IT was somehow fitting that Richard Hill’s first game as Eastleigh manager should be a rollercoaster ride as they saw off Maidenhead United 4-2 at the Silverlake.
His new charges fell behind, took the lead and then lost it again before finally making the game safe.
But it was all in a day’s work for the former Stevenage Borough boss, who replaced Ian Baird as the Spitfires’ chief pilot last week.
“My whole career’s been a rollercoaster ride,” smiled Hill who, as right-hand man to John Gregory, Brian Little and Andy Hessenthaler, has experienced the peaks and troughs of professional football management both at home and abroad.
“Football’s the only occupation where you wish your life away when you’re winning and, when you’re losing, there’s never enough time,” he said.
Unfortunately for Hill’s predecessor Baird, losing was becoming too frequent a habit for a club that had spent big in pursuit of Conference National football.
Three straight league defeats had set the alarm bells ringing and, less than 48 hours after ending Baird’s five-year stay at the helm, the club unveiled 48-year-old Hill as the man they had entrusted to turn Eastleigh’s fortunes around.
In his first press interview, Oxfordshire-based Hill gave Baird credit for putting “an excellent squad” together and spoke of his determination to encourage his side to play good football and pass their way out of the Blue Square Bet South.
On Saturday’s entertaining evidence, that message had got through loud and clear – albeit that Hill had to remind his new charges not to take his instructions too literally.
After a bright opening in which Eastleigh’s pacy widemen Dale Binns and Moses Ademola were unlucky not to score, Maidenhead punished the home side for trying to play football in the wrong area.
Tom Jordan, who had otherwise commanding game, played a loose ball out of defence and Harry Pritchard duly set up Leon Solomon to beat ’keeper Jack Dovey with a sumptuous low strike from outside the box.
Eastleigh equalised on 38 minutes when the club’s August player-of-the-month Ademola exchanged passes with Jai Reason before steering the ball into the far bottom corner.
But for two goalline clearances in a matter of seconds, the Spitfires would have gone back to the dressing room with their noses in front.
First Reason was denied by Leigh Henry’s diving header and then Jordan’s header from Daryl McMahon’s corner was foiled by Derek Duncan.
Hill’s half-time praise was punctuated with a note of caution about not being over-elaborate at the back.
“All I said to the lads (before the game) was to go out, play football and pass the ball when they can,” he said.
“Early in the game we were passing the ball too deep and we got caught out a couple of times. But I’ve got to give the lads credit for that. I told them I wanted them to pass the ball and they took me literally and passed it even when it was not in good areas.
“They’ve actually done what I told them to do and all I said at half-time was that we’re a bit too deep to play like that and we need to play higher up the pitch.”
The Spitfires came out on the front foot and, after Ademola had blazed a dream chance over, took the lead on 57 minutes when full-back Osei Sankofa ventured forward and beat former Eastleigh keeper Billy Lumley at his near post, fed by Binns’s measured pass.
Things didn’t go quite to script when Magpies skipper Daniel Brown set up Reece Tilson-Lascaris to make it 2-2 against the run of play, but it was nearly all Eastleigh in the closing stages.
Damian Scannell’s introduction for the tiring Ademola gave them a timely lift and, on 77 minutes, Eastleigh’s pressure forced another McMahon corner from which Jordan netted a powerful downward header.
A classy fourth followed seconds into stoppage time when Craig McAllister passed the ball across the area to Glen Southam. The ex-Dover midfielder played a sweet one-two with Reason before firing home.
“Being my first game, people on Twitter, forums, websites and everything else are expecting you to go and win,” said Hill.
“These outside influences heap pressure on you, but there was no pressure on the lads today – it was all on myself. If we’d lost, it would have been down to me. All the lads had to do was go and play football, that’s their job. To win the game was comforting. The lads have done great.”
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