CHAIRMAN Stewart Donald says all the talk about Eastleigh’s money “belittles” Richard Hill’s masterful achievement in transforming the Spitfires into a national non-League force.

Donald has invested a large chunk of his personal wealth to provide Hill with the platform to lift the Spitfires from the lower reaches of the Conference South to the Vanarama Conference play-offs in three whirlwind seasons.

But, according to Donald, it is doing his 51-year-old manager a huge injustice to suggest that money is the only reason behind the team’s meteoric rise.

Backing his manager to the hilt, Donald said: “People say it (Eastleigh’s success) is down to money, but that is 100 per cent not the case, it’s down to Richard.

“When you look at the league we came out of (the Conference South), there are a number of teams in there with as big a budget as Richard has had to work with and they haven’t achieved.

“Everyone goes on about our budget, but it’s not as big as people think and it belittles Richard’s achievement to suggest it’s all about the money.

“Football is littered with teams with money who have not achieved.

“It’s a cheap shot to say Eastleigh are spending loads.”

When the Spitfires parted company with Hill’s predecessor Ian Baird in September 2012, they had just lost three successive league games despite an influx of pedigree players like Daryl McMahon, Damian Scannell, Dale Binns, Moses Ademola and Mitchell Nelson.

It took Hill until January 2013 to remould the squad, dispensing with several ‘luxury’ high earners and fans’ favourites and surrounding himself with experienced, hard-working individuals who had been there and done it at Conference level and above.

The signing of ex-Gillingham goalkeeper Ross Flitney would prove pivotal to the success that followed.

But the real turning point was the triple January arrival of defenders Dean Beckwith, Chris Todd and (Luton loanee) Alex Lacey who formed the backbone of the side that went on to reach the 2012/13 play-off semi-final against Dover.

Eastleigh memorably won the league outright the following season and more shrewd signings this term have ensured that they are the first club since Grays Athletic in 2006 to secure a Conference Premier play-off spot the year after promotion from the Conference South.

“Since we signed Chris Todd and Dean Beckwith we’ve not lost two league games in a row,” said Donald.

“To go two-and-a-half seasons without losing back-to-back league games is something special and there won’t be many teams who have done that.

“But this season has been littered with those sorts of statistics.

“For instance, we’ve just won nine out of 11 away games.

“It’s also the first season we’ve made the second round of the FA Cup.”

Given the scale of Hill’s achievements, it comes as little surprise that Donald values his manager so highly.

“We’re extremely lucky to have Richard. He must be on an awful lot of clubs’ radars when they’re looking for a new manager, but Richard loves it here,” he said.

“He’s professional, he’s got high standards and the biggest thing he said to me when he came here was that it was all about recruitment. If you don’t get the right players, it doesn’t matter what you do.

“Of course you’re not always going to get it right with players, but it’s not often we’ve signed a bad one.

“Richard has signed some very, very good players for us.”

Hill is a shrewd operator too and, as many football agents have found to their cost, he stubbornly refuses to pay over the odds for players – no matter how good they might think they are.

“Richard spends the money like it’s his own,” said Donald, left.

“He ekes out every last bit of the budget he’s got and spends it well.

“There are other managers out there who don’t work like that and they spend money more frivolously.

“Once you get to know Richard, he’s just a straight guy who tells you what he thinks.

“He has worked miracles for us and deserves huge credit.”

Donald views reaching the Conference play-offs as “a bonus”.

He feels the Spitfires have gone above and beyond expectations to finish fourth in their debut season among non-League’s elite.

“To me, this is a bonus season,” he said.

“I didn’t expect us to get into the play-offs. I hoped we could, but I didn’t expect it.”

If Eastleigh can topple Grimsby over two legs in the semi-finals, a Wembley final awaits against Forest Green or Bristol Rovers.

Manager Hill flatly refuses to look ahead that far and has kept his players away from the media spotlight this week to concentrate on the task in hand.

Donald himself admits he hasn’t “got as far as Wembley mentally” but fully understands why many supporters are already dreaming of marching to The Arch on May 17.

“There’s a clear defining line between myself and the supporters and Richard and the players,” he explained.

“While myself and the fans are delighted to be in the play-offs, we see it as more of a bonus.

“But for Richard and the players, this is an opportunity to drive home this year’s hard work on the pitch and they’re all focused to achieve.

“We’ve got an experienced team who have been there and done it in that sense.

“The rest of us weren’t sure what we could do this season, so it’s a bonus to get here and we can enjoy it a bit more.

“There’s nothing I can do (on the pitch). I’ve just got to enjoy the event as much as the result.”