Whelan fires Eastleigh to a much needed win

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get to the Silverlake Stadium, home of Eastleigh FC, two years in fact Google Maps reminded me as I checked out how long the journey was going to take.

Despite Barnet having a home game against Wrexham but with limited time these days to make games elsewhere and having managed to take in three Bees games so far, it was time to head west courtesy of a complimentary ticket from the Spitfires boss Ben Strevens, an offer that was made the last time I spent time in the ex-Bees front man’s company.

It’s fair to say the Spitfires have not got going yet this season, a two game struggle past Isthmian League Folkestone Invicta in the FA Cup preceded this National League game, also fair to point out Strevens has missed key players through injury already this season but most are either now in contention or on their way back.

The Robins arrived in Hampshire in very good form that has propelled them into the play-off positions, last season saw them finish a creditable 17th in their first season back in the National League top division, my last viewing of them was a 3-2 home defeat by Barnet after squandering a two goal lead towards the end of the season.

A win for the home side would be much needed whilst the Robins were hoping to keep themselves in amongst the division’s top guns. It was the visitors who struck the first blow, just five minutes into the game centre half Jake Moult opened the scoring to groans all around me from home supporters, fearing another half where the Spitfires needed to wait for the opposition to score before they got going.

It took a good ten minutes for the home side to settle and begin to play their football, the Robins however looking dangerous when coming forward. Eastleigh thought they were level on 20 minutes, a melee in the box from a set piece saw Jake Hesketh strike the underside of the bar but not over the line.

Chances did start to come for the home side, notably Tyrone Barnett firing over and having another blocked, but keeper Matty Gould wasn’t called upon to make a save as the visitors went into the break with a one goal lead, Spitfires frustrated but not out of it.

Whatever Strevens said at half time had the desired effect as his side started the second half very strongly from the off and the pressure told just six minutes in.

A corner from the impressive Tom Whelan eventually found the head of substitute Danny Hollands at the far post and the ball was headed back past Gould for the equaliser.

With their tails up the Spitfires nearly made it two minutes later, Ben House’s smart shot was tipped round the post by Gould. As it was, there wasn’t long to wait for a second goal for the home side, a free kick superbly curled home by Whelan from all of twenty-five yards out, Gould given no chance from the moment it left the midfielder’s boot.

The goal certainly seemed to jolt the visitors a little, unsure whether to sit back and defend for a time or take the game forward in the hunt for an equaliser, in the end doing neither nor for a period of the second half.

The home side seemed to lose some momentum when Barnett was substituted and House withdrawn into a more right sided midfield role for the remainder of the game which gave the visitors the impetus to attack and try as they might weren’t able to break through the stout defending from the home side and the three points stayed in Hampshire, a result that puts the Robins just outside the play-off places and lifted Eastleigh up one place above Torquay.

A much needed win for the home side who have yet to find their consistency this season, impressive performances from Whelan and Vincent Harper who at right back grew into the game well and kept Matty Kosylo quiet in the second half. Ben House despite not being on the scoresheet put in the kind of performance that makes me see why scouts constantly have him on their radar while Whelan and Hesketh were both constantly probing and wanting the ball.

Kosylo was the best outlet for the Robins, but faded in the second half as the visitors struggled to get into the game straight after half time and with Eastleigh dealing better with the Altrincham front line than the previous forty-five, they struggled to get back into the game.

Made a nice change to head to a National League match, indeed a match where being a complete neutral almost makes for a different kind of watching if you follow what I mean, more relaxed I guess, but not for those in the dug-out’s……………..

Bees fail to down Spitfires

Image courtesy of Tommy McMillan (@weemack57)

Trips to Eastleigh are generally very good for Barnet, drama, goals, and wins go hand in hand but this was likely to be a much tougher test with the Spitfires still in with a chance of gate-crashing the play-off’s while the Bees were just playing for pride.

Sam Beard returned to the starting line-up for Simon Bassey’s men while Matt Preston missed out through injury meaning only four players were named on the bench with Liam Daly the latest player to be furloughed.

