Salisbury FC V Eastleigh
Following victory at Portland United on Saturday, the Whites returned to the Ray Mac Stadium to face local rivals and National League side Eastleigh.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Steve Claridge named a much changed Salisbury side from the game against Portland, with Barfoot, Casson, Walker, Demkiv, O’Keefe and Mundy all coming into the team, along with trialist Oscar Durnin who had his first game representing the Whites.
The Spitfires brought some familiar faces with them, as ex Salisbury players Jamie Turley and Chris Todd were both on the bench for the Hampshire side, along with many players who have Football League or Football Conference pedigree including James Constable and Andrew Drury.
It was clear from an early stage that the game would be a close affair, and whilst there were no real clear cut chances in the opening 10 minutes, both teams did show attacking intent. Mundy and Durnin were at the heart of the action early on for the Whites, and some thrilling Salisbury link up play in the 7th minute forced Eastleigh to concede a corner which was headed narrowly over the bar by an Eastleigh head. For the Spitfires, Jack Masterton and Lee Cook combined well, winning a corner which Josh Payne flashed dangerously across the face of goal.
The first real chance came in the 13th minute, when the ball was slotted through to Tony Lee in an advanced position for Eastleigh. However, Gareth Barfoot in goal for the Whites was alert, and got his body behind Lee’s shot to ensure he was able to successfully push the ball to safety.
The next chance again fell to the Spitfires. In the 20th minute, an inviting Lee Cook free kick appeared to have found Will Evans in the Salisbury box, but he failed to get any meaningful contact on the ball much to the relief of Barfoot.
Salisbury continued to press Eastleigh at every opportunity, forcing them into mistakes, and even the loss of Mundy to injury in the 21st minute did not alter Salisbury’s team chemistry. Individual moments of skill from Perrett and Durnin drew a number of free kicks from an Eastleigh side who wanted to prevent the Whites gaining any sort of foothold in the game. Jamie Turley was certainly quick to make his presence felt back at the Ray Mac Stadium, bringing down Calum Casson to halt a Salisbury attack soon after coming on in the 35th minute.
Salisbury pressure continued towards the end of the first half. A great ball forward by George Coulson in the 43rd minute picked out Kane O’Keefe, who had Dan Demkiv in support. Demkiv’s ball across the box deflected out to Casson, who could not find a way past Lewis Noice in the Eastleigh goal.
Despite this, it was a slick move put together by a Salisbury side that had appeared solid in the first half, against a team who now ply their trade four leagues higher than the Whites. The loss of Mundy, who had been having a good game until he was forced off, had not had an especially negative impact on the team, and it is likely Claridge was fairly content with the performance his side put in during the first 45 minutes.
The Whites started the second half brightly, pushing forward in search of the opening goal. O’Keefe headed wide from a Colson cross, whilst Colson himself had a shot from just outside the box clearly deflected wide by an Eastleigh player, despite the decision of the referee to award a goal kick.
It was at this point that Eastleigh made a large number of substitutions, bringing on players such as James Constable, Jai Reason and Yemi Odubade who should be fighting for first team places in the National League this coming season.
Nor did it take long for Odubade and Constable to show their class. They combined well in the 58th minute to force Barfoot, who put in a strong performance for the Whites throughout the game, into making a brilliant save.
Then, in the 62nd minute, O’Keefe was robbed of possession in his own half. The ball came to Andrew Drury, who in turn picked out Jack Midson on the right hand side of the box, and his powerful shot was driven past Barfoot and into the back of the net to give the Spitfires the lead.
Despite conceding, the Whites continued to hold their own against an Eastleigh side now containing many first team players. The introduction of Claudio Herbert gave the Whites pace, as well as the desire to run at and take the ball past the opposition defence. In the 75th minute, Herbert showed this perfectly, skilfully navigating his way past three Eastleigh defenders and appearing to be brought down just outside the Eastleigh box. The referee disagreed, but the ball broke to Demkiv whose shot could only find the clutches of Noice.
However, Herbert and Demkiv would show how successfully they could combine in the 77th minute. Having already beaten one Eastleigh player, Demkiv played an inch perfect cross-field pass to Herbert in a right wing position. Despite initially miscontrolling the ball, Herbert did not give up on the attack, and made a penetrating run into the Eastleigh box before carefully lofting the ball across the face of goal. The cross was headed down into the path of Sam Roberts, who was there to finish off what had been a slick Salisbury move.
Having lost the lead and clearly unwilling to settle for a draw against the Whites, Eastleigh pushed on in search of a winner in the latter stages of the game. Jai Reason picked out Ben Strevens in the 78th minute only to see Barfoot make another good save from his resultant shot, whilst Midson blasted an attempt narrowly over the bar in the 82nd minute following good work from Odubade for the Spitfires.
The pressure continued as Jai Reason’s 84th minute free kick was saved by Barfoot, whilst Reason’s dummy in the 87th minute led to a shot by Andrew Drury, who again saw his attempt saved by the Salisbury keeper.
Whilst there was still time for Ben Strevens to clip the outside of the post in the 88th minute, the Whites managed to hold on to what was an encouraging draw. The final whistle brought an entertaining and competitive fixture to an end, in which Salisbury had more than held their own against a strong Eastleigh side.
Whilst this result may not make the headlines that the match against AFC Bournemouth produced, it was just as impressive in its own way. Eastleigh finished the game with many established Football Conference players on the pitch, and yet could not find their way past a resilient Salisbury defence. Barfoot put in a strong performance in goal for the Whites, and the team showed far better link up play than might be expected considering the relatively short period of time they have played together.
With AFC Totton the opponents at the Ray Mac on Saturday, it will be interesting to see how well Claridge’s team perform against another side much closer to their own division in the coming season. As the Wessex League draws ever closer for the Whites, the final few friendlies may prove vital in preparing Steve Claridge’s side for the campaign ahead.
Match Report by Craig Anderson