EASTLEIGH boss Richard Hill believes last Tuesday's friendly opponents AFC Bournemouth provide a solid blueprint for steady progress through the leagues.
With just two friendlies against relatively junior opposition behind them in Didcot and Marlow, it was not altogether surprising that Hill’s Conference Premier newcomers were outgunned 4-0 by a highly capable Cherries squad at the Silverlake Stadium.
Eddie Howe’s side had, after all, finished an impressive tenth in the Championship last season – just six years after the south coast club had plunged into administration and narrowly avoided relegation from the Football League.
And it was a sign of the Cherries’ growing strength that they went into Tuesday’s friendly having just arrived back from a pre-season trip to Austria where they drew 2-2 with FC Copenhagen at the Vulkanlandarena.
Hill, who is himself overseeing a exciting new era at Eastleigh, isn’t personally well acquainted with Bournemouth or their highly-regarded 36-year-old manager Howe.
But the Eastleigh boss has been impressed by what he has witnessed from a distance and believes the Cherries are going about their business the right way.
“It took us two seasons to get it right at Eastleigh and win promotion and, as a manager, I am going to say that nothing ever survives that’s built on sand,” he said.
“And from what I’ve seen, Bournemouth don’t appear to have been in a rush to do it (climb the leagues) and they’ve tried to get everything right.
“If you go back to when Harry Redknapp was manager, they had quite a successful spell which was great for the place. Once you’ve had a spell like that everyone wants it again and at least now they appear to be doing it in a nice controlled way.
“It appears to me that if Bournemouth have to spend another year in the league below in order to get everything right they will do that. They don’t strike me as a club who, if they don’t get what they want straight away, would go out and get a new manager.
“Eddie Howe doesn’t look like a shouter and a hollerer, but he must have a good manner about him that the players respect.
“He does his job and conducts himself to get the best out of his team and it must work for him. It’s great what Bournemouth are doing and good luck to them.”
Cherries marked their first pre-season friendly on English soil with an accomplished display at the Silverlake as goals by Brett Pitman, Simon Francis, Marc Pugh and Shaun MacDonald underscored their Championship class.
Bournemouth ’keeper Benji Buchel was rarely troubled by an Eastleigh outfit who had yet to hit their pre-season stride, but his opposite number Ross Flitney showed there was nothing sluggish about his reflexes, pulling off a string of fine saves.
It’s early days for Eastleigh, however, and with impressive, new terracing in place on two sides of the ground, there is much for the fans to look forward to in the season ahead.
“The ground’s unrecognisable,” said Hill. “The terracing over the far side (from the stand) looks really decent and there’s more at the clubhouse end.
“If we can get a crowd of 3,000 at some stage, which I hope we do, it’s going to be great – and we’ve got the televised game against Aldershot to look forward to as well (on Thursday, August 14, 7.45pm).”
It’s not only the ground that’s unrecognisable at Eastleigh these days, it’s everything that goes into making them a Conference Premier club.
“It’s all the little things we’re doing to get it right. Everything has just gone up a level,” marvelled Hill.
“Every player has got a kit that fits them and they’ve got Eastleigh ruck-sacks for pre-season and big Eastleigh travel bags for when we go away.
“We have breakfast now before training and it’s all these little things that make a difference.
“When I first came here the players were bringing in their own towel and their own pants to play in, but all that’s supplied now. The towel, the pants, the vest are all there and these are all things you need to have when you’re signing the players you want.
“They only seem like stupid little things, but they add up to something big and they’re things you need to do to make the club successful.
“Last season we were one of few clubs that didn’t have a coach to take them to away games, but we’re working on that now and Wellington (Sports Ground) opposite have been great again letting us use the facilities over there.”
Eastleigh’s backroom staff has been swelled with Noel Blackwell – brother of former Leeds, Sheffield United, Luton and Bury boss Kevin – installed as chief scout.
Blackwell, who spent 12 years at one of Hill’s old clubs Stevenage, rising to assistant manager, had already been successfully scouting for the Spitfires on a more informal basis.
“We’ve made Noel chief scout and we’re paying him quite good money,” said Hill.
“It’s part-time, but these roles are never really part-time because the phone’s always on.”