FC Halifax Town and Eastleigh’s winless runs continued after the out-of-form sides shared a six-goal thriller at The Shay in an astonishing game where both goalkeepers were sent off.
The two deserved dismissals for Sam Johnson and Ross Flitney, however, were only an additional subplot to a contest where the Shaymen had to fight back from 2-0 and 3-1 down, with the last act being a dramatic, last-gasp equaliser netted by substitute Daniel Batty.
Billy Heath patched up another starting eleven in the hope of ensuring a first victory since the 2-1 triumph over Bromley, with the most notable addition to the team sheet being Jake Hibbs, who started his first game since December 2016.
And the Shaymen, inspired by the transfer-listed Hibbs, made an explosive start and created six golden opportunities in the first eleven minutes but found Eastleigh goalkeeper Flitney in fine form.
They should have been ahead after only 50 seconds as McManus found Adam Morgan in acres of space on the left but his low diagonal drive, which was heading for the bottom corner, was expertly tipped wide by Flitney.
From the resulting corner, Hibbs, who was excellent throughout, found Macdonald at the near post but his sweeping shot, which was destined to nestle into the roof of the net, was palmed away by the Eastleigh stopper at his near post who only had a split-second to react.
The visiting goalkeeper was at his best four minutes later when both of Town’s wingers – Macdonald and McManus combined – but the latter’s volleyed effort was scrambled to safety by the seemingly unbeatable Flitney.
When Flitney was finally beaten on 9 minutes, his defence came to his rescue as another Macdonald cross found McManus but his effort was cleared off the line by an Eastleigh defender.
Hibbs then saw a terrific free kick tipped onto the woodwork by Flitney, who then saved Tom Denton’s header from the resulting corner.
The visitors, who themselves were without a win in four games before this fixture, seemed rattled and it seemed a case of when, rather than if, the Shaymen would open the scoring.
But, unbelievably, that honour fell to the Spitfires as they took the lead in bizarre circumstances after their first meaningful attack. Former Bradford City man Mark Yeates escaped down the left and his teasing cross had to cleared out for a corner by Josh Wilde, which Matthews scored direct from – after a misjudgement by Johnson – despite strong protests from the Shaymen.
Johnson’s dismay was evident and his reaction, which included him booting the ball more or less out of the ground, saw him receive a yellow card.
Flintney was then booked three minutes later after fouling McManus outside his area, despite the home fans demanding a red card. Morgan’s resulting free kick was straight at the goalkeeper.
It looked like Town were sensing an immediate response but Eastleigh doubled their advantage from another corner. Yeates’ delivery from the left was headed on at the near post by Andrew Boyce but substitute Zebrowski, who had only been on the pitch for a mere three minutes, got the decisive touch which took it past a stranded Johnson.
Suddenly it was the visitors who found themselves in the ascendancy as former Town man Simon Heslop fired just wide from outside the area and Matthews curled an effort into the arms of Johnson.
But Town, however, finished the half on top. Morgan escaped down the left but his cut-back couldn’t be met by a blue shirt. A flowing move involving Hibbs, Macdonald and McManus culminated with Flitney producing another eye-catching save and they finally got their reward for an encouraging attacking performance after McManus converted a penalty after Danny Clarke was fouled in the area.
And they nearly ended the half on level terms when Hibbs tried to deceive the Eastleigh wall from a free kick by trying to sneak the ball under it, with Wilde lashing the rebound narrowly over the bar.
It was the visitors, however, who started the second half the brightest with Boyce’s looping header landing on top of Johnson’s net after a Yeates set-piece before the Town stopper kept out Matthews with Josh Clackstone producing a fantastic block on the rebound to prevent Paul McCallum from scoring.
And it was McCallum who was needlessly brought down by Johnson just outside of the area which saw the former Port Vale stopper receive his second yellow card.
The visitors made their numerical advantage count five minutes later when McCallum squared for Heslop who beat Tom Nicholson, who came onto replace Morgan after Johnson’s dismissal, from 12 yards.
But Town, typically of a Heath side, fought back in spectacular fashion when the ever-running McManus delivered an inch-perfect cross for Denton who netted for the first time since 23 September – in what was Town’s last victory – to put them back in touching distance.
And their quest for a first win in eleven games was aided after Flitney, inexplicably, refused to hand the ball back to the Shaymen, earning himself a second yellow card and joining his opposite number for an early walk down the tunnel.
Flitney’s decision-making was even more baffling considering his side did not have a recognised goalkeeper on the bench meaning that defender Boyce had to wear the gloves for the remaining 15 minutes.
The stand-in goalkeeper, however, nearly turned out to be the hero for the Spitfires after he brilliantly denied Batty’s low shot, after a smart turn in the area, with his legs.
Eastleigh could have secured all three points going into five minutes of injury-time after a counter-attack but, instead, it was the Shaymen celebrating the sixth goal of an epic contest after some sublime skill from Macdonald allowed him to come inside from the right and find Batty on the left of the area.
The on loan Hull City midfielder did the rest by cutting onto his right foot and beat Boyce at his near post with a powerful effort.
Both teams had a chance apiece to claim all three points deeper into added-on time but Hibbs’ 30 yard screamer flew inches wide before Nicholson nearly came unstuck with a poor attempted clearance, as a breathless encounter came to an end.
FC Halifax Town: Johnson, Clackstone (Waring 83), Brown (C), Hotte (Batty 78), Wilde, Macdonald, Clarke, Hibbs, McManus, Morgan (Nicholson 59), Denton
Subs not used: Moyo, Middleton
Goalscorers: McManus (39 pen), Denton (74), Batty (90)
Eastleigh: Flitney, Hoyte, Boyce, Howe (C), Shaw, Heslop, Miley, Matthews (Obileye 75), Yeates, McCallum (McCallister 68), Williamson (Zebrowski 19)
Subs not used: Constable, Hudson-Odoi
Goalscorers: Matthews (15), Zebroski (22), Heslop (63)
Referee: Karl Evans
Town Man of the Match: Jake Hibbs
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