Never mind the play-offs, Eastleigh must now be considered as genuine contenders for the Blue Square South title after completing a magnificent season’s double over leaders AFC Wimbledon in front of a record Silverlake Stadium crowd of 2,283.

But irrespective of whether promotion comes their way this season, the Spitfires’ new-found stability has assured them of one thing – that Ian Baird is the man to lead them forward for the foreseeable future ... and beyond.

The ex-Saints and Leeds United striker is already signed up to the Stoneham Lane club until October of next year and will shortly extend that deal to October 2011.

Despite working with a much-reduced budget, Baird has brilliantly steered a smaller but, arguably, happier squad into the thick of the play-offs.

And, with an impressive record of eight wins, two draws and one defeat from their last 11 league outings, their momentum could yet carry them past the stuttering Dons and second-placed Hampton & Richmond into top spot.

“If there’s one lesson we’ve learned at this club, almost by default, this season, it’s the importance of stability,” said director of football David Malone.

“We’ve had a rollercoaster five or six years with change after change and sometimes it’s been change for change’s sake.

“What we really want now is to build on the stability we’ve had this season - and Bairdy fits the bill.

“He’s got that mix of Football League experience that commands respect from quality players while, at the same time, he understands the psyche of the non-League game.

“Extending his contract isn’t just a fair-weather decision because results are going our way. We want Bairdy in charge irrespective of whether we go up or not.”

In Malone’s opinion, it was the qualities that Baird has passed on to his players that proved the difference between Eastleigh and Wimbledon.

While the south Londoners allowed themselves to be distracted by Tom Jordan’s 61st-minute opener, which looked suspiciously like handball, the Spitfires dug deep into their reserves of character to pull off a 2-1 result that had looked most unlikely in a Dons-dominated first half.

“Everyone’s digging in and showing huge resilience and that’s exactly what Bairdy was like as a player and still is as a manager,” said Malone.

“Even if it was handball by Tom Jordan, the laws of football dictate that you dust yourselves down and just get on with it when a decision goes against you.

“Wimbledon are too used to having things their own way and I think they’d struggle at a higher level because they don’t seem to have a great deal of resilience when things go against them. It’s disappointing that some of their representatives didn’t accept defeat with good grace.”

Eastleigh went out with a game plan of letting Wimbledon have a lot of the ball in the first half and trying to make them go long.

It could have backfired on them with on-loan Ebbsfleet striker Kezie Ibe particularly lively on his full debut in place Danny Kedwell, who took a knock on his ankle the previous week.

The Dons’ best chance, however, belonged to their 33-goal top scorer Jon Main, who couldn’t keep his shot down when Jay Conroy’s deep cross found him free in front of goal with 18 minutes gone.

And thanks to Luke Byles brilliantly dispossessing Ibe in full flight on 36 minutes, it was job done for Eastleigh who, with a 0-0 half-time scoreline in the bag, emerged a totally different side after the break.

Pressing higher up the pitch, they took the game to Wimbledon and had three good chances in the first four minutes of the second half – the highlight being Jonny Dixon’s exquisite chip which back-pedalling former Eastleigh keeper James Pullen just managed to push over.

The breakthrough finally came just after the hour when Tony Taggart’s in-swinging corner was controversially bundled in by Jordan, who said afterwards: “It brushed off my head, rolled onto my shoulder and went in.”

That explanation cut no ice with furious Dons’ boss Terry Brown who described the award of the goal as “bizarre” and claimed video evidence had shown a clear punch..

Bristol referee Stephen Robbins was not around for any post-match remonstations, however, having bowed out unwell in the 75th minute, by which time Pullen had pulled off a great double save, stopping Ashley Carew’s piledriver with his chest and then blocking Taggart’s follow-up.

The referee’s departure caused a 15-minute hold-up while a volunteer was found to run the line in place of referee’s assistant Mike Halford, who moved into the middle.

Wimbledon’s Dennis Lowndes eventually stepped in and, almost immediately, Eastleigh struck again when nice work by Carew on the left set up on-loan Brighton striker Dixon to smash home from close range with 90 minutes on clock.

In reality, though, there were 12 minutes of normal time remaining – plus stoppages – and it seemed like an eternity for nail-biting Eastleigh fans once sub Elliott Godfrey had brilliantly blasted his side back into the game with a full-blooded volley.

Eastleigh’s defence had to stand strong as a succession of corners and free kicks rained in and hearts were in home mouths in the dying seconds when Spitfires keeper Jason Matthews pulled off a fine fingertip save to keep out Ibe’s header.

With Wimbledon still fuming about the ‘hand of Jord’ goal at the final whistle, defender Alan Inns was sent off for arguing with officials.

But it was all in vain for the Dons, who have won just one of their last six games, leaving the fight for top spot wide open.

For more non-league, including why Eastleigh boss Ian Baird took a leaf out of Arsene Wenger's book, don't miss today's Daily Echo.