sutherland-eastleigh

December dawns in Eastleigh

Eastleigh might prefer to focus on their FA Cup replay but instead they seem to have become a major player in the relegation fight this week.

In what has become something of a three-way tournament this past seven days, Fleet leapfrogged Wrexham in the table only for the Welsh side to reverse the process with victory at Eastleigh on Tuesday. Now it’s the Fleet’s turn to visit the Silverlake Stadium and hope the Spitfires are as accommodating on Saturday.

Fleet kept the gap to safety to a minimum with Myles Weston’s winner last weekend but three points apiece for the ever-improving Chorley and Sutton United meant that ground was really only made up on Chesterfield, who slipped into the relegation places once again with a draw at fellow strugglers Aldershot Town.

Most of Fleet’s rivals face teams in the Top 10 this weekend and while Eastleigh isn’t much easier on paper, the visitors do have a good record in Hampshire, having won the two previous encounters there at this level by 1-0.

Kevin Watson can add Josh Umerah to his squad once again, the striker having concluded his three-match suspension. There is further good news on the suspensions front for the Fleet with the cut-off point for five yellow cards having been reached after 23 matches, meaning players will now have to accrue 10 cautions to receive a suspension.

Fleet are also waiting on Jamie Grimes’ return, the defender having twice been considered close to a return but having sat out both games since his back injury at Stockport.

Eastleigh, meanwhile, might be forgiven for having one eye on their FA Cup replay at Crewe Alexandra, with the reward a Third Round home tie against Championship bottom club Barnsley.

They certainly did in the first-half on Tuesday and lost for the first time since August on home soil to a side who hadn’t won an away game since April.

Fleet certainly can’t expect Eastleigh to be so careless for a second home game running and with the Spitfires only five points off the play-offs that they reached last season, manager Ben Strevens will be demanding a reaction.

The two sides fought out a 1-1 draw at the Kuflink Stadium earlier this season, Alex Reid scoring his first goal for the club in a game Fleet might have won.

Eastleigh will have former Fleet midfielder Jack Payne pulling the strings, of course, and he’s part of what will be a largely unchanged Spitfires side from the one we faced back in September.

Manager Strevens has kept his squad tight, with no new additions since then, though he has lost striker Ben Williamson to Bromley. Players including Alex Wynter, Reda Johnson, Joe Partington, Callum Baughan and Jack McKnight have been missing of late and the Eastleigh defence had to undergo some unfamiliar shake-ups on Tuesday against Wrexham.

Skipper Hollands, top scorer in the league with eight goals, was deployed in defence in midweek but Fleet will also have to watch out for Tyrone Barnett (five goals) who scored at the Kuflink Stadium and veteran Scott Rendell who, having not found the net for the first two and a half months of the season, has totalled 10 in 10 games in all competitions.

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First-Team Squad
Goalkeepers
  • Tom HADLER
  • Jordan HOLMES
Defenders
  • Tobi ADEBAYO-ROWLING
  • Ben FREMPAH
  • Jake GOODMAN
  • Sefa KAHRAMAN
  • Will WOOD
Midfielders
  • Iffy ALLEN
  • Ben CHAPMAN
  • James DOBSON
  • Alfie EGAN
  • Alex EIRICH
  • Lee MARTIN
  • Adam MEKKI
  • Jack PAXMAN
  • Josh PAYNE
  • Bobby-Joe TAYLOR
  • Michael WEST
Strikers
  • Rakish BINGHAM
  • Greg CUNDLE
  • Reece GRANT