HAD Andy Hessenthaler not lost his job as Leyton Orient last September, Eastleigh boss Richard Hill is convinced the Os would still be in the Football League.

But Orient’s loss has been the Spitfires’ gain and Hill will take his seat in the away dugout at Brisbane Road on Saturday grateful to have such a dependable man by his side.

After leaving Gillingham at the end of 2014/15 to become the Os’ assistant boss, Hessenthaler was promoted to the hot-seat when Kevin Nolan was sacked in April last year.

But his brief reign was ended in September and a torrid season – in which the Os went through five managers - ended with them losing their Football League status after 112 years.

The club had been on a downward trajectory since being brought by Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti in July 2014.

New owners Nigel Travis and Ken Teague took over in the summer, but the damage had already been done with Orient now playing non-League football for the first time since 1905.

Hill, who unveiled Hessenthaler as his right-hand man in April, said: “I still maintain that had Orient not sacked Hess, they would still be in the Football League.

"When you look at the points they had when he was sacked and how many they ended up with, they would not have been relegated.

“I don’t mean this rudely, but they’re not in this league because they tore up League Two, they’re in it on merit because they finished bottom.

“But that doesn’t make going to Orient on Saturday any easier. A lot of clubs are going to find it a tough place to go.”

Asked if Hessenthaler was keen to prove a point, Hill said: “Hess isn't like that – and it’s not the new regime he needs to prove himself to.

“Hess likes the club and he’s glad they’re sorting themselves out behind the scenes. He’s a professional, he bears no malice whatsoever.”

Eastleigh themselves had a turbulent 2016/17 before Hill returned to calm the troubled waters.

This time he is juggling director of football duties with his managerial role, making the experienced Hessenthaler’s presence invaluable.

“Last time I was here I had a player/assistant and a player/coach and I’m very thankful to the chairman for allowing me to have an assistant manager, a coach (Ben Strevens) and a head of recruitment (Paul Reid) this time,” said Hill.

“Hess has been a godsend. I don’t need to get bogged down now because he’s there in the background. He’s been a manager and he knows what I’m going through. I've never had that before.

"I know Hess as a person outside football too and I can work with him on the training ground and then go out for dinner and a few beers with him and probably not even talk about football."

Hill expects striker Paul McCallum, signed from Orient over the summer, to be fit for selection against his old club, but the other injured trio - Reda Johnson, Graham Stack and Gavin Hoyte - are still out.

The Spitfires are tenth in the National League following last Saturday's terrific 2-0 home win over Tranmere, while Orient are a point better off in eighth and have won both home games against Solihull Moors and Maidstone.