The opening minutes had a clear pattern of the hosts in possession of the ball while the Bees were set up to break on the counter with the pace of Tomi Adeloye and Ephron Mason-Clark, but the game plan went out of the window inside ten minutes as keeper Adam Parkes came for a ball he was never going to get and Tyrone Barnett was gifted an easy header into an open net.

Mason-Clark looked the most likely to get the Bees back into the game, but a lack of ball retention and then unable to win it back started to show although the hosts seemed happy to sit on their one goal lead.

Just after the half hour mark Joe Tomlinson stung the palms of Parkes who saved well, pushing the ball over the bar when the Spitfires man thought he had extended the lead for the home side.

The Bees though exerted some pressure on the Eastleigh defence as the half wore to a close, Adeloye having an effort cleared off the line just after Themis Kefalas was also close to levelling the scores but adjudged offside, to send the home side in front at the break.

The best spell of the game for Barnet came at the beginning of the second half, as the hosts invited the pressure, Mason-Clark testing Joe McDonnell whose save fell at the feet of Harry Taylor, quickly blocked by a home defender and away for a corner.

Adeloye was next to try his luck ten minutes into the half and again McDonnell was equal to his effort followed by another shot which didn’t find the target. The Bees had a penalty appeal turned down after the hour mark when Mason-Clark had weaved his way into the box and the shot from Ben Richards-Everton appeared to strike a hand.

Still the Bees pressed forward, Alex McQueen looping a header over the bar and Mason-Clark’s next effort almost turned into his own net by an Eastleigh defender.

Twenty minutes from time the game swung back in favour of the hosts, Adam Marriott getting beyond the visitors backline and brought down by Parkes in the area which earned the young keeper a yellow card, Tomlinson putting the penalty into the net comfortably.

Substitute Sam Smart notched a third for the Spitfires in the final ten minutes, a slight deflection off Beard as the ball went across Parkes and into the net to seal the points and another loss in the column for the Bees.

Four left to go now and like most fans it appears Bassey can’t wait for the season to get to its end, the lack of playing staff being allowed to pick from despite a squad of 36 players is becoming a joke. I appreciate there is little to play for but only being able to name four players on the bench is ridiculous given the number of players we have.

Solid from Beard on his return and the usual energy from Sam Skeffington in midfield, and as Bassey said in his post-match interview we could and should have had two or three goals, but not taking chances you don’t get anything from games. A big learning curve for Parkes from this one in his first loan spell in senior football, showing not all games are going to be in his favour good test of character to see how he responds on Tuesday evening, no time to dwell on this one.

Solihull on Tuesday night, the first one I’m missing since the turn of the year which amounts to 25 games in a row as I’m actually heading to watch some live football locally, something different to write about next week and as it’s a friendly nothing riding on it, but then you can say the same about Barnet’s season since February.

Bees outclassed by rampant County

Image courtesy of @BenFullyLove

The final throes of what has been an underwhelming season for Barnet FC. 99% of us are ready for the end to come and put this sorry effort of 42 games in the record books but better ‘Men in Black’ style erasing it from memory.

The latest side to visit The Hive were Notts County needing the points to maintain a play-off charge that had gone very much up one minute and very down the next, and with a cluster of clubs still chasing the end of season party the three points were needed to head home to Nottingham.

After a win on Bank Holiday Monday at Weymouth and the first double of the season, Simon Bassey was forced into one change, the suspended Antony Wordsworth replaced by Matt Preston as the Bees went for three at the back.

As was very much expected County controlled the possession through Michael Doyle but despite all their pressure and ball retention they created very little as Barnet blocked, hurried and made life difficult for the visitors.

County almost snatched the lead after 26 minutes, Alex McQueen in the right place to clear off the line to keep the scores level whilst ten minutes later Ephron Mason-Clark almost found the bottom corner with his shot but the wrong side of the post.

