Eastleigh made it honours even by repeating the trick of a 3-1 victory on home soil between these two sides as Skrill South’s second-placed side consolidated their advantage over 10-man Fleet.
Two penalties either side of half time – scored by Jai Reason – and a third by the same player to complete a hat-trick put paid to Fleet’s hopes, though Billy Bricknell’s equaliser shortly before Reason’s second spot kick gave the visitors a brief flicker of hope. And Steve Brown’s side were left with a mountain to climb after Eastleigh’s second, with Chris Sessegnon sent off for handball in the lead-up to that penalty.
Dean Rance continued to sit out proceedings as he completed a two-match suspension, so Michael Corcoran kept his place but it was the same line-up that came back against Bishop’s Stortford a week earlier.
The home side started well but it was a careful enough beginning all the same with the teams sizing each other up. Both Flkeet central defenders were called into action in the early period, Osei Sankofa heading clear a Ben Strevens cross and then Paul Lorraine getting in the way of a Craig McAllister shot.
Fleet settled into the game more from the 10-minute mark but still had to withstand a Jai Reason free-kick that was fired just over the crossbar. From that, the Fleet broke and Sessegnon was involved in a decent move that saw Michael West on the edge of the box but he tried to place a shot around goalkeeper Ross Flitney who was able to get behind the ball and gather.
But within two minutes, Eastleigh had their advantage. The Fleet defence should really have cleared their lines but the ball was worked by Strevens back into the path of Reason whose run into the box was halted by Lorraine’s rather heavy challenge which sent the influential Spitfires midfielder sprawling. He dusted himself down and placed a less-than-convincing penalty over the line, though was probably grateful that Preston Edwards had dived the other way.
Sankofa was again into action despatching a Yemi Odubade header for a corner as Eastleigh turned the screw but Fleet weren’t without their own chances and Flitney was fortunate on the half-hour mark to parry Billy Bricknell’s lively run and shot. The ball bobbled back out towards May but Flitney managed to get a hand in the way and Eastleigh cleared their lines.
The visitors had every belief they could get an equaliser at this point and a goalmouth scramble ensued from a Sessegnon free-kick but as Anthony Cook tried to deliver the coup-de-grace, his shot blazed over the bar. Aiden Palmer and Bricknell then combined to free up West but he glanced a header wide.
Eastleigh closed out the first period with a couple of half chances, Glen Southam’s shot hitting a Fleet defender and Odubade blasting well wide from close range after McAllister had worked hard for the opening.
Fleet posted their intent early in the second half when West had the ball over the goalline but it was pulled back for a Bricknell offside. However, the same two players combined on 52 minutes when West headed on an Edwards goal kick that looped over the Eastleigh defence, from where Bricknell deftly lobbed Flitney to bring Fleet right back into the game.
Fleet had a lucky escape moments later when Odubade’s run and cross got stuck in the increasingly boggy goalmouth areas but Corcoran managed to hack it clear and then Sankofa’s sliding challenge on the penalty spot saw the ball hoisted towards his own upright where Edwards managed to gather.
But Eastleigh were back in front on 59 minutes when Daniel Spence outmanouevred West down the right flank and delivered a low cross to the near post where McAllister was lurking. Sessegnon dived in to block the shot but ended up handling it on the line as McAllister eventually forced the ball into the net. Having already blown his whistle, the referee had no choice but to award a penalty and send Sessegnon off. Reason stepped up and made it number two from the spot, leaving short-handed Fleet with a mountain to climb.
Eastleigh then had a shout for a third penalty, this time waved away by the referee, as Edwards let Reason’s shot squirm out of his grasp and then McAllister went over the Fleet goalkeeper as both men dived in for the loose ball. But Fleet weren’t let off for long as Reason completed his hat-trick on 73 minutes. The energetic Spence again created a hole in the Fleet midfield and supplied Reason who took a couple of touches into the penalty area, fended off Sankofa and then curled a shot around Edwards and inside the post for 3-1.
Ten-man Fleet never looked like troubling Eastleigh after that and the home side held on to avenge their defeat at Stonebridge Road earlier this season.
TEAM: Edwards, Sessegnon, Palmer, McMahon, Lorraine, Sankofa, West (Howe 76), Corcoran, May (Thalassitis 81), Bricknell, Cook. Subs not used: Hall, Phipp, Osborn