City's Cup dreams ended in tatters on the south coast after an
incredible barrage of goals late in the second half saw the players
chuck away a comfortable two goal lead to find themselves trailing
a matter of minutes later. Even by our fans' long suffering experiences
of disappointment it was a jaw dropping demonstration of capitulation
that will have Tim Harris clutching his hair at his sides apparent
twin demons of self-doubt and inability to concentrate. Having worked
so hard to take a controlling position in the game we failed to
show any leadership or tactical sense on the pitch, and were soon
overrun by an Eastleigh side that found ourselves all too willing
to help in our own destruction.
The match started brightly enough for City and although Eastleigh
managed a few early range finders there was little sign that the
home team were from a higher division as some early pacey attacks
from City through Whittington and Aaron Wilson seemed enough to
unsettle surprisingly static defenders. City's early encouragement
saw us take the game to Eastleigh and when the City supporters'
coach finally arrived the sudden doubling of the away following
behind the goal can only have helped boost our players. The first
goal came from the spot - but it was a well worked move that led
to the penalty. Bevan did hugely well to latch on to a long ball
down the right, winning the ball in the air and then charging down
the wing to beat the ageing legs of former Southampton left-back
Frances Benali. His cut back from the dead ball line was right into
the path of Whittington and the young striker's turn was far too
sharp for the defender. Whitt made sure his fall was spotted by
the ref but the give away trailing leg of the defender was still
hanging in the air as the man in black pointed to the spot. Fittingly
it was Bevan who stepped up to take the kick, and given the vast
bulk of the Eastleigh keeper Wayne Shaw the forward did well to
see much of the net to aim at. None the less Jody's kick was high
into the top right corner and would have left even a goalie tempted
to jump clutching at air.
With City looking increasingly dangerous the Eastleigh defenders
were becoming ever more nervey and their defending less cultured.
Wilson was floored with a late challenge as he surged down the home
team's right and full-back Adam James had little to argue against
the booking that followed. Benali had real reason to be grateful
for the leniency of the ref as the former top flight player exacted
some revenge of Whittington who was causing his team real problems
with his sharp runs. The veteran started off by thumping Whitt in
the back as they challenged for a high ball, but once the pair had
landed he then really went over the top with a carefully aimed elbow
swung back at the City forward. Whitt looked too surprised to over
react, but with the City forward on the floor rubbing his face the
ref faced a problem. He basically solved it by bottling the decision,
booking the Eastleigh defender. If the ref saw the elbow Benali
had to go; if - as I think - the ref simply booked Benali due to
the reaction to what happened but hadn't seen it himself, that's
hardly good either.
City survived a scare just as the first half ended when Eastleigh
looked to have equalised only for the ref and linesman to fail to
award the goal. City were defending well but being kept under pressure
with Chris Thompson producing a great tackle and Tomkins heading
clear under pressure. From the resulting corner City found themselves
in trouble as the ball crashed down off the bar. The reactions suggested
the ball had gone in but City hacked it away and the ref continued.
He'd have done well to have given us a free kick as Matt Bath had
been bundled over in the melee, but having not given the free kick
he probably should have given the goal.
Eastleigh came at us in the second half but by and large we weathered
the storm without allowing the home side too many clear cut chances.
Matt Bath was called into action when Ryan Ashford cut in well but
the keeper made a good two handed stop at a comfortable height.
Later, a dangerous cross looked to have us in trouble but Mustoe
was in the right place to hook the ball off the line at the far
post. For all our lack of possession we still caused Eastleigh difficulties
with every attack and on loan striker Mike Whittington had a great
opportunity to extend our lead. Sykes burst down the left and his
clever pass set Wilson away down the left. He needed just a touch
to send over a swift cross that picked out Whitt charging for the
near post where his header glanced just side.
With City managing attacks less frequently in the second half we
had to make the most of our chances in front of goal and our second
was a decisive finish. The goal came simply as City pushed out of
defence and Alex Sykes long pass was inch perfect for Jody Bevan.
The City forward took some fearful stick from the centre-halves
during the match and here he was brave again, standing his ground
under a heavy challenge to plant a perfect header down into the
path of Aaron Wilson on the edge of the box. As Bevan was clattered
to the floor Wilson kept his concentration to drive a perfect half-volley
that flew just inside the far post to give City a two goal lead
and 20 minutes to close off the match.
It all seemed to be heading in the right direction for us and minutes
later it looked like it would get even better as Benali seemed to
lose all his sense of direction, prodding a ball back towards the
keeper that sold the Fatty Foulkes tribute act well short. Whittington
was on to it and closed in on goal, but the keeper did well to show
some surprising speed to come off his line and rescue his team with
Whitt unable to lift the ball over him and into the goal. That missed
chance was to become a pivotal point in the match as within moments
City's sky fell in, and with it our lead.
