THE centre-back curse has struck yet again for Eastleigh as they embark on what will hopefully be another magical FA Cup journey at home to North Leigh on Saturday (3pm).

Defender Connor Essam, recalled from loan at Woking this week to cover for an injury crisis, has now joined the casualty list having gone over on his ankle in training.

“I can’t believe it,” said manager Ronnie Moore. “We bring Connor back thinking he could go in at centre-back if the others aren’t right and now he’s injured.

“His ankle’s black and blue and came up straight away.”

Ironically Essam and Ayo Obileye were both loaned out because Moore felt he had inherited too many centre-backs.

They have been dropping like flies ever since.

Skipper Ryan Cresswell won’t be risked tomorrow as he recovers from a calf problem and Adam Dugdale faces three to four weeks out with medial ligament damage.

Reda Johnson is back available after a one-match ban but is living dangerously on four bookings.

Ideally Moore would have left Johnson out for fear of losing him for next Saturday’s National League trip to Lincoln, but he is unlikely to have that luxury.

Eastleigh will cover themselves by recalling Obileye from Dover Athletic when his month is up next week.

The Spitfires were the last non-League side standing in the FA Cup last season, proudly bowing out in a third round replay at Bolton Wanderers.

But they will need a change of luck on the injury front if they are to repeat that feat this time round.

Wideman Jake Howells also misses out against Southern One South & West underdogs North Leigh while midfielder Andy Drury is rated 50-50.

And with Jamie Cureton and young quartet James Granger, Tony Lee, Jack Smith and Jack Masterton all cup-tied, the Spitfires are unlikely to muster the seven permitted subs.

The fourth qualifying round draw was a dream come true for Eastleigh chairman Stewart Donald, who used to play for North Leigh and sponsors them through his Oxfordshire-based company Bridle Insurance whose offices are a stone's throw away from the Millers' ground.

Moore's dream would be to come safely through tomorrow and get his old club Hartlepool in the first round proper.

But having been on the wrong end of a couple of Cup shocks, the 63-year-old takes nothing for granted.

“I lost to Farsley Celtic with Tranmere and when I was at Rotherham we played Emley at Barnsley and went 1-0 down. We managed to draw 1-1 and win the replay, but that’s how close you can be to going out of the Cup," he said.

“All the pressure’s on us on Saturday. We’re the higher-graded team and we need to be mentally prepared.

“There are going to be shocks in the FA Cup and we’ve got to make sure it’s not us.”