The Spitfires bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup, losing 3-1, after a valiant effort against League Two Newport County.

The visitors burst out of the blocks as Eastleigh made a disastrous start, within three minutes the Welsh side were ahead to the disappointment of the majority in a packed out Silverlake Stadium. 

Will Evans drove at the heart of the Spitfires defence, the ball fell to Aaron Wildig who rounded goalkeeper Joe McDonnell and slotted the ball into an empty net, an ice cool finish on a freezing night. 

Moments later, Newport nearly doubled their lead as a snatch shot by Seb Palmer-Houlden just flashed wide of the far post from the corner of the penalty area. 

Luke Croll’s excellent block from point blank range prevented the danger from Newport’s first corner as the hosts were still trying to find their feet in the contest. 

After some slick play by the ever classy Chris Maguire, the versatile Enzio Boldewijn tried his luck from distance which was destined for the top corner but was blocked by a white away shirt.

Eastleigh v Newport County Emirates FA Cup 3rd Round replay at Silverlake Stadium, Eastleigh. Tuesday 16th January 2024. © Image by Graham Scambler Photography

The away side enjoyed more possession and more corners, James Clarke, who scored in the first fixture, had a glorious chance with a free header but could only loop the ball into the bitter cold Hampshire sky. 

The longer the game went on, the more Eastleigh clawed their way back into the encounter with the help of the 12th man, the loud and proud home fans. 

Maguire was controlling the tempo of each Eastleigh advance, he oozed class as he made the attacks tick with his twist and turns whilst putting in wicked crosses. 

Just after 30 minutes, defender Corey Panter put in a bone crunching challenge as small moments like that helped lift the electric crowd even more. 

In the closing stages of the first half, Adam Lewis fizzed in a low cross that Wildig met brilliantly but could only cannon his side footed half-volley into the side netting. 

Newport lead at the break with Eastleigh needing to find an extra level to get out of second gear and put pressure on the League Two opponents. 

What Newport could do in the first half, Eastleigh did emphatically through their talisman, Paul McCallum, in the second half as the Spitfires scored in the third minute.  

The National League’s top scorer thumped in a stunning first-time volley after a long ball evaded the Newport back line, McCallum dispatched a rocket of a shot passed Nick Townsend to level up the scores.  

Eastleigh v Newport County Emirates FA Cup 3rd Round replay at Silverlake Stadium, Eastleigh. Tuesday 16th January 2024. © Image by Graham Scambler Photography

The Silverlake had lift off with an ear-busting sound being made once the ball crashed into the back of the net, Eastleigh were back in the tie through shear hard work, belief and resilience.

Evans was in disbelief when the officials didn’t award Newport a penalty as the ball clattered Croll’s arm from only a yard away, a corner was the verdict.

From that corner, Clarke made no mistake this time as he lost his marker and powered a header past McDonnell and the scrambling McCallum on the goal line to restore the Welsh side’s lead.

Substitute Ryan Clampin’s pinpoint cross picked out McCallum in the area, the striker rolled and shrugged off his marker but hammered his shot, on the turn, high and wide of the goal.

Newport pressed for a third goal and got what they deserved when Evans waltzed his way into the penalty area before he hammered home to put one foot into the Fourth Round of the FA Cup for Newport.

McDonnell sprung across his goal which prevented a fourth, after some high quality football by Newport, as the Spitfires shot stopper excellently denied Bryn Morris’ low drive from the centre of the box.

The game and hopes of making history in the competition, by reaching the Fourth Round of the FA Cup for the first time, fizzled out after a thrilling and valiant effort from the Spitfires.

By Jack Bunclark

Attendance: 5,075 (750 away fans)

Eastleigh XI: McDonnell (GK); Francillette, Croll, Panter (70′); Boldewijn, Taylor (C) (84′), Antangana, Maguire, Clements (70′); Quigley, McCallum. 

Eastleigh Subs: Scott (GK), Clampin (70′), Martin, Barlow, Hodson, Nwabuokei, Rutherford (84′), Harris (70′), Yang.

Newport County XI: Townsend (GK); McLoughlin, Wildig (77′), Clarke, Delaney, Lewis (45’); Morris, Bennett, Charsley; Evans, Palmer-Houlden.

Newport County Subs: Maxted (GK), Payne (45’), Waite (77′), Bright, Rai, Wood, Jameson, Bondswell, Sanca.