WITH eleven new players in the squad, Eastleigh will have a very different look about them when they kick off the new Vanarama National League season at home to Guiseley tomorrow (Saturday, 3pm).
Competition for places will be keener than ever but, in the eyes of two of last season’s surviving players, the changes are all for the better.
Joe Partington, appointed skipper for upcoming campaign, and long-serving playmaker Jai Reason reckon the Spitfires’ hunger for success has never been greater.
Fareham-based right-back Partington, who has just penned a new two-year contract at the Silverlake, said: “I’m real happy to sign a new deal. I’ve got a great relationship with the manager, chairman, the boys and the fans, so it’s a no-brainer really.
“There’s a real ambition and hunger about the team now. It would be unfair to say it wasn’t there for the last couple of years, but that hunger, ambition and team spirit is really noticeable now.
“It’s not only been on show in the friendlies, but in training and behind the scenes.”
“With those bright players and a few of the experienced lads who’ve been here a while, we’ve got a really good mix.”
Among the wealth of exciting, young talent assembled by team boss Chris Todd are French forward Mikael Mandron, who has spent the last five years at Sunderland, and fellow 21-year-old Ayo Obileye, a giant of centre-back schooled at Chelsea, Leyton Orient, Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton and Dagenham & Redbridge.
“Obileye’s an absolute giant,” marvelled Reason. “I spoke to one of the Northampton strikers (before last Saturday’s 4-1 friendly win) and he didn’t want to see Ayo on the pitch. Even his presence scares players!
“As for Mika, he works really hard on his game and is always out practising his shooting.
“It was good for him to get a couple of goals against Northampton. We’re scoring more as a team now.
“We’ve been getting goals throughout pre-season and the last time we really did that was the year we won the Conference South.
“Beating Northampton was great, but we’ve got to make sure we take that into the first league game.”
With a quality batch of new signings on board and an excellent pre-season behind them, there is an air of optimism blowing through Eastleigh.
But, asked to predict where they might finish this season, Reason simply smiled: “Promotion is the aim.
“The atmosphere in the dressing room was calm and humble (after the Northampton win). No one’s getting carried away.”
Manager Todd, who this week added Northampton defender Ryan Cresswell and Yeovil striker Ryan Bird, to his impressive band of summer signings, also spoke of the hunger within his squad.
“Mikael Mandron has been at a Premier League club and he wants to get back there and Scott Wilson (a striker signed from Weston-super-Mare) wants to develop and become a player.”
It is likely that Luke Coulson will remain sidelined tomorrow with an ankle injury.
Left-back Dan Harding, meanwhile, has left Eastleigh by mutual consent. The experienced ex-Saint made 39 appearances for the Spitfires before being transfer-listed at the end of last season.