On Friday night, under the lights at the Silverlake Stadium, one of the most hotly anticipated matches of this weekend’s FA Cup First Round takes place. Non-League giants Eastleigh take on League One Swindon Town. The BBC cameras will be there undoubtedly hoping to catch an upset and they sure have a good track record, who could forget the likes of Warrington Town, Blyth Spartans and Salford City all knocking out league opposition on nights that will forever be remembered at those clubs.
Eastleigh themselves have plenty of pedigree, last season they became the only Non-League side to make the third Round, beating Crewe and Stourbridge before taking Bolton to a replay. Could the Spitfires be in for another magical cup run this season?
Eastleigh have certainly had an interesting season so far, just four games into the new season they sacked manager Chris Todd. The Spitfires claimed 4 points from their opening two games but then suffered back-to-back defeats, which was enough to see the end of Todd, who after being appointed in October 2015, guided the side to a 7th place finish in the National League, narrowly missing out on a play-off place. Chairman Stewart Donald told BBC Radio Solent:
“We might have thrown Chris in at the deep end too quickly…The gut instinct is it is a big job and we need a more experienced manager. This season is only four games in, but we haven’t started well. I thought I’d act early and get someone new in with fresh ideas.”
The Chairman stuck to his word and appointed the vastly experienced, former Rotherham, Tranmere and Hartlepool boss, Ronnie Moore. Moore’s masterminding of Hartlepool’s great escape from being 10 points adrift at the bottom of the Football league at one stage during the 2014/15 season will live long in the memory. Moore soon began to work his magic at Eastleigh, the club went on a 10-game unbeaten run following his appointment (including 6 wins and 4 draws.) Eastleigh now sit 8th in the table, just four points off the play-offs and are ready to turn their attention to the cup.
They were only required to play one qualifying round to reach this stage but they won it emphatically, beating Southern League outfit North Leigh 6-0 thanks to 4 goals from Ryan Bird. They then preceded to donate all of the gate receipts to the visitors.
The team hoping to spoil the big occasion are Swindon Town. Interestingly, this tie could well be a league match next season if current form continues, Swindon’s season has been one of struggles as they currently sit 21st in League One, having won only one of their last seven. The club lost Michael Smith and Nicky Ajose to Portsmouth and Charlton respectively in the summer and many fans are angry at the club’s lack of investment to adequately replace them and boost the squad for a promotion push.
Despite their plight in league being more important, the club will want success in this competition though as they have not won an FA Cup tie for four years, notable defeats include back-to-back reverses by Non-League Macclesfield Town and a 5-0 thumping at the hands of Cheltenham.
Likely Line-up: Clarke, Partington, Johnson, Green, Coulson, Taylor, Reason, Pipe, Drury, Mandron, Bird
Eastleigh should be boosted by the returns of talisman Reda Johnson and striker James Constable who both missed the last match against Barrow with a virus and concussion respectively. Despite breaking his nose it that game, goalkeeper Ryan Clarke was able to complete the 90 minutes and could well feature in this game as well, the club will certainly hope so as he recently won their player of the month award for October. However, they were dealt a hammer blow in that game when skipper Ryan Cresswell was red-carded, as such he will have to sit this one out.
The youngster, a summer signing from Sunderland, has certainly hit the ground running this season. The 22-year-old striker finally seems to have found a home on the South Coast and this is paying dividends on the pitch. He has invigorated the Spitfires’ attack with his pace and trickery and has bagged himself 10 goals already this season, three more than anyone else at the club. He can also boast a hat-trick against Bromley in August. His attributes could prove perfect for a game like this, Swindon may well have the ball for large parts of the match so when Eastleigh win it back they will need to counter at pace, Mandron could be just the man to start the attacks and put the ball in the back of the net aswell.
Likely Line-up: Henry, Barry, Furlong, Thompson, Branco, Kasim, Rodgers, Doughty, Murray, Iandolo, Delfouneso
It’s difficult to know how strong a team the League One side will put out but it will have to be relatively strong one as Eastleigh will be no pushovers, they have more Football League experience than most for a Non-League side. Young goalkeeper Will Henry could be given an opportunity though in place of regular Lawrence Vigouroux. Elsewhere, Bradley Barry could return after serving a one-match suspension against Scunthorpe but James Brophy, Jordan Young, Jordan Stewart and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill are all expected to miss out through injury.
The Iraqi midfielder has been a sensation during his time at the County Ground. His assured and confident midfield displays have won him international recognition, he was voted Iraqi footballer of the year in 2015. His ability to control a game and play a killer pass at the right time has helped him achieve this and has seen him linked with Championship and even Premier League clubs in the past. If Swindon can get him on the ball and give him the chance to dominate the game then I think Eastleigh could be in for a very difficult night.
Both teams come into the game low on confidence following their results at the weekend. Eastleigh were soundly beaten 4-0 away at Barrow, after which Ronnie Moore described his side as “brittle and powder-puff” as well as “shambolic” and “I’m embarrassed and they (the players) should be embarrassed.” Swindon faired little better, they went down 4-1 to leaders Scunthorpe. Eastleigh need to put that result behind them quickly and look back at the strong season they’ve had already in order to capitalise on potential frailties in the mind of Swindon. Equally, Swindon need to pick themselves up again as there are 34 places between the teams for a reason. Swindon should win and they need to believe that.
I can forsee Eastleigh giving Swindon a really tough night and if they don’t turn up there expecting to have to work hard for the whole 90 minutes then Eastleigh could easily turn them over but I predict that the game will finish in a draw, 2-2.
Eastleigh vs Swindon, Live on BBC Two, coverage starts at 7:30pm, kick-off at 7:55pm GMT at the Silverlake Stadium.