SWINDON Town suffered their first defeat of pre-season at the hands of Eastleigh, as Lawson D’Ath’s early goal coupled, with a late header from Craig McAllister, settled matters at the Silverlake Stadium.
Eastleigh dominated much of the first half, taking the lead in the sixth minute with a rifled shot from D’Ath and using their vast Football League experience to good effect.
In Jack Midson, James Constable and Stuart Fleetwood, the hosts had a combative and dynamic forward unit that has been around the block a fair few ttimes. In contrast, Swindon’s young and enthusiastic squad, with the exception of Nathan Thompson, Nathan Byrne, Wes Foderingham and Andy Williams, have just a single season of regular first-team football under their belts.
It told. The visiting Robins, who barely got out of second gear during the opening 45 minutes, struggled to muster a clear-cut opportunity before the interval.
They improved after the break, spurred on by the impressive Will Randall and a determined and creative showing by George Barker, but ultimately they couldn’t find an equaliser, despite hitting the post through Nathan Thompson. And McAllister added gloss to the scoreline for Eastleigh with his powerful header in the final minute.
Plenty, then, for Mark Cooper to ponder ahead of the visit of Southampton on Monday night.
Town found themselves behind to the Conference Premier side within six minutes. Curtis Da Costa was penalised for a scything tackle 25 yards from goal and, when the subsequent free-kick was laid off into the path of D’Ath, the former Yeovil man sent a rasping drive into Wes Foderingham’s bottom right-hand corner.
Eastleigh had barely touched the ball to that point but having taken the lead they immediately took control of proceedings. Swindon barely got a handle of the game for the ensuing 15 minutes as, with the exception of Massimo Luongo and Anton Rodgers, no one seemed able to hold onto possession for any meaningful length of time.
Luongo was the architect of Town’s first two sights of goal, which came within a minute of each other at the midway point of the first half.
First, the Australian cut a tidy corner into the feet of Ben Gladwin inside the penalty area, but the former Marlow man saw his effort cleared off the line. Then, Luongo darted to the byeline and pulled the ball back neatly into the path of Byrne who, unmarked and 10 yards out, contrived to blaze over the crossbar.
Eastleigh still looked dangerous, particularly down the Swindon right where Da Costa, drafted in late in the day in place of Jack Barthram, looked fragile. And it seemed inevitably that the hosts’ next good chance would come from the left flank.
In the 28th minute, Marlon Jackson exchanged passes with Constable and found a gaping hole in the Town defence, from which he had the time and space to curl wide.
Ben Wright was next to come close to doubling Eastleigh’s lead. His dipping free-kick bounced a yard in front of the diving Foderingham, but the Swindon stopper was able to push the ball to safety.
Da Costa was exposed again in the 37th minute, losing track of Jackson, whose cross took two deflections en route to the unmarked Ben Strevens on the edge of the box. Strevens dragged his shot wide by Eastleigh were edging ever closer to adding a second.
Within three minutes of the second half, the home side got in behind Town again. Nathan Thompson was dispossessed by Constable, who found Wright, but the imposing striker thrashed a sloppy effort high and wide.
Wright was again in the thick of the action in the 56th minute. A sloppy Swindon corner led to an Eastleigh counter-attack and the home forward was denied by a superb stop from Foderingham before he sliced the rebound onto the top of the net.
Just after the hour Foderingham was on hand again to spare Town’s blushes, this time reaching low to his right to push Midson’s snap-shot out for a corner.
Swindon had spent most of the second period losing and winning back possession in their own half before they finally got the traveling fans a little excited in the 70th minute. Nathan Thompson and the lively Will Randall exchanged passes in midfield, allowing Thompson to gallop towards goal and unleash a right-footed drive that bounced back of a post.
With 15 minutes left, the Robins found their way through again. This time Barker was the creator, slipping a lovely pass into the path of Connor Waldon, whose low effort was blocked by the legs of Eastleigh keeper Ross Flitney.
While Town fans could take pleasure and hope from the performances of Barker and Randall up front in the last quarter of the game, Swindon’s lack of strength in depth at the back were all too apparent, as Yemi Odubade strolled through three challenges to beat Foderingham in the 83rd minute, only for Lee Marshall to get back and hack off the line.
Neither Swindon player could do anything about McAllister’s nodded finish in the last minute, however, though Foderingham got a good hand on it.