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Hill of a challenge!

By Wendy Gee -

EASTLEIGH will have one fewer danger man to worry about when they welcome play-off rivals Woking to the Silverlake Stadium tomorrow.

Loan midfielder Kieran Murtagh, so instrumental in the Cards' terrific run under new boss Garry Hill, was yesterday recalled by his parent club Wycombe Wanderers.

The 22-year-old, scorer of five goals in 13 appearances for Woking, was not due to return to Adams Park for another week.

But the Antigua & Barbuda international is needed as cover for the injuries - much to the Spitfires' relief.

"Garry Hill has made some very good signings for Woking and the most influential of them was Murtagh," said Eastleigh boss Ian Baird.

"You can't take away from the fact that he'd been there for 12 league games and they'd won 11 of them."

Baird and Hill have had run-ins in the past - not least when they were managers of Havant & Waterlooville and Weymouth respectively.

Tony Taggart now an Eastleigh player, was at the centre of a row when Havant played him against his old club Weymouth and the Terras claimed they had broken a gentlemen's agreement in doing so.

Baird argued that an injury/illness crisis had forced him to field Taggart, but it was to cost the Hawks a three-point deduction - and their place in the play-offs.

Hill was appointed Woking manager in mid-January after the Cards had parted company with Baird's fellow ex-Saint Graham Baker.

Baird wouldn't deny the ex-Dagenham & Redbridge boss has "very good connections", but believes he was fortunate to take over where Baker left off.

"If I was an out of work manager I'd have snapped someone's hand off to manager Woking. It wasn't like walking into a club in trouble. He inherited a really good squad," said Baird.

"Graham Baker should never have lost his job.

"Graham did a good job last season getting Woking to the play-offs and his parting was premature.

"But Garry Hill's come in and I respect him as a manager. Whereever he's been, he's done well."

Having gone 12 league games unbeaten, fifth-placed Woking sit five points above Eastleigh having played two games more.

If the Spitfires are to reel them in, they cannot afford a repeat of the defensive horror show which led to a 4-1 collapse against Welling last week.

"We made some horrendous mistakes," said Baird. "But if I can take a positive from a negative, all the midweek results - apart from Farnborough's - have gone with us and Lewes beating Braintree on Wednesday blows the league wide open.

"We've blown the cobwebs away in training and, fingers crossed, we won't self-harm again." 

Danny Smith could feature after hamstring problems, but Brett Poate is still out and goalkeeper Gareth Barfoot has been ill.

The other doubt is on-loan striker Mark Nwokeji, who hasn't trained with his parent club AFC Wimbledon due to an ankle problem.

"Mark's loan is up tomorrow and ideally we'd like to keep him," said Baird.

"But Wimbledon's form hasn't been good lately and it wouldn't surprise me if they want him back."

Eastleigh's other loanee, midfielder Ian Herring, has had his contract terminated by Forest Green and will remain a Spitfire for the rest of the season.


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