Play-off semi-final

BEN Strevens couldn’t have wished for a better man to have fired Eastleigh through to Sunday's mammoth National League play-off semi-final at Salford City (3.30pm).

Skipper Danny Hollands has led by example all season, so it was somehow fitting that his extra-time wonder goal at Wrexham last  night should have propelled the club to within one win of next Saturday’s (May 11) Big Day Out at Wembley, where promotion to the Football League will be at stake.

Hollands, who joined the Spitfires from Crewe in May 2017, was one of many Spitfires players who didn’t have the best of times at the club last season.

But, under Strevens’ inspirational management, the former AFC Bournemouth, Charlton Athletic and Portsmouth midfielder has really come into his own.

“He’s an amazing player,” said the boss. “You don’t have the career that Danny Hollands has had without being a top, top player.

“He’s one of those lads who, when he’s in the team, you sort of take him for granted as he does a lot of the breaking up of play, the organising and stuff like that. But when he’s out of the side, you miss him."

Hollands’ sumptuous volleyed winner, scored on the cusp of half-time in extra-time, was eulogized on BT Sport as “a goal to grace any standard of football.”

“Danny does the horrible stuff all season, day in day out, and then pops up with a moment of magic to win us. It was unbelievable technique,” said Strevens.

“I’m so pleased for people like him, Boycey (Andrew Boyce) and Yeatesy (Mark Yeates), all the lads who were here last season, that they’ve had this chance to show what good players they are.

“They’re terrific pros who’ve worked their socks off since day one of pre-season and we’re into May now and they’re still playing like that. Danny typifies the whole group really.”

Eastleigh’s 1-0 extra-time win means all attention now turns to The Peninsula Stadium, Salford – the scene of one of their best results of the season so far.

It was back on February 23 that two goals by top gun Paul McCallum sent shockwaves around the league as the Spitfires ran out 2-0 winners at Salford – the club owned by Project 92 Limited, in which David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phil Neville are significant shareholders.

Since 2014, the Ammies have secured three promotions in four seasons and were widely fancied to go up automatically this term.

In the event, they wound up third, four points shy of champions Leyton Orient.

Looking ahead to Sunday's game, Stevens said: “It’s a quick turnaround (after Wrexham) and we’ll have to recover as best we can, but this is what we wanted.

“It’s going to be a tough game. Salford have been brilliant all season and could quite easily have won the league.

“But we’ll be ready for them and we'll give it our best shot.

“This is definitely my proudest moment as a manager. To get the club through a play-off eliminator and be one game away from Wembley is amazing.

“The (Wrexham) win typifies our togetherness. You don’t go to a place like Wrexham, be up against it and go into extra-time without having a real good team spirit.

“I’m so proud of all the boys – and our supporters too.

“I thought the away support was unbelievable at Wrexham. I spoke beforehand about their home support, but I could hear our fans as loud as theirs even though there was only a small section of them (148 in a 6,723 crowd).

“It’s not gone unnoticed and we will need the fans’ help again on Sunday. I can’t thank them enough.”

Of the two Spitfires players that went off injured on last night, midfielder Joey Jones and right wing-back Josh Hare, the latter is the most concerning.

“Joey felt a slight twinge but I think he’ll be alright, but Josh is struggling with his calf,” said Strevens. “For him to come off and for us to change our shape, it had to be serious.”

National League play-off semi-finals: Solihull Moors v AFC Fylde (Saturday, May 4, 12.30pm), Salford City v Eastleigh (Sunday, May 4, 3.30pm).