County’s home meeting with the ‘Spitfires’ of Eastleigh got off the ground at the third attempt, as the Hatters flew high in SK3 to down their play-off rivals – courtesy of strikes in each regular half by Harry Cardwell and Will Collar, followed by a late third goal in added time from substitute Alex Reid.
County took to the field under the Edgeley Park lights, showing four changes from the line-up that had started at table-topping Sutton three days earlier.
Ash Palmer returned to central defence, as well as taking the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured Liam Hogan, while Cardwell, Collar and Tom Walker were also recalled, replacing Lois Maynard – on international duty with Saint Kitts and Nevis – Reid and Jack Stretton. Striker Abs Baggie, who had plied his trade at EP during 2015/16, featured for the visitors.
With less than a minute played, a County free-kick on the right of the Spitfires’ half was delivered by Walker on to the head of Palmer – with the acting skipper heading just over. And shortly afterwards, Collar’s low cross from the left by-line found Paddy Madden who bundled the ball wide of the near post.
After that lively start, proceedings quietened somewhat until the half’s midway-point, when the Hatters took the lead. Collar’s through-ball found Cardwell, who calmly slotted past advancing goalkeeper Joe McDonnell for his second goal in a County shirt.
Chances were to remain largely at a premium ahead of the break – although, with eight first-half minutes to go, Madden, on connecting with a cross from the left by Walker, went close with a bullet of a header that flew narrowly shy of the near upright.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Cardwell, 22), Eastleigh 0.
Walker forced a save from McDonnell after cutting in from the left within a minute of the resumption. And Joe Tomlinson drilled well wide of the far post, having been fed on the left by Baggie, at the other end.
Fewer than 10 minutes later, County’s advantage was doubled – thanks to Collar’s inaugural goal as a Hatter. The midfielder collected the ball from Madden, after the former Fleetwood man had been bundled over 20 yards out, and let rip with a thunderbolt that beat McDonnell all ends up.
Tom Bearwish skewed a shot wide of County’s right post, before the newly-introduced Reid twice fired efforts beyond the left upright of the visitors’ goal. But Reid finally got his reward in the first of three added-time minutes, when he rose unmarked to head home James Jennings’ corner from the right.
FULL-TIME: County 3 (Cardwell, 22; Collar, 54; Reid, 90 ), Eastleigh 0.
Team (4-4-2): Hinchliffe; Minihan, Keane, Palmer (Capt.), J. Jennings; Newby (Reid, 62), Croasdale, Collar, Walker (Shaw, 79); Cardwell, Madden (Sotham-Hales, 82).
Unused Subs: Barnes, Stretton.
Man of the Match: Collar.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.