Full-time: Eastleigh 1-0 Cheltenham
Cheltenham Town’s first ever visit to Eastleigh’s Silverlake Stadium ended in a frustrating defeat, and with it went the club’s record 22-game unbeaten run.
Gary Johnson’s side were well below par from start to finish, and in the end Cameron Burgess’ own goal as early as the 13th minute settled the contest.
The pitch at this quirky ground made the surface back at the World of Smile Stadium seem like Wembley, with the ball unable to roll in a straight line all evening.
But the Robins were the architects of their own downfall here, guilty of over playing against a well drilled and experienced side that still harbour hope of promotion.
Eastleigh had lost four on the bounce ahead of the arrival of Gary Johnson’s side, but they played with verve against the league leaders and deserved their win on the night.
It boosted their play-off ambitions, reducing the gap to the top five to four points with a game in hand.
The Robins stay top, by one point, but they’ll rue the missed opportunities here and against Gateshead seven days ago. It’s going down to the wire.
George McLennan was preferred at left back over Jordan Cranston who dropped to the bench alongside Amari Morgan-Smith.
The striker made a welcome return to the match day squad after four months out with an ankle injury, picked up in the FA Cup first round replay against Havant and Waterlooville.
Former Robin Kaid Mohammed sat this one out for the Spitfires, who trailed the Robins by 29 points going into the game.
However the home side were not short of fire power with Matt Tubbs and James Constable in attack, leading a side packed full of experienced campaigners.
The pair though were kept quiet early on and rarely troubled the Cheltenham defence.
Eastleigh were well organised and adapted better to the condition of the pitch in the first half to carry a lead into the break.
Cheltenham were too cute in their approach, and only really began to open up their host’s defence as the half drew to a close.
The opening moments of the match were evenly contested but a calamitous defensive mix-up with 13 minutes on the clock handed the Spitfires an early lead.
The Robins defence were not under pressure but a casual back pass by Burgess wrong-footed Dillon Phillips and it trickled past the Cheltenham number one.
There was another setback only six minutes later when James Dayton was withdrawn with a hamstring injury, and was replaced by Billy Waters.
There was a good shout for a penalty when Dan Holman went down under a tackle by Joe Partington, but the referee was not impressed, while Asa Hall headed over as Cheltenham responded well to the early setbacks.
But Ross Flitney, the former Barnet goalkeeper, didn’t have a save to make in the opening 45 minutes and watched a wild shot by Holman fly over on the stroke of half-time.
At the other end there was a chance for Turley, who reached Partington’s cross from the right but headed over eight minutes before the interval.
Cheltenham started the second period well but the first real chance fell to Constable who raced away on the hour only to blast his effort into the side netting.
They were uncharacteristically uncertain at the back and guilty of over playing moving forward on an awful surface.
When they did deliver a cross, from the right through Jack Barthram, James Rowe was on hand to call Flitney into a fine save with a cultured volley.
Jordan Cranston replaced McLennan at left back, while Calum Kitscha was sent on for his league debut after Phillips picked up a leg injury.
He watched Luke Coulson’s angled effort roll harmlessly wide with eight minutes to play, and got down well to hold a low one by Lee Cook.
Holman felt he had another claim for a penalty, this time for handball against a defender from close range, but the referee wasn’t interested and waved play on.
The Robins rallied late, but didn’t test Flitney who made one save all night.
Late substitute Jack Midson went close form distance in injury time, but it flew inches over.
Back to the drawing board ahead of the trip to Welling this weekend.
EASTLEIGH (4-4-2): Flitney; Partington, Turley, Reid (c), Harding; Reason, Drury, Coulson, Cook (Midson 88); Constable (Odubade 72), Tubbs. Subs not used: Poke, Evans, Payne.
CHELTENHAM TOWN (4-4-2): Phillips (Kitscha 76); Barthram, Parslow, Burgess, McLennan (Cranston 61); Dayton (Waters 19), Hall, Storer (c), Rowe; Wright, Holman. Subs not used: Munns, Morgan-Smith
REFEREE: W Barratt
ATTENDANCE: 1,982 (337 from Cheltenham)