Gulls slip to second-half loss at Eastleigh

Torbay Weekly

Eastleigh 2 Torquay United 1

The better side in the first half, and deservedly ahead through Armani Little's tenth goal of the season, Torquay United faded disappointingly against Eastleigh at the Silverlake Stadium and missed a chance to record a fourth successive National League win.

Only 48 hours after their 3-0 Boxing Day victory over Yeovil Town at Plainmoor, Gary Johnson's Gulls finished the first half on top after a quality move set up midfielder Little to score in the 32nd minute.

But they were seldom the same force after the interval, especially after their protests over Eastleigh's equalising penalty fell on deaf ears in the 53rd minute.

Gulls' goalie Shaun MacDonald could not hold a glancing header by the Spitfires' centre-forward Tyrone Barnett for what proved to be the winner in the 67th minute.

And, although United tried to save themselves in the closing stages, it was not to be and it's now nearly seven years since they last beat Eastleigh away.

Johnson was able to name the same starting XI which overcame Yeovil, and Mark Halstead returned to the bench as reserve goalkeeper after an enforced Covid-isolation absence.

Eastleigh manager Ben Strevens, whose players had enjoyed a ten-day break since their last league game, was without striker Ben House and the suspended Vince Harper, so he recalled veteran Tyrone Barnett up front, with ex-Southampton starlet Jake Hesketh holding his place in midfield.

Eastleigh had marginally the better of a low-key first 20 minutes - Little had to clear a Barnett header off the Torquay line, and the big Spitfires targetman also sent a strong shot not far wide.

But the Gulls, counter-attacking with growing confidence, then began to throw a few 'punches' of their own.

In the 23rd minute Danny Wright nearly punished a mistake by Andrew Boyce with a powerful shot just off target, and seconds later a move between Tom Lapslie, Wright and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans ended with a Klaidi Lolos shot deflected behind.

United had visibly moved up a gear, with Dean Moxey's long throws - it was the defender's 600th senior appearance - an increasing threat.

Harry Pritchard did well to block a Lapslie shot after the home defence had failed to clear another of Moxey's 'launches'.

The breakthrough came in the 32nd minute.

Delightful interplay between Lemonheigh-Evans, Little and Wright set up the Gulls' midfielder for a crisp finish - his tenth goal in 21 appearances this season…1-0 to United.

Shaun MacDonald had to pull out one smart save to tip a Ryan Hill shot behind after a left-wing move between Hesketh and Pritchard.

But Torquay, despite having to replace Lapslie with Asa Hall just before the interval, finished the half  on top.

Joe McDonnell palmed a Jack Sparkes shot onto his bar - the keeper was lucky that the ball dropped into his arms and nowhere else - and Lolos also fired over.

Half-time did United no favours and definitely helped Eastleigh.

The Spitfires piled on the pressure from the restart, Pritchard sounding the alarm-bells with a  shot into the side-netting.

But United were aggrieved when, first, Lemonheigh-Evans went down in the penalty area as he chased a kick by MacDonald, referee Massey-Ellis having none of their penalty appeals.

Moments later, after Dan Martin had been booked, Mr Massey-Ellis awarded a penalty at the other end when Whelan went to ground in a crowded goalmouth.

At first the referee seemed to run away from the incident, but then he turned and pointed to the spot.

Whelan drove home in off the left-hand post in the 54th minute and it was 1-1.

Only seven minutes later, with Eastleigh piling it on, United conceded again.

Barnett rose to meet Whelan's long free-kick with a glancing header, but MacDonald rather spilled the effort into the bottom corner…2-1 to Eastleigh.

McDonnell did much better in the home goal when he dived to tip a Little free-kick round his post in the 73rd minute, as United tried to respond.

They had sent on Chiori Johnson for Sparkes just before the second goal, and it was Dan Holman for Lolos with ten minutes to go.

Holman nearly grabbed an equaliser with his first touch, just before home sub Whitehall missed a real chance to wrap it up, firing wide when he should have hit the target.

But not even five minutes of stoppage-time was enough for United's increasingly desperate efforts to salvage a point.

Eastleigh (4-4-2): McDonnell; Hare, Boyce, Broadbent, Kelly; Whelan, Hollands, Hesketh (Maghoma 88), Hill (Smart 90); Barnett (Whitehall 72), Pritchard; subs not used - Flitney (gk), Bragg.

Booked: Whelan 28, Pritchard 40, Broadbent 78.

Torquay United (4-3-1-2): MacDonald; Wynter, Lewis, Moxey, Martin; Lapslie (Hall 44), Little, Sparkes (Johnson 65); Lemonheigh-Evans; Lolos (Holman 80), Wright; subs not used - Halstead (gk), Omar.

Booked: Martin 52, Moxey 77.

Referee: Rob Massey-Ellis (Warwicks).

Attendance: 2,730 (428 Gulls fans).