EASTLEIGH begin their FA Trophy quest in Kent on Saturday – without the player that proudly held the trophy aloft at Wembley in May.

Richard Hill’s men will get a welcome break from the struggles of the Vanarama National to take on league rivals Ebbsfleet United in the first round proper at Stonebridge Road.

But midfielder Simon Heslop, who lifted the Trophy as skipper of York City after a 3-2 win over Macclesfield in May, will not be in the Spitfires’ travelling party.

He has gone back to the Minstermen after a month’s loan, during which he played five times for Eastleigh and scored once in the 3-3 away draw at Halifax.

A club statement said: “Eastleigh FC can confirm midfield Simon Heslop has returned to his parent club York City due to his loan deal at the Silverlake expiring.

“The club would like to thank him for his efforts at Eastleigh and wish him well for the future.”

With the Spitfires precariously poised 18th in the National League, just five points above the drop zone, it goes without saying that survival in non-League’s top tier has to be the number one priority.

With that in mind, some might view the Trophy as a free hit for the Spitfires, but manager Richard Hill sees things differently.

Unlike his predecessor Martin Allen, who sent a team littered with untried youngsters to Harlow last season - and got beaten 2-0 in the process - Hill intends naming as strong a line-up as possible.

He said: “The Trophy’s no different. It’s another game we’ve got to try and win. It’s an important competition for the club, so why would we devalue it?

“We won’t be devaluing the Hampshire Senior Cup either. We’ve got enough players who need games to be able to put a strong team out.”

Craig McAllister is touch and go for Saturday with a knee twinge, but fit-again duo Sam Wood and Paul McCallum should be okay after being taken off as a precaution towards the end of the 4-4 draw with Bromley, in which McCallum scored a hat-trick.

“Wood had been cramping up and it was important we didn’t break him for this week and McCallum had given absolutely everything,” Hill explained.

Injured warriors Reda Johnson and Ryan Cresswell – arguably one of the best central defensive pairings in the league – are making solid progress.

“We’ve had to train on Astroturf this week and we’ve kept them off that, but they’ve been doing some outdoor work as opposed to in the gym,” said the boss.

Tenth-placed Ebbsfleet are managed by ex-Spitfires skipper Daryl McMahon and include former Eastleigh favourites Andy Drury and Luke Coulson in their ranks.