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Eastleigh go four points clear
RICHARD Hill remained typically level-headed as his Eastleigh side moved four points clear at the Skrill Conference South summit on Saturday.
But, while not exactly turning cartwheels, he viewed the 1-0 home victory over Staines Town as a significant improvement on the back-to-back defeats that preceded it – against Ebbsfleet United in the league and Oxford City in the FA Cup.
In the wake of the Oxford defeat, Hill had expressed his concern that the Spitfires had lost the ‘over my dead body’ attitude that had taken them top of the table. But, after watching his side use all their experience and know-how to protect a 14th-minute lead earned by Jai Reason’s header, he admitted: “It was a certainly a lot better from us in terms of being hard to play against.
“Staines are a decent team who came here and had a go and give them credit for that, but there’s no pressure on them is there?
“Their manager Marcus Gayle has got his philosophy about the football he wants them to play, but he’s not got to win at all costs like I have.
“I put myself under pressure, but there’s also high expectation from the club and supporters and, with that, comes the pressure of having to win matches.
“It’s not been mentioned much, but we’ve not lost at home in the league and the longer that goes on, the harder it gets.
“Staines didn’t do what most teams coming here have done by trying to kill the game and waste time. But they’re quite a young side whereas I’ve got quite a few men in my team with the know-how to manage the game once we’ve got ourselves in front. That’s why I signed the players I did. “But if we’d been a bit more clinical, we could have made life a bit easier for ourselves.”
With neither Dan Spence nor Craig McAllister ready to play, Hill made just one change from the Oxford game, bringing Yemi Odubade into the starting line-up, dropping Damian Batt to the bench and switching Will Evans to right-back. And it was Odubade who laid the foundations for the winner, clipping the ball out to Stuart Fleetwood on the right. Fleetwood looked up and delivered to the far post where Reason raced in to bury powerful header beyond goalkeeper Kyle Merson.
Fleetwood, Reason and Odubade could all have extended that lead in the first half while, for Staines, Louis Rae-Beadle shot wastefully high after being teed up by Louie Theophanus – the Conference South’s top scorer – and later had a penalty appeal waved away. Eastleigh remained in the ascendancy after the break, yet for all their possession, they couldn’t conjure up a killer second.
But they saw the game out professionally and were greeted with the bonus news that second-placed Bromley had lost 1-0 at Sutton United thanks to a goal from ex-Spitfire Jamie Slabber. It gives Hill’s men a comfortable cushion as they head into a two-week break before themselves visiting Paul Doswell’s Sutton on November 2.
“The boys were hurting a bit after the FA Cup, but it happened and we can’t get it back,” said Hill.
“They knew we had to improve on that performance and that it was important we didn’t lose on Saturday and they didn’t let themselves down. They played with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
The one blot on Eastleigh’s afternoon was having Evans stretchered off late on. The former Hereford midfielder/defender had only recently returned to action after a knee injury sustained in pre-season.
“I don’t know the extent of it yet,” said Hill yesterday.
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