Friday 2nd April 2021 – 3pm KO – The Silverlake Stadium – National League
After weeks of debate, discussion, discord and disagreement within the National League structure in the last few weeks, it was a relief to be able to concentrate on ninety minutes of football without any hidden agendas or political points to prove.
The gloomy start to the Easter weekend had given way to beautiful sunshine on the South Coast, with the two sides still firmly in the race for a play-off spot, separated by just two points priori to kick-off. This was the first of seven games in April for the home side, who are one of a few sides in the National League’s top ten with no Football League experience.
Whilst clubs including Chesterfield who have Football League experience could be said to be ready and able to host football in the professional game again, Eastleigh, like Bromley, have invested significantly in their facilities to be ready should they perform on the pitch, and would be able to make that step up without too much adaption.
It had been eleven years since I had last visited the Silverlake Stadium, in what was a crazy period of three games between the two sides in the space of ten days. I’d chosen to visit for the Conference South game which was in doubt right up until kick-off due to torrential rain. The grounds staff became our best friends as they worked miracles to get the game on. A two hour drive had been work it. Ninety seconds into the game it we wished it had been postponed as an own goal from youngster Scott Mannings gave the hosts all three points.
Today, there was no danger of rain and the playing surface was as good as any you would see in the professional game. Once again, Eastleigh almost took the lead early doors but Pierce Bird’s header at the far post had the direction but not the power and was easily saved by the Chesterfield keeper. At the other end, Asante was sent through on goal but was pushed wide by the Eastleigh defence and out of harms way.
The game ebbed and flowed, with both sides having their share of set-pieces around the penalty box. Eastleigh thought they had taken the lead just before half-time when a corner bounced around the six-yard box before dribbling across the line – the home side appealed, naturally, for the ball to have crossed the line but it was more in reflex that with resolution.
The second half continued the casual wave of play, with neither team dominating or being dominated. The home keeper McDonnell pulled off a superb save in the opening few minutes of the half from Carline’s shot from distance, whilst at the other end, Bird once again had a chance to head home after a corner wasn’t cleared but couldn’t quite connect.
The only goal of the game came on the hour mark when a long throw was flicked on by an Eastleigh defender and The Spireites substitute Liam Mandeville acrobatically netted. Whilst Eastleigh pressed for an equaliser, the visitors continued to look a threat going forward but it was a well-earned three points for Chesterfield come the full-time whistle.
The win saw Chesterfield consolidate their position in a tight top half of the league, with almost a third of the season still to play in just two months. The expunging of the results against Dover Athletic had caused some movement in the table last week, after weeks of uncertainty.
Easter weekend has traditionally been a pivotal time both for clubs and fans, with two games that often shape a season. The current pandemic, the resulting restrictions on clubs, as well as the off-the-field politics has changed the whole dynamic of football at the only step within the Non-League game still able to play. For clubs like Eastleigh and Chesterfield, all they can do is to try and ignore the noise around them and look up the table at the opportunities a play-off spot could bring come the end of the season.