ON THE face of it, it was this crushing defeat that cost Eastleigh their chance of reaching the promised land of the Blue Square Premier.

But, as he surveyed the wreckage after the Spitfires’ play-off bid came crashing down at The Silverlake Stadium, manager Ian Baird concluded that the damage to their promotion hopes was largely done before a ball had even been kicked in their second leg against Hayes & Yeading.

For Baird, the first missed opportunity actually came when Eastleigh were stunned 1-0 at already relegated Bognor Regis in their third to last game of the season.

That defeat all but ended their hopes of catching eventual champions AFC Wimbledon and securing automatic promotion.

There was still, though, a chance for Eastleigh to make amends via the play-offs.

And it looked like they had taken an important step towards that when they established a 4-2 lead in the tie after the first leg at Hayes in midweek.

Yes, Eastleigh squandered opportunities to secure an even bigger lead at Church Road – they were 4-0 up at one stage having also missed a spot-kick.

But immediately after the game they were easy to forgive and forget, given the Spitfires’ impressive display.

A few days later, though, just how costly they were was highlighted.

With no more second chances left, Eastleigh were unable to press home their advantage in the second leg.

And Hayes produced a 4-0 second leg win that few would have predicted after the first meeting, winning 6-4 on aggregate, to deny Eastleigh the chance to end their season – which despite this cruel finish was still a magnificent one as they secured their highest ever league finish – with promotion.

As he reflected on what might have been, an understandably deflated Baird said: “Everybody will say that we have had a tremendous season and that we have overachieved.

“But we know that we have let: (a) the league title slip at Bognor and, (b), blown the opportunity to get to the final.

“Today we had the chance to get to the final totally and utterly in our hands.

“But this game should have been out of sight on Tuesday night."

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