TOMORROW’S visit of third-placed Ebbsfleet United kicks off what is arguably the most pivotal week of Eastleigh’s season.

With a trip to league leaders Bromley lying in wait on Tuesday and an FA Trophy quarter-final at home to Cambridge United next Saturday, the stakes have never been higher for Richard Hill’s men.

Until midweek the build-up could not have gone better with the Spitfires stringing together an impressive seven straight wins.

But even though that run was brought to an end 3-2 at Weston-super-Mare on Tuesday, the manager cannot get his head around some of the criticism being hurled his way by a vocal minority of Eastleigh fans.

Putting the defeat into perspective, Hill said: “My lads have been amazing.

“We’ve gone through a phase of eight games, won seven of them and got through to the FA Trophy quarter-finals – and we’re sitting second in the table with 45 points from 21 games.

“When was the last time Eastleigh FC was in that position?

“But then we lose a game of football and, with certain elements of our fan base, it’s suddenly all doom and gloom and Richard Hill is useless.

“If it was (former manager) Paul Doswell taking Eastleigh on a run like that he’d be lauded all over the place.

“But one day, when I’m no longer around, I will be the best manager they’ve ever had and they’ll appreciate that when it’s too late.

“Some Eastleigh fans are very appreciative (of Hill), but there’s an element who will never take to Richard Hill. Never. “If we happen to get to Wembley and win the league, they’d wallow in the glory but they wouldn’t recognise Richard Hill was the manager.

“Anything we achieve, I’ll always give the credit and praise to my players, but by the same token don’t kick Richard Hill up and down the street when we lose a game of football. “If we lose and I criticise the referee, they say I’m looking for excuses, but it’s them looking for someone to blame – and they pick me. It’s soul destroying at times.

“Someone on the forum said I didn’t pick the best 11 I had available for Weston, yet the other week they wanted me to sign more players, so they’re contradicting themselves. Like I say, it’s only a small element of fans, but the minority will always spoil it for the majority.” Despite Tuesday’s setback, Eastleigh can still rein in league leaders Bromley, who are 11 points ahead having played three games more.

Improving Ebbsfleet sit five points behind Hill’s men in third, having played 23 games, and their former Spitfires midfielder Daryl McMahon says Steve Brown is another manager who deserves more credit than he gets. McMahon, a £13,000 signing from Dover, said: “Everyone thinks ‘they’ve got money and they’ve thrown a good team together’ but it’s not as easy as that.

“Ebbsfleet were relegated from the Conference Premier, they had no team and now they’ve challenging to bounce straight back.” According to the Kent media, some Fleet supporters haven’t warmed to Brown, but McMahon said: “He’s brilliant with the boys. He’s open, honest, positive and he’ll nail you when he’s got to nail you.”

Looking forward to tomorrow, Brown said: “Richard Hill has a lot of good players at his disposal. It’s a tough task but it’s down to us to go there and upset the apple cart.”

Eastleigh striker Stuart Fleetwood and Fleet midfielder Dean Rance complete bans tomorrow. Spitfires’ playmaker Jai Reason missed training yesterday with a slight leg problem.