Title back in Eastleigh's hands

Hampshire Chronicle: Richard Hill Richard Hill

THE destiny of the Skrill Conference South title is in Eastleigh’s hands after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Eastbourne Borough.

But Spitfires boss Richard Hill reckons that if the manager-of-the-season awards were dished out now Danny Cowley would take some beating.

Eastleigh tomorrow continue their title quest away at Concord Rangers where Cowley is performing miracles in only his second season in sole charge.

He first took the helm alongside Danny Scopes at the start of the 2007/08 season and, between them they guided the club from the Essex Senior League to the Ryman Premier.

Now, having won promotion through the play-offs, the Canvey Island-based Beachboys sit 11th in their maiden Conference South season.

“Concord have done fantastic,” said Hill, whose side were held 1-1 at home by the Beachboys in October.

“They’re halfway up the table pushing for a play-off spot and, with respect, you wouldn’t have put them in that category at the start of the season.

“They must be well happy with where they are and, if the season stopped now, their guy – judged on where they’ve come from and the resources they’ve got - would be manager-of-the-season.”

The priceless point Eastleigh gleaned at Eastbourne leaves them five adrift of table-topping Bromley, who were turned over 4-2 at home by Sutton, with two games in hand.

Borough capitalised on a weak punch by Eastleigh ’keeper Ross Flitney to seize a 41st-minute lead through Ian Simpemba.

Hill responded with a triple substitution on 67 minutes, introducing Reece Connolly, Ben Wright and Jamie Collins.

The equaliser duly arrived eight minutes later when Michael Green rolled a free-kick to Stuart Fleetwood who drove forward before crashing an emphatic finish into the top right-hand corner.

“Fleetwood’s strike was a hell of a goal to equalise,” admitted Eastbourne manager and ex-Saint Tommy Widdrington afterwards, adding: “That lad’s played at a much higher level and he’s only in this league for one reason.”

That comment did not go unnoticed by Hill who said: “Presumably he’s alluding to finance, so Tommy’s obviously working for Eastbourne for nothing then! “Eastbourne are a good team, but they’re in a false position. They should be higher (than eighth). I don’t just mean on the edge of the play-offs, they should be right in amongst it.”

Flitney produced an heroic penalty save in stoppage time to deny Frankie Raymond after Collins had sent Elvis Hammond tumbling.

“Hammond spent three seasons at Leicester City and it was only four years ago that he finished at Cheltenham Town,” said Hill. “Like I say, Eastbourne should be higher...”

Flitney’s antics prior to Raymond’s spot kick were branded “gamesmanship” by many irate Eastbourne fans who felt the Spitfires’ stopper should have received more than a booking for quibbling over the placement of the ball.

“I didn’t see anything,” said Hill. “It was a bit of a distance away and, as I get older, my eyesight’s not so good under floodlights.

“Against a team who, by their own admission, put in one of their best performances of the season, that’s a good point away from home which, you’d like to think, negates Bromley’s superior goal difference.”

Eastleigh have agreed with Wright’s parent club Salisbury City to extend the striker’s loan. Jai Reason sits out the first of a two-match suspension tomorrow, while Ben Strevens has a slight calf strain.

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