EASTLEIGH kick off a demanding March programme of nine games in 29 days at home to Weston-super-Mare tomorrow.
Buoyed by Ben Strevens’ late winner against Maidenhead on Tuesday, the Spitfires have eaten into Bromley’s lead at the top and now lurk eight points behind the Kent leaders with two games in hand – and a titanic April 8 trip to Hayes Lane to come.
Holding their nerve will be essential in the business end of the season and, as ever, the challenge for manager Richard Hill and his side will be to deal with the pressure that comes hand in hand with representing a club hell-bent on promotion.
“The other night we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, not purposely, but it was one of our games in hand, we were at home and everyone knew the importance of picking up three points,” said Hill.
“I don’t know if the pressure I put myself under transmitted to the lads, but we just looked a bit edgy at times.
“Arguably this is the best squad of players Eastleigh’s ever had.
“The ones who signed at the start of the season were told of my aims and ambitions and those of chairman Stewart Donald and the football club.
“We said that if they didn’t share that same desire, then don’t sign, and every one of them that did join us has ticked the boxes for our criteria.
“We all share the same focus and ambition, but people don’t always realise that these players have had to play with that pressure and expectation from the very first game of pre-season and it can wear you down. “Obviously we’d all rather have that pressure than just turning up, fulfilling 42 matches and picking and choosing the ones we want to play well in, but we were being described as ‘champions elect’ two games into the season and these lads are living their lives with that one aim.
“It’s hard and it’s relentless.
“Ten minutes after we beat Maidenhead I was been interviewed about the importance of beating Weston tomorrow!
“At Eastleigh it’s all about winning the next game.”
The Spitfires came unstuck 3-2 at Weston last month and their chances of revenge tomorrow may depend on what Seagulls side turns up.
“Give Maidenhead some credit, they came and played very well against us the other night,” said Hill. “They could play with freedom because they’re not going for promotion and I don’t think they’ll be relegated. Nothing’s expected of them and it will be a similar scenario with Weston. They’ve got lots of energy and enthusiasm and, if the team they can be turns up, it will be a very difficult game.”
Hill was particularly pleased to see Reece Connolly get on Tuesday’s scoresheet. The 22-year-old has been playing with the additional pressure of the internal drugs test he allegedly failed at his old club Farnborough which is still being looked into by the FA.
“I’m pleased for Reece, he’s had a tough time,” said Hill. “If he’d had less of a character than the one he’s got, he might have crumbled.”
Midfielder Jamie Collins sat out the Maidenhead match to rest his ankle and Hill said: “Tomorrow might be a bit too soon for him.”