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Baird gutted to see Hawks lose...

By Wendy Gee -

IAN Baird admits that for the first time since leaving Havant & Waterlooville he was disappointed to see them lose on Monday night.

The Eastleigh boss, who controversially swapped Havant's Westleigh Park for the Silverlake Stadium three-and-a-half years ago, was praying his old club would stop Blue Square Bet South leaders Braintree Town in their tracks.

But although the Hawks led the Essex table toppers for almost 70 minutes after Jon McDonald had headed them one up early on, Braintree hit back with two goals in the last 20 minutes to nick a tight match 2-1.

With ten games to go, it leaves The Iron seven points clear at the top, with the seven chasing teams - Ebbsfleet, Farnborough, Woking, Chelmsford, Welling, Eastleigh and Dover - seemingly battling it out for the four play-off spots.

Baird, whose Spitfires side face another colossal home test against Welling tomorrow, said: "Speaking to Daishy (Liam Daish) at Ebbsfleet and knowing what Steve King is like at Farnborough, they will think they can catch Braintree.

"But the result Braintree had at Havant the other night went against everyone.

"I was disappointed by it. It's the only time since I left Havant that I've ever wanted them to win.

"You'd have to say now that the title is Braintree's to lose.

"The you've got seven of us fighting it out for second to fifth places."

Tomorrow's Welling visit kicks off another key run of fixtures for Eastligh against their play-off rivals.

Next Saturday they are at the Silverlake Stadium again, this time against a Woking side who catapulted up to fourth with a 2-1 home win over Hampton & Richmond on Tuesday.

Then the following Tuesday (March 29) they come face to face with Welling again at the south-east Londoners' Park View Road home.

"I'm not going to talk about Woking or the Welling away game, it's all about focusing on tomorrow and taking one game at a time," said Baird, whose seventh-placed side are locked on 57 points with sixth-placed Welling following a solid 0-0 stalemate at Dartford on Tuesday.

"Since Christmas every game has been important and, the nearer you get to the finishing line, the more critical each game becomes - especially when you're playing opposition in and around you," Baird added.

"But I'm very, very confident in our lads. They've done brilliantly since the beginning of December, only losing three league games, and they've bounced back really well from the disappointment of back-to-back defeats by Braintree and Dover.

"We've got plenty of confidence at the moment, that's for sure, but we know we're up against a good footballing side in Welling.

"We've had them watched and they're very capable.

"They've been really consistent and what people forget is that they've had five points deducted (for a breach of competition rules). If it wasn't for that, they'd be right up there."

Eastleigh lose Brett Poate (hamstring) tomorrow, while on-loan AFC Wimbledon striker Mark Nwokeji is, in Baird's words, "99.9 per cent out with an ankle problem."

Danny Smith (hamstring) is still sidelined, but defender Warren Goodhind is fit again and there is a strong chance midfielder Anthony Riviere (groin) will return.

Baird is trying to extend Nwokeji's loan as well as midfielder Ian Herring's from Forest Green Rovers. "They've done well," said the boss. "They're two good lads who have mixed in well with the others."

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