FC Halifax Town dropped to fifth in the Conference Premier after a 4-1 defeat at Eastleigh.
Scott Boden’s penalty handed Town a dream start but Eastleigh fought back through Jai Reason, Michael Green, Stuart Fleetwood and Ben Strevens as the Shaymen suffered their heaviest defeat of the season so far.
Town had Eastleigh on the ropes at 2-1 and can reflect on some costly missed chances to equalise before the home side accelerated out of reach.
Neil Aspin said his side hadn’t had much luck with referees after the Wrexham game, and he nearly had another example when James Bolton appeared to be pushed off the ball by Craig McAllister before the Eastleigh striker fired wide.
Bolton, making his first appearance since the draw with Grimsby almost a month ago, got the initial nod to fill Marc Roberts’ not inconsiderable boots, with the Town skipper settling for an afternoon in the press box and a stint of radio punditry.
And he led the applause when Danny Hattersley, making his last appearance of his scheduled one month loan, drew a foul from keeper Ross Flitney after Adam Smith’s shot had been spilled.
Boden’s penalty, his eighth of the campaign, could hardly have been more emphatic, but neither could Reason’s free-kick a few minutes later as it sailed over the wall and in.
As if the absence of Roberts wasn’t reason enough to be wary of conceding set-pieces, Reason’s superb execution was another, with the former Crawley midfielder at the centre of most of Eastleigh’s forays forward.
Throw-ins were certainly less of a spectator sport without the missiles of Roberts, with namesake Kevin taking over the task down the right-flank, so at least there was some continuity there.
Neither side created much from open-play, although the differing threats of Hattersley’s aerial ability and the pace of Fleetwood were displayed enough to suggest both could offer a route to goal.
Simon Ainge was switched to centre-back midway through the first-half, with Bolton moving to right-back, but the back-four were coping pretty well without the towering presence of Roberts.
But, like the last 40 minutes on Tuesday, Halifax did look more vulnerable from dead balls without their captain, and from another superb set-piece from Reason, Ben Strevens’ header somehow stayed out despite bouncing off the bar and post.
Without subjecting Town to a sustained spell of pressure, Eastleigh had offered enough in the opening half to hint that a point would represent a good afternoon’s work for the visitors.
A snap-shot from Danny Schofield was the best Halifax had mustered since Boden’s goal, but the hosts were restricted to little more than left-back Green’s volley over the bar.
Scott McManus, a doubt before the game, lasted just five minutes after the restart, meaning the ever-versatile Kevin Roberts took up his third position of the afternoon at left-back.
His opposite number Green then found himself in too much space but kept his composure after a slip by Bolton to fire unnervingly across Matt Glennon.
Hattersley nearly levelled immediately but hit the side-netting with a vicious volley before spurning a glorious chance by side-footing over from three yards.
Town’s response to falling behind couldn’t be faulted as they continued to hammer at the Eastleigh door, with Flitney saving Ainge’s header before Paul Marshall’s volley was deflected onto the bar.
Coupled with the added incisiveness of substitute Jamie Jackson, that spell of pressure offered plenty of encouragement to Halifax.
Boden was moved up-front alongside Hattersley as Town started to carry more of a threat going forward, with only a half-decent cross required by Jackson with the home defence stretched.
The Town dugout, perhaps sensing the momentum had swung, were unhappy at the hosts’ not-so-subtle attempts at running down the clock.
But those missed chances proved costly as a long-ball forward fell to Fleetwood, whose shot deflected over Glennon’s outstretched arm.
Strevens’ back-post header piled on the disappointment as the hosts disappeared completely over the horizon with all three points.
Eastleigh: Flitney, Reid, Beckwith, Collins, Evans, Green, McAllister (Odubade 74), Stanley, Reason, Strevens, Fleetwood. Subs not used: Spence, Todd, Weeks, Lee.
Scorers: Reason (22), Green (53), Fleetwood (76), Strevens (90)
Shots on target: 4
Shots off target: 5
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, Ainge, Williams, K Roberts, McManus (Maynard 51), Smith, Marshall, Schofield (Jackson 61), Boden, Hattersley. Subs not used: Senior, Pearson, Peniket.
Scorer: Boden (16)
Shots on target: 5
Shots off target: 5
Town man of the match: Paul Marshall