last defender, but the pressure made her touch heavy. The keeper sprung to action, not for the first time, and the two players clashed on the edge of the box. This time, the ball spun kindly. It was behind the striker, but she managed to turn neatly and evade a few lunges to slot the ball home, 2:3, and we led for the first time. It was not long, minutes even before Eastleigh struck again. Disappointingly, it came from a corner and a few failed attempts to clear the loose ball, 3:3.
The game was messy and stretched with time running out and the scores level. Both teams were happy to rely on pace up top to force a breakthrough. It was all just too scrappy, with both goalkeepers easily up to the task of sweeping up the loose play. It was from a rushed clearance that fell to White, who hit a ball sweetly from wide left over the advanced sweeper keeper. It took all by surprise, making it a special moment, 4:3.
There was still time on the clock, and this game felt like it had a few more swings in it. Eastleigh hit the bar and the post in the closing phases to show that they are a team that fights to the end. Just today, perhaps they underestimated us a little when we showed up with fire in the belly. This Eastleigh team will go from strength to strength, and I expect a spectacle when we meet again in the league.
Rory went to Stocker for blazing over from 10 yards. I think it may have been more for the reaction as if she had seen a ghost.
Manager’s player went to Ellen Benjamin for an assured performance in the midfield.
Players player went to Abi Lander, who played her first game at right CB and had an all-action performance.