By Gerry PrewettHaving taken so long to rein in leaders Barnet, Bristol Rovers maintained top spot with a gritty 1-0 victory in Teesside last weekend.
This week the Gas entertain an Eastleigh side who are looking for a first ever tilt at League action.
There is no doubting the ambition of the Hampshire outfit. There was a record attendance of 4,126 at the Silverlake Stadium for the visit of Macclesfield Town last Saturday a game shown live on BT Sport. Eastleigh’s 4-0 victory took them to 6th place just outside the Play-Off spots.
The Spitfires took the lead on 12 minutes when former Gas player Harry Pell's header glanced in off the shoulder of Silkmen defender Thierry Audel. It stayed that way until half-time.
Then nine minutes into the second-half the home team doubled their lead when former Gas target James Constable headed home after Craig McAllister nodded Jai Reason's cross back across goal.
Reason, not to be left out curled in the third from the corner of the box just after the hour mark. Deon Burton completed the scoring on 78 minutes as he cracked in Constable's pull back.
Last September the Spitfires welcomed a new record 2,621 attendance for the visit of the Gas but that that figure was smashed with the visit of Macclesfield. In Rovers visit to the Silverlake Stadium. Rovers were reduced to 10 men as referee Colin Lymer sent off Rovers keeper Steve Mildenhall.
A poor squared ball from Tom Parkes allowed Craig McAllister through on goal. Mildehall flew out of his goal and conceded a free kick on the edge of the Rovers area.
Jake Gosling made way as Darrell Clarke brought on Will Puddy for only his second appearance for Rovers. Puddy was immediately called into action from the free kick as he tipped over a curled effort from Jai Reason behind for a corner.
Rovers were punished from the resulting corner having failed to clear the ball Jamie Collins leapt highest to nod home from close range.
Rovers started the second half well and drew the game level inside the opening 10 minutes. A poor clearance from Ross Flitney fell to Ollie Clarke, the Rovers midfielder took a touch before lashing it back over the head of the Eastleigh keeper from 35 yards.
Rovers were reduced to 9 men just before the final whistle as goal scorer Ollie Clarke picked up his second booking within the space of 5 minutes however, Rovers rallied to see out the rest of the game.
Eastleigh was formed on 20 May 1946 and was originally known as Swaythling Athletic. In 1950 they joined Hampshire League, and in 1980 were renamed Eastleigh.
In 1986 they were accepted as one of the founding members of the Wessex League but never managed to finish above half way in the table until 1995–96 when a 4th-place finish was achieved, the first of six consecutive top-seven finishes.
In 2002–03 they won the Wessex league and were promoted to Division One East of the Southern League. After finishing fourth in their first season, the club were promoted due to the formation of the Conference North and South taking clubs from the division above, and were transferred into the Premier Division of the Isthmian League.
The club finished third in its first season in the Premier Division, qualifying for the promotion play-offs. After beating Braintree Town 2–0 in the semi-final, they were promoted to the Conference South after a 2–1 victory over Leyton in the final.
Eastleigh won the Conference South in 2013–2014 sealing the title in front of over 1,500 fans on 18 April 2014 when they beat Basingstoke Town FC 2–1 and achieved promotion to the Conference Premier for the first time in the club's history for this season.
With 3 wins and a draw in their last 5 games Eastleigh are on a good run of form as that thrashing of Macclesfield illustrated. Although Eastleigh’s injured defensive trio Paul Reid, Will Evans and Jamie Turley all trained this week, Manager Richard Hill, will look to field a settled back four for the fourth game running. Consecutive clean sheets against Chester and Macclesfield may give a clue as to his thinking.
Talking about the Gas, Hill said, “Bristol Rovers is an unbelievable football club with an unbelievable history and they’ve been there and done far more than we could ever envisage. We have to be respectful of that, but we have to make sure we don’t let it intimidate us and we go there and play our game.”
“It’ll be tough, but no tougher than Southport, Alfreton or Chester away. Rovers are in the position they were expected to be in at the start of the season, whereas we’re in a position that perhaps we weren’t expected to be in,” he said.
“But, knowing Darrell, I’m sure he’ll be telling his players about us and I’m also sure that whether it’s for half an hour, an hour or the whole 90 minutes tomorrow, Rovers are also going to find it a very tough game.”
“Darrell was getting a bit of stick from fans earlier in his Rovers tenure, but I know him well and I can vouch for the fact that he’s a young, up-and-coming, hard-working manager who’s very knowledgeable about the game.” he said, “It took Luton nigh on five seasons to get it right and Cambridge nine seasons, but Rovers couldn’t have asked for anyone better than Darrell at the first time of asking. Clarkey’s in the right place at the right time for Bristol Rovers and Bristol Rovers are in the right place at the right time for him.”
“It’s up to Rovers fans if they want to listen to me, but I can say that Darrell will not fail for want of trying. He leaves no stone unturned and works hard getting out to watch the opposition. Martin Allen at Barnet’s the same – he’s everywhere.”