EASTLEIGH boss Richard Hill admits to being “very surprised” that Ben Strevens didn’t feature in the Skrill Conference South team-of-the-season.
It was only to be expected that Hill himself should be named manager-of-the-year after shrewdly guiding the Spitfires to the title and automatic promotion to the Conference Premier.
It was no surprise either that Eastleigh players featured prominently in the 2013/14 ‘dream team’ announced at the Conference AGM/presentation dinner held at Celtic Manor, Newport, earlier this month.
But while twin centre-backs Chris Todd and Dean Beckwith both got the nod from their fellow players along with left-back Michael Green and midfield playmaker Jai Reason, Strevens’ name was conspicuous by its absence.
Given the magnitude of Eastleigh’s achievements last season, Hill believes his entire squad are worthy of praise.
But, for the life of him, he cannot fathom how 34-year-old Strevens – voted fans’ player-of-the-season by The Spitfires Supporters’ Club – was overlooked.
With more than 400 Football League games behind him for Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Brentford and Wycombe Wanders, the versatile midfielder/forward has been every inch the “model professional” Hill described him as when he signed him last summer.
“For me Ben Strevens was the best player in the league last season without a shadow of a doubt,” said the Spitfires boss.
“The team-of-the-season is picked by the players and I can only think that Strevs was overlooked because he plays his football like he lives his life and just goes about his business and doesn’t draw attention to himself.
“There have been times when I’ve driven away from training and thought: ‘Was Ben Strevens there today?’ “He’s one of those players who might not stand out to the opposition and you only really appreciate him when he’s not there.
“Strevs started 41 league games for us last season. I left him out of one to give him a breather and he understood that.
“It’s impossible to play well every week – and that goes for all players – and when Strevs didn’t play at his best, that’s when we noticed it as a team.
“No detriment to any of the rest of my players, they were all fantastic last season, but, for me, Ben Strevens was the best all-round in the league.
“Ben’s not a particularly quiet lad. He’ll have a laugh and put in his two penneth-worth in the dressing room, but he won’t be standing there in his pants taking the mickey like Jamie Collins does.
“He’ll be somewhere in the background adding fuel to the fire.
“But Strevs did something last season that I’d not seen before. At half-time in the Basingstoke game, when we should perhaps have been 1-0 down, he came in and went absolutely mad at the players, telling them they couldn’t expect to win the league playing like that.
“He laid into them for a couple of minutes and I just let him have his say.
“It shows the stature of him that the players took it on board and our second-half performance was a lot calmer.
“That’s his experience coming through.
“It was the first time he’d done it and it made everyone stand up and take notice.”
Strevens was also overlooked for The Non-League Paper’s Confence South team of the year. Indeed, only two Eastleigh players – Todd and Reason - made the NPL's starting 11, while Chris Kinnear – boss of play-off winners Dover Athletic – got the nod as manager ahead of Hill.