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The final joust
The final joust

A Gambol in the Parkway

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 15/05/2022

JETS generate thrust. There are plenty of those today at our opponent's neighbouring airport. In fact Eastleigh FC could justifiably be called Southampton Airport Parkway United.

Town's stuttering thrust towards the play-offs has finally ended in success so far as we now come here with the probability of finishing in 6th and possibility of 5th or 7th place. This uncertainty is not a scenario to send the blood racing, but at least today there was nothing at stake, it's a new ground to visit for me and the bucolic walk through the country park with its lake and miniature railway from the station to the ground was pleasant. The first thing to do was to avoid injuries against an Eastleigh side who have spent the second half of the season plummeting down the table. The side charged with seeing out the season was: Battersby - Cropper, Pearson, Bramwell, Crookes - Coke, Burgess, Jones - Maguire-Drew, Wright - Dieseruvwe. Such an experimental line-up was understandable but it seemed heavy on defensive midfielders, and what Dieseruvwe was going to do on his own up front was unclear. An impressive 3,499 spectators were here today, including an equally impressive 556 Town fans.

As the game started, my outlook changed a little bit. The figurative clouds darkened. For me it was no longer about players gambolling like lambs on a field. It may not matter but I didn't want to see a limp pre-season display. I wanted us to win. I wanted us to play well. So it was time for the usual drudgery and frustration, but without the added tension. The actual clouds had darkened too but the heavy rain which had come down for the previous couple of hours eased up for kick-off time. The pitch looked in good shape, especially for this stage of the season as Town, in red, attacked towards the home end bar for the first half.

An early interception by Crookes lined up Wright but the shot was weak. Eastleigh retorted when Hesketh set up Barnett but his floaty shot drifted wide. Eastleigh won a corner on 11 minutes after Wright cut out a cross but it was Town who stepped on the gas and applied pressure. Good work on 14 minutes by Maguire-Drew resulted in a slotted path to Wright who forced a fingertip save from Flitney. A nice run by Wright up the left then led to a cross which Dieseruvwe attempted to glance a header past Fltney but the Town striker couldn't get behind it. Town were playing well. Another great through ball from Maguire-Drew put Burgess through. Burgess saw the opportunity to chip Flitney, took his time and missed the target. On 22 minutes Coke found Wright who ran forward and was tripped. Town pressed. Cropper and Crookes were putting in good balls. Coke, Maguire-Drew and Wright were all being effective in midfield. Pearson was imperious in defence. Town were performing brightly. The spirit was captured when on 28 minutes Maguire-Drew and Cropper combined to fight for a throw deep in the Eastleigh half. On 30 minutes Dieseruvwe worked up the right and found Wright who passed to Maguire-Drew on the right. Maguire-Drew looked up, cut inside, picked his spot and in spite of it being on his weaker foot, fired a right footed shot low into the left corner. Eastleigh 0, Town 1. Simpson was body-checked on the edge of the box but Hesketh's free-kick cross was mopped up by Pearson. On 36 minutes a deft pass from Pearson found Cropper who was only prevented from advancing by determined defending as Town won a corner. Maguire-Drew was having a ball as he twisted and turned, eventually producing a shot which was desperately headed off the line. As Town continued to dominate, Wright played a through ball to Dieseruvwe who appeared to over hit it as he attempted to go round Flitney. But Eastleigh's keeper caught Dieseruvwe with his hand and the referee awarded a penalty. Dieseruvwe slotted his penalty home with ease into the right corner. Wright then had a good run and looked to be tripped but at half time Town went in 2-0 ahead.

The first half proved how little I know about it. Town played with purpose and flair, and dominated for most of the 45 minutes. Attacks were coming from all quarters. Eastleigh were poor but so have a number of Town's opponents been recently and we struggled against them.

