CRAIG McAllister was wrestling with conflicting emotions in the wake of Eastleigh’s 2-0 home defeat by promotion-hunting Tranmere Rovers yesterday.

It goes without saying that the Bitterne Park-based frontman was thrilled to be back for a fourth spell in Spitfires blue after the best part of two seasons away at Sutton United.

But second-half goals by ex-Pompey winger Ben Tollitt and James Norwood ensured it was not the happy homecoming he had dreamed of.

Despite the result, Eastleigh’s performance was a marked improvement on their dire midweek defeat by Braintree - particularly given the calibre of the opposition - and 36-year-old targetman McAllister earned high praise from manager Martin Allen for the way he led the line.

But while he was pleased to get 80 minutes under his belt before going off with a dead leg, McAllister knows that he and his new teammates must quickly arrest the Spitfires' alarming nosedive to 15th in the Vanarama National League.

They have yet to win in 2017 and, since Allen began his massive rebuilding job at the start of December, have picked up a paltry seven out of 27 points.

“I’m disappointed with the result, like everyone else is, but we’ve got to keep digging in,” stressed McAllister.

“Having just got back, I don’t know what it’s been like for the last few weeks, but I’m told that today was an improvement – and we need to keep improving.

“I love being back here and I needed to hit the ground running and, unfortunately, that didn’t happen today. I’m not happy with the result, just like the rest of the lads, the fans and the manager aren’t.

“Outside of the football, the club is spot on, no one can question that.

“But what’s important is what goes on on the field.

“We have to start winning games.

“We’ve got Macclesfield at home on Tuesday (7.45pm) and, regardless of how it comes, we’ve got win. That’s all that matters.”

It was cruel luck on McAllister that Tranmere broke the deadlock just a minute after he had almost given Eastleigh the lead.

Keeper Scott Davies managed to keep out his header from Hakeem Odoffin’s cross and, from the very next attack, Lois Maynard set up class act Tollitt to fire the visitors in front on the hour.

'Macca' went off on 81 minutes having soldiered on with a dead leg following a collision with teammate Sam Togwell early in the game.

Five minutes later he could only watch on in despair as Tollitt’s driving run set up Norwood to finally bury his third glaring chance of the match.

“It was always going to be a tough game, but I thought we played much, much better,” said Allen.

“We stood up to them and the overall attitude and desire was much improved.

“It wasn’t the prettiest, but we had to try and change our way of playing and be difficult to beat.

“There was a much better atmosphere today and every player who played for our team gave everything they’d got and you can’t ask for any more than that.

“Everyone knows there’s a lot of work to be done here.

“Costs had to be cut, players had to be moved on and we’ve brought in younger, much cheaper players who give us fresh energy.”

Praising McAllister’s contribution, he said: “Since Darius Henderson went out of the team with a neck injury, we’ve missed that targetman-type centre forward and we’re lucky that the chairman managed to get Macca in to fill that gap.

"I was delighted with his debut and I just hope the knock on his thigh is not too bad.”

Fans are reminded that Tuesday's game against ninth-placed Macclesfield is FREE entry.

Eastleigh: Graham Stack, Hakeem Odoffin, Sam Muggleton, Ben Strevens, Ayo Obileye, Adam Dugdale, Mekhi Leacock-McLeod (Sam Matthews, 65), Sam Togwell, Scott Wilson (James Constable, 65), Craig McAllister (Chinua Cole, 81), Ross Stearn. Subs (not used): Ryan Clarke, Ben Close.

Referee: Constantine Hatzidakis.

Attendance: 2,475