Don’t be fooled by Eastleigh’s league position, says BBC Radio Solent’s Ian Wilding as FC Halifax Town prepare to face The Spitfires on Saturday.
We get the lowdown on Ben Strevens’ side ahead of this weekend’s National League clash.
What have you made of Eastleigh so far this season? It was a slow start but they’ve really picked up now. It reminds me a lot of last season, where they picked up 11 points from their first 11 games and went from strength to strength. What I’ve been most impressed with is how they’ve dealt with injuries. They’ve had a really big casualty list recently but the fringe players have stepped up to the plate and gives manager Ben Strevens a real dilemma when everyone’s available again.
Are they underachieving so far? I think they’re about three or four points short of where they’d like to be and that’s probably down to a mixture of things. They lost some key players in the summer and you could also say that they suffered from a small hangover earlier in the season after losing in the play-offs, as Solihull, Harrogate, Wrexham and Fylde will testify (all five teams were in the bottom half after 10 games). The injuries have meant they’ve had to keep changing the team around as well. The budget is also smaller than last season, but the board have done well in the summer to make it competitive, so hopefully they can keep climbing the table. All they need is a couple of back to back wins and I’m sure Ben Strevens will then say he’s satisfied with where they are. They’re not that far away at all.
Is the manager under pressure at all? Not at all. He’s very well liked around the club and knows Eastleigh inside out having been at the club for six years, firstly as a player in 2013. It’s his first managerial job and he’s been excellent so far along with coaches Jason Bristow and Ross Flitney, taking the club from 10th when they took over in October 2018 to the play-offs and a penalty shoot-out away from Wembley. This season, Eastleigh have already earned more than £100,000 in TV and prize money by getting to the FA Cup second round and have lost just twice in sixteen games in all competitions. They may be 16th, but have a game in hand over most teams in the league and would move up to 10th if they win it and to within five points of third. It’s the tightest league that I can remember.
What’s Eastleigh’s style of play? Eastleigh generally play a 3-5-2 which gives the current wing backs license to attack. Jack Payne is the deepest midfielder of the three, which means Danny Hollands and Cav Miley can also get forward. They like to play the ball around the field across the back and look to patiently build up play.
Fair to say scoring goals has been an issue - conceded more than you’ve scored? It was earlier in the season where they had the issue as they’d scored just two goals in five games, but they seem to have addressed that now with players across the whole team chipping in with goals. They’ve scored in 17 of their last 19 matches in all competitions, chipping in with 32 goals in that time. Earlier in the campaign, it was difficult as a number of new players had to bed in and it took some getting over the loss of Paul McCallum to Solihull Moors (27 goals last season) and Mark Yeates (26 assists) in the summer. But they seem to have adapted well and have a number of strengths in different areas now.
Who will be your dangerman? Scott Rendell’s on fire at the moment, scoring eight goals in six games in all competitions, while winger Sam Smart’s been getting better and better. He capped off his finest performance in a Spitfires shirt with his first ever Eastleigh goal in Tuesday’s FA Cup win against Stourbridge.
Which players have particularly impressed so far? Defender Rob Atkinson has been a revelation. He’s only 21 but he’s up there with the best defenders at Eastleigh I’ve ever seen. He was part of the Fulham Academy last summer and could have stayed but decided to move on and play men’s football, so it’s a testament to his character that that’s what he wanted to do. He’ll go a long way.
Any weaknesses Halifax can exploit? The injuries have taken its toll at times, so Halifax will hope they can take advantage of that, although things are looking a lot better on that front.
Injuries/suspensions? Alex Wynter’s out with an ankle injury, Tyrone Barnett, Michael Green and Jack McKnight missed out on Tuesday night but it’s hoped they’ll be back soon.
Likely line-up/formation? 3-5-2, team against Stourbridge was: Stryjek, Boyce, Johnson, Atkinson, Smart, Seaman, Payne, Miley, Hollands, Williamson, Rendell.