Raikhy replaced Coke at half time. On 48 minutes Jones lost possession. Eastleigh's midfielder Yang yinged it to Harper who sent Barnett through. Battersby did well to save Barnett's low shot and conceded a corner. Barnett then had a shot blocked. The ball came back to Hesketh who had a clearer chance but the shot was sliced. On 53 minutes a misplaced pass by Raikhy started an Eastleigh move. The youthful-looking Smart took the ball up the right. The ball was worked upfield patiently and found Whitehall who with space turned and slammed his shot past Battersby. 1 - 2. Within two minutes Eastleigh were sweeping upfield. Hesketh took the ball up the left and passed to Whitehall in the middle. Whitehall teed up the advancing wunderkind Smart who smashed his shot home to make it 2 - 2. Town had gone to sleep while this was a different Eastleigh team from the first half. Battersby flapped. Cropper was forced to head off the line on 59 minutes from a Barnett cross, as Eastleigh continued to apply pressure. A minute later Town attacked. Maguire-Drew sent the ball out to the right. Cropper steamed upfield and pinged in a perfect low cross for Dieseruvwe to run on to and slot into the net from close range. 3 - 2 to Town. Abrahams replaced Maguire-Drew, who had been magnificent today. A nice move on 65 minutes ended when Harper put in a strong tackle on Cropper. Raikhy was then booked for a robust tackle on Hesketh in midfield. On 69 Yang banged in a shot towards goal. It was blocked. Burgess took the ball in midfield but dawdled and lost possession. Eastleigh attacked. Hesketh burst through and blasted a left-footed screamed high into the left corner of the net. Eastleigh 3, Town 3. The game was now open and could go either way. Dieseruvwe did well on 76 minutes to avoid Eastleigh's attempts at tackles. The referee allowed play to go on and the move finished with Dieseruvwe unable to get his foot round his shot in the box. Jones was guilty of dithering, and was dispossessed by the combative Yang. Whitehall was unable to take advantage by getting the ball under control. Yang was then booked for wanging Burgess in midfield and was booked. Crookes supplied Abrahams whose shot hit the side netting. Raikhy started an attack on 83 minutes, finding Crookes and taking the return and winning a corner. Town worked hard for the winner in this seesaw of a game. On 85 minutes Boyce slipped and was beaten by Dieseruvwe's aggression. Dieseruvwe advanced on goal, weighed up his options with just Flitney to beat, but got caught in two minds as Flitney saved with his legs. Town did not give up and work from Wright led to Cropper once again being able to find space and cross low for Dieseruvwe to squeeze the ball in for his hat-trick. 4 - 3 to Town. Tomlinson replaced the industrious and hard-working Wright. No time to breathe though as Eastleigh attacked in the 89th minute. Hill cut inside and fired in a ferocious shot. The ball flew off Cropper's arm. The referee awarded a penalty and harshly booked Cropper who had no chance of getting out of the way. Barnett stepped up and blasted his shot up the middle. 4- 4. Four minutes were added. In the 92nd minute, a cross came in for Abrahams who was clear for a header. It went wide. Abrahams despaired. The game ended: Eastleigh 4, Town 4. Both sides contributed to an open and entertaining game. From Town's point of view, with such a revised side was no indicator of what was to come, so it's not worth the analysis of today but there was plenty of encouragement in the overall work rate and individual performances. I would particularly single out Maguire-Drew, Wright, Cropper and of course hat-trick man Dieseruvwe for their excellent contributions. Cropper posed a great attacking threat on the overlap and made some good passes, proving that he doesn't just take long throws.

We must celebrate the fact that we're in the play-offs after both effective and indifferent performances. Questions do remain however. Prior to today I did wonder about Maguire-Drew's apparent lack of fitness, communication mix-ups in defence and the poor ball control from our midfielders. Maguire-Drew was outstanding today so hopefully this is one less concern. Messrs Hurst and Doig are not psychiatrists and it seems that we need a mind coach to communicate with these players to get them kick started in games. We managed to start brightly today but this was like a friendly, not a one-off business end cup tie, which is effectively what we will face. Encouraging self-belief and self-expression instead of setting out to contain the opposition at all costs would help. The other good news apart from Maguire-Drew's returning form and confidence is that know we can play well against the top sides in the division after doubts earlier in the season, McAtee is back and we have made the play-offs, so we're still in there as we continue our roller coaster of a season. It won't be a walk in the park and it will certainly be different from today's frolics but we have a chance as we head to Notts County and maybe beyond.

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