RICHARD Hill has heaped praise on his Eastleigh players and the club for "a fantastic 2013".

As the new year begins, the Spitfires are sitting second in the Skrill Conference South - a far cry from this time last year when a 3-1 defeat at fellow strugglers Bromley dragged them into the bottom two.

In an amazing 12-month turnaround, it's now Bromley setting the pace at the top of the division with the Spitfires in pursuit.

The gap between the top two widened to 11 points on New Year's Day when, with Eastleigh's home match against Dorchester postponed, Bromley beat third-place Ebbsfleet 3-1 in Kent to make it ten wins and a draw from their last 11 league outings.

With Ebbsfleet now 19 points adrift of top spot, it's beginning to look as if Hill's Spitfires are the only side capable of challenging Bromley for the title.

To do so, they will need to capitalise on their three games in hand and emerge triumphant in the rearranged top-two showdown at Hayes Lane on Tuesday, January 28.

Weather permitting Hill tomorrow leads his side to fifth-placed Eastbourne Borough, managed by ex-Saints midfielder and Salisbury City manager Tommy Widdrington.

The Spitfires are on a run of five straight league and cup victories and, although Hill felt his players looked a tad lethargic in last Saturday's 2-1 win over Bath City, he believes there is plenty more power under the Eastleigh bonnet for 2014.

"In my opinion, we've not hit top gear yet, we're only just moving up from second to third," he said.

"Everything at the club has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 12 months and we've got a group of players who are not only good to watch but they conduct themselves the right way and are well looked after in training.

"Last week we played Dorchester on Boxing Day and the players knew they couldn't drive miles after the game because they needed to rest on the Friday ahead of the Bath game.

"That went for me too.

"It's been a difficult time family-wise. My father-in-law died just before Christmas and my wife Elaine was driving up and down to her family in Leicester.

"I chose not to go because, like the players, I needed to prepare correctly for the Bath game.

"It's tough on the family, but this is my job and you have to do things right. If you don't, it becomes a downward spiral."

Hill, who recently signed his first contract for the Spitfires, added: "It's fantastic to be here.

"Whereas most clubs at this level have four, five or six quality players, we've been able to bring a dozen in at Eastleigh and they're a great set of lads who, because of the level they've played at, know all about looking after themselves with rest and recovery.

"I'm not going to say we played great against Bath, we didn't, but when we needed that bit of quality we found it."

Widdrington, who was once linked with the Eastleigh job during Ian Baird's reign, has signed a two-year extension to his Priory Lane contract.

The 42-year-old, also connected with the recent managerial vacancy at Chelmsford, said: "Ultimately managers and players do move on, but thankfully this football club want me to stay longer."

Borough have backed Widdrington with the loan signing of striker Jamie Taylor from Sutton and he has also brought in forward Tom Derry from Gillingham and versatile former Birmingham City youngster Jack Deaman.