The first Eastleigh goal couldn't have been simpler as were caught
with our minds elsewhere. A long raking clearance from the back
by-passed our midfield and defence, neither Thompson or Mustoe could
reach the winger whose deep cross fell precisely to the dangerous
Andy Forbes who showed his class as he crashed his volley into the
net. This was time for cool heads and concentration but instead
City's players' heads seemed to be full of white noise. From the
kick-off we lamely lost possession and with a few strides our defence
parted for former Southampton midfielder David Hughes to slide the
ball into the path of James Brown who smacked the ball low past
Matt Bath without a defender getting near him.
Unsurprisingly our players were now looking like people living
out a nightmare and with the City fans muttering and hand-wringing
you hardly expected us to keep things together to grind out a draw
and a replay that before the game would have been considered a good
result. The pressure was all one way now and Eastleigh debutant
Bertie Brayley played havoc with a run that carried him past a now
hapless and helpless City defence, eventually pushing the ball right
for a high cross to the far post. Alex Sykes was floundering and
Brayley towered over him to get his head on the end of it, his looping
header cutting out both Bath and Tomkins and leaving Forbes to finish
from close range.
Things could have got even worse as only smart saves from Matt
Bath kept City's dying hopes alive and the scoreline from taking
on an even less fair reflection on the whole 90 minutes. Bath did
well to rush out and save at the feet of Forbes and deny the striker
his hatrick, while a flying tip over from a fierce drive by sub
Martin Thomas was the kind of save that deserved to change a game.
When City got a free kick for a cynical foul on Tom Webb the City
keeper tried to produce a fairytale ending as he came into the Eastleigh
box to add to the attacking numbers in the box, but it all came
The final whistle saw the City players collapse to the floor while
the home side celebrated their incredible escape with their jubilant
fans. Rarely have even we been so comprehensively mugged, but despite
the hurried inquests there don't seem to be any simple answers as
to why we seem to have this terrible habit of choking on leads.
This was a complete, dismal throwing away of 70 minutes of hard
work. Tim Harris will need to use every moment of his managerial
experience to lift his players out of the confidence crisis that
could all too easily follow this kind of shambolic surrender. Good
players don't become poor ones in a matter of weeks, but something
isn't well in a team that switches off with such alarming frequency.
Perhaps a new defender would help, but how often can you stretch
our budget to find defenders of the quality of Chris Holland or
Mark Preece? Perhaps the return of Dave Wilkinson will add some
cover and grit in midfield, and perhaps ending Sykes' discomfort
in defensive duties would also help. Perhaps we just need to get
T-Ender Match Snaps
Harris opted for experience
with captain Chris Thompson at right-back and Alex Sykes at left-back.
mike Fowler returning from injury to slot into the midfield.
"Why can't we just
manage to stand in the way?".
This was a real case
of old problems coming back to haunt us. With Eastleigh pushing
players up we sat to deep and failed to hold our defensive shape
with players quickly forced to resort to individual heroics before
being overun. Under pressure the defence lacked organisation and
leadership, and that left wing-back spot isn't best filled by an
aging attacking ball player.
City have not knocked
a higher division side out of the FA Cup since our memorable 4-3
home win over Chippenham Town in October 2003. At the time the Wiltshire
outfit were in the Southern League Premier while we were in the
Southern League Western Division. I was so excited I chucked my
digital camera down the T-End and this site's not been the same
It's really hard to
take much positive from this result. We looked good going forward
and caused Eastleigh problems all through the match, but that's
precious little comfort when we look so mentally fragile and when
put under pressure to protect a lead just self-destruct to such
horrendous effect. After this and last Saturday's Northwood debacle
Tim Harris can have little option but to look to strengthen his
options in both central defence and the defensive midfield positions.
Tusday's match against Chippenham will now be a stern test of character
and resolve, especially if we find ourselves defending a lead late
in the match.
At least that match against Chippenham will see our opponents
as shell-shocked as us. Slimbridge will be the toast of Gloucestershire
football after a hatrick from former Tigers triallist Robbie Colwell
helped the Swans to a historic 3-1 win over the Wiltshire side
from two divisions above them. Former Tigers forward Luke Corbett
opened the scoring on his Bishop's Cleeve debut as his new side
cruised into the next round with a 3-1 win over Oxford City. Cinderford
Town also exited the FA Cup with a 3-0 defeat at Conference South
side Dorchester Town.