We Are Staying Up!
Automated Technology Group Stadium
22.04.2017 // 15:00
This was supposed to be a tense affair, an awkward, difficult kind of afternoon that would have everybody of a Solihull Moors persuasion jittering until the final whistle.
Yet on a day in which the sun shone brightly the team produced one of their best performances of the season, two early goals putting paid to any idea that the fight for survival would go down to the final day.
Eastleigh on the penultimate weekend was not a fixture we were entirely enthralled with at the start of the campaign. The south coast outfit have cash in abundance and as an outfit full of experience it was deemed an awfully tricky tie to have coming into the second-to-last weekend for Moors' National League novices.
Thankfully by the time this fixture came around Eastleigh were in a mid-table slot after an awful year. Moors' message was clear - play our game and the rest should take care of itself.
McDonald made one change from the side that won on Monday with Regan Charles-Cook replacing Harry White in the starting XI while Josh Endall joined those on the bench with no Nortei Nortey available.
It was a 4-3-3 system that would endure an opening ten minutes in which neither side could really get a foothold in proceedings, the ball being launched from one end to other hoping for scraps of James Constable and George Carline.
Eleven minutes in and Regan Charles-Cook had everybody purring. The on-loan Charlton Athletic star began his run from the left-hand side and drove inside before unleashing a worldie of an effort into the far top corner.
The goal settled everybody down and Moors never really looked in trouble from that moment, Ashley Sammons' 30 yard effort flying narrowly over the bar shortly afterwards.
Goal number two came in the 22nd minute. A low corner was miskicked and where a goalkeeper would normally beat his opponent in the air to catch the ball, few players have the leap on Simeon Maye. There was only one winner and the midfielder, slotting into an unorthodox right-back position for the afternoon, was quickly mobbed after the linesman gave the goal.
The first half was not the greatest spectacle overall but Moors' double-barrelled wingers were doing their best to outdo one another, Sterling-James' 20 yard volley followed up by an effort being blocked, Charles-Cook then beating three players before his low cross was pushed away from goal.
Sterling-James went close again after a smart one-two with Carline but Barnes was out quick enough to just about snuff the chance before the half ended with Afolayan latching onto Carline's flick-on only to fire wide. Moors fans delighted, Eastleigh fans booing and one calling the performance 'Comedy f*****g Central'.
Within five minutes of the second Sterling-James' yearning for a goal saw him strike viciously from 20 yards off the underside of the bar before being denied again when his 30 yard free-kick curled narrowly just over Barnes' crossbar.
Moors' domination continued with Carline's miscued effort from Afolayan's deflected strike and the teenage striker tried his luck again around the hour mark but the effort was comfortable for Barnes.
Sterling-James was doing his best to get at least one but even when played in one-on-one he found the pacey Gavin Hoyte getting back to make a last ditch challenge. Carline headed wide and Charles-Cook hit the side netting as substitutions began to slow the flow of the game, Afolayan and Sterling-James replaced by White and Brown.
Ben Close raised a cheer from the opposition supporters, who were still banging their drum loud and proud in the new stand, when he shot wide from distance. That's right, Eastleigh had a shot at goal.
Josh Endall came on for his debut with a minute or two left in much more favourable circumstances than that of his fellow youth teamer Tyrese Shade and he almost made it count when his crisp pass sent Harry White on his way. The former Barnsley striker twisted and turned Hoyte brilliantly but evidently took his shooting tips from Sterling-James, his rasping effort smacking the bar.
It capped off a wonderful afternoon at the Automated Technology Group Stadium, a stadium that will host National League football in the 2017/18 campaign thanks to this victory and other results going our way.
As if we didn't already know it, the community nature of the club was summed up at the end as the players, including those who were unavailable for selection, came onto the field to greet the supporters and revel in the 'we are staying up' chants from those behind the goal.
There has been no question that at times I have wrote these reports and questioned whether the injuries and the part-time aspect of the club would ultimately hurt our chances of survival yet one thing we should have all learned from this campaign is that this group doesn't lie down when beaten.
This performance and result summed up the attitude of the boys. Every one of them lead by example through performance. Kristian Green stepped in at centre-half and played like it was a position he had played for 10 years while the same went for Maye at right-back. Carline won everything against a side reliant on its aerial process and the wingers were a menace throughout causing havoc all over the shop for the Eastleigh backline. It would have been easy to forget McDonald only had just 12 fit senior outfielders available to him.
The fans and board members deserved this. McDonald, his coaching staff and the players deserve all the praise that comes their way. It's been a long season yet one that has brought about some of the biggest achievements in Solihull Moors' short history. I can honestly say I'm hugely proud to have been a part of it and long may it continue.
All together now - WE ARE STAYING UP!