It appeared that the sides would go in level at half time, but the visitors went in a goal to the good in stoppage time. Having defended well for 45 minutes the Bees failed to clear from a corner and ball dropped nicely in front of Mark Ellis and the defender smashed it home beyond Adam Parkes.

Whilst Bassey had to deliver a different half time team talk than he planned it surely would have been along the lines of keep it tight at the beginning of the half but that went out the window within a minute of the restart.

Calvin Miller skipped down the left and fed Rueben Rodrigues to add a second goal for County. Just before the hour mark, the game was beyond Barnet as Ben Nugent turned the ball into his own net with the County pressure constant and unrelenting.

County then wrapped up a commanding victory five minutes from time with Enzio Boldewijn cutting in from the visitors left hand side and curled the ball beyond Parkes.

There was time for substitute Michael Petrasso to grab a consolation goal in the last minute but the Bees were soundly beaten for the second Saturday in a row.

Not too many positives for Bassey and as he said in the post-match afterwards no good beating the bottom sides and rolling over against the top sides. Quite clearly the lack of fitness and energy amongst most shows they can’t compete against a side who can press you for 90 minutes.

 Matt Preston was solid in the back four until his action was cut short by injury and Sam Skeffington provided his usual energy across the midfield, getting sharper and more involved with every game while Mason-Clark was at the heart of trying to spark something to happen. As previously said it’s these games that Bassey learns more about the squad than victories.

A trip to another play-off chasing team in Eastleigh this coming Saturday will be another strong test but one that ticks us ever closer to the season’s end and by the time we head to Hampshire, we should know whether we can grace The Hive before the end of May, not sure everyone however will be pleased with that news……

Strevens: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now

My final interview this week comes from Eastleigh FC boss Ben Strevens reflecting on the start to the season for the Hampshire club:

TK: An excellent start to the season after seven games, are you placed where you expected to be so far?

BS: I honestly didn’t know what to expect at the start of the season as pre-season seemed a strange time. We are happy with our points total, but we realise it’s early days. Hopefully, we will keep on improving as the season progresses.

TK: Summer recruitment seems to have gone well, how have the new players settled in?

BS: Yeah, they have settled in really well, we purposely recruited more youthful players with the hope of helping them improve themselves. They have added to the players we managed to keep and that was just as important as the new guys coming in.

TK: Although it is still very early in the season in terms of games played, are there one or two sides that have surprised you with their results?

BS: Wealdstone have started really well after their promotion from the National South. I am surprised by some of the teams towards the lower part of the table, but as you say it’s still really early to judge those teams.

TK: Do you think that the stop start scenario for some teams has played a part in where they are in the current table?

BS: I certainly don’t think it helps, but it will be the case for all of us over the course of the season, quite sure of that. We now go two weeks without a competitive game which isn’t ideal either.

TK: How challenging has it been to get the players in the right frame of mind for playing in empty stadiums?

BS: That’s been fine to be honest, I have a good group that are hungry to win and do well. We would all love fans back in the grounds but the games still matter and points are there to be won.

I am really hoping like everyone else that in the new year the fans will be back watching us live.

TK: Although the club have received grants and the Lottery bail-out to help with no income, was there any effect if any on your playing budget?

BS: Yes, we reduced things to make sure we were ready for all circumstances. But at the same time that also fitted with the profile of the player we were trying to attract to the club.

TK: If for example you felt you needed an extra player or two to keep momentum going, would these current circumstances restrict that happening or be favourable to you?

BS: We are quite happy with where we are squad wise for now. We managed to add Ryan Hill from Hampton & Richmond and Tom Blair from Dorchester a few weeks back, but if I really needed someone or had an injury to a key player I’m sure the club would back me.

TK: Finally, we touched on it earlier, how important is it that we see fans back in stadiums in 2021?

BS: I really hope they are the fans are the lifeblood of every football club. Every team is missing them being there to see the action, hopefully in the new year they will be back in and I really can’t wait for that!