REDA Johnson was living proof that there’s no substitute for experience in Eastleigh’s pivotal 1-0 win over Gateshead yesterday. 

Not only did the big man net the winner that could pave the way to the play-offs, but his formidable presence, missing through injury for the last four games, inspired a morale-boosting clean sheet.

Eastleigh went into combat on a deflating run of three straight losses and having shipped a dozen goals in Johnson’s absence.

Ironically they had looked a more accomplished side in defeats at AFC Fylde and Orient than they did on Saturday, but the result was all that mattered.

“It was really nervy at times, but I think that was because of how much the boys wanted to win,” reflected relieved manager Ben Strevens afterwards.

“In training on Friday there was a proper strong will to win, but it gets a bit tense where you want something so bad and it played out like that a bit today. The lads looked tired and a bit nervy at times.

“Was it entertaining? Probably not. But we won 1-0 and our destiny’s in our own hands and that’s all we ever wanted.”

Acknowledging Johnson’s giant contribution, Strevens said: “Reda’s one of our senior boys and he’s a leader in the group as well.

“The younger lads have been brilliant for us, they’ve been first class, but when someone like Reda comes back he brings experience, he knows the game and he knows how to defend.

“For him to score, get a clean sheet and play the way he does, it was real good performance by Reda today and we know it’s something he’s capable of week in, week out.”

“He’s played more games for us this year than he’s ever done and that shows that he really wants to play for us.”

Eastleigh have three matches left to seal their play-off spot, starting at Dagenham & Redbridge on Good Friday (3pm).

They entertain Maidenhead United on Easter Monday (3pm) and wrap up the season at Boreham Wood on April 27. 

Two wins from the three games will get them over the line.

But while the Spitfires are on the brink of something special, it’s bad news for Hampshire rivals Aldershot and Havant & Waterlooville who are doomed to relegation along with Braintree and Maidstone.