RICHARD Hill says promotion-chasing Eastleigh should be inspired by Saturday’s FA Trophy quarter-final against Cambridge United – even though it ended in a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat.

As the Spitfires continue their Skrill Conference South title quest at home to Dover Athletic tonight, they can take encouragement from matching – and sometimes outclassing - a Cambridge side knocking on the door of a return to the Football League.

Only a 68th-minute Luke Berry penalty separated the sides at the Silverlake and even Cambridge boss Richard Money admitted that if the Spitfires were with them in the Conference Premier this season “they would be a top-half side.”

And while Eastleigh manager Hill admired that extra bit of know-how that squeezed the Us through, he said: “If we play like that from now until the end of the season we will win more than we lose.

“Not everyone in our league is going to have the nous Cambridge had defensively where they double-banked on our dangerous lads going forward and shut down the space on the edge of the box.

“The difference between the two leagues is that final ball and we rushed it a bit at times.

“The little mistakes you make in our league are big mistakes at the next level, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’ve played two Conference Premier sides in the Trophy, won one (against Gateshead) and lost one, and competed very well against both.

“Cambridge paid us a lot of respect. They were wary about coming here and had done a lot of homework on us.

“We weren’t outplayed, we kept going for 90 minutes and we matched them with everything apart from that final pass. We have to take heart from that.”

Last Friday’s persistent downpours didn’t help Eastleigh’s cause, but Hill refused to use the boggy Silverlake surface as an excuse.

“We had a couple of first-half chances that got stuck under our feet a bit and, on another day, we might have got the ball from out of our feet and had a shot on target,” he said.

“But just because there were muddy areas, it hasn’t affected the result. Pitches are heavy up and down the country and it’s just amazing we got the game on.

“When I arrived at the ground at 8.45am there must have been 25-30 people already working on the pitch.

“If other clubs had the mentality of our supporters, there would be more games on in the Conference South.”

With yet more rain forecast today, Eastleigh’s army of helpers have covers, pitchforks and sand at the ready to give the Dover game every chance of going ahead.

The Spitfires have already chalked up two victories over the Kent side this term, in league and Trophy, and will gunning for a third as they look to narrow the 11-point gap on league leaders Bromley, who have no game tonight.

Eastleigh’s main concern surrounds targetman Craig McAllister who is understood to have missed the Trophy game because of an injury picked up in training. l Last week’s postponed top-two showdown between Bromley and Eastleigh has been rearranged for Tuesday, April 8.