Latics are set to make consecutive league trips this weekend when they travel to the Silverlake Stadium to face Eastleigh in the National League.
Icy conditions in midweek saw Latics’ opportunity to bounce back quickly from their exit from the FA Trophy vanish, with their scheduled clash with Boreham Wood pushed back for the second time.
A surprise 2-1 defeat at Boundary Park at the hands of Hendon FC last weekend saw Latics’ chance for a domestic trophy wane, though it has redirected full attention onto National League football for the remaining months of the season.
Now two weeks meanwhile since their 1-0 win at Dorking Wanderers in their last league fixture, boss Micky Mellon will play an important role to get his men refocused.
Whilst the stakes remain the same for Mellon and his side, where a win could push Latics into the top five, his squad has seen an exciting new addition. Mellon has found his man at full-back, Sai Sachdev could be set to make his debut this weekend after his loan move from Sheffield United.
Eastleigh’s steady progress meanwhile this season has placed the Spitfires in an intriguing position in the National League with 19 games left to play, in which they cannot be counted out of the playoff picture.
The Spitfires are a part of a group of eight sides that are within reach of that final playoff berth, separated by just ten points with still so much football to be played.
Their most recent venture meanwhile outside of the National League saw their impressive FA Cup run come to an end following a 3-1 defeat to League Two side Newport County, who head on to face English giants Manchester United in the fourth round.
It was an admirable run which saw the Spitfires beat Dover to qualify, before cruising past Boreham, then thanks to the ever-reliable Paul McCallum’s late stab knock off League One outfit Reading.
Despite that stretch, Eastleigh are now without a win in four at home and have been at the Silverlake Stadium in four of their last six in all competitions, winning just once.
The meeting with Latics will be a third consecutive at home, and despite their poor general form on their turf the Spitfires have lost just once in their last five league outings there, though improvements will be needed to beat an inform Latics side to avoid a third successive home defeat for the first time since the 2021/22 campaign.
Despite their many threats, there is no doubt the Spitfires currently hold the prolific marksman in the National League in Paul McCallum, who is showing no signs of slowing down or letting up.
22 strikes in 21 appearances not only puts him at the top of the scoring charts, but in minutes per goal also in which McCallum has found the net on average every 83 minutes.
He has so often been the man for the big occasion for Eastleigh, whether it be his brace against Reading in the second round of the FA Cup or his double in the important 2-1 win over Boreham in November.
And whilst his numbers will make the headlines, and rightly so, little has been said about what makes him so efficient and effective at the top of the pitch for the Spitfires. Whether it be his movement, anticipation or positioning, McCallum seems to have it all.
His razor-sharp instincts in the box may top it all. His prodded effort in injury time against Reading, or his superb snap volley at Aldershot Town are significant reminders that McCallum cannot be given a whiff at goal as when he does, it has proven costly.
In the dugout
Richard Hill has taken on a multi-purpose role at the Silverlake Stadium this season, picking up the reigns from former boss Lee Bradbury whose time ran out after a winless first five games of the campaign.
Initially as caretaker manager, Hill steadied the ship and notched three wins in seven, whilst his exploits since his permanent appointment have placed the Spitfires right back into playoff contention.
The club now sit just four points adrift of those coveted spots after stable but consistent progress in the 19 fixtures under Hill’s guidance, though this season has seen a continuation of a trend of inconsistency as a club in recent years.
It has seen a constant shift to opposite ends of the National League table, like in 17/18 where the club finished just seven points clear of the drop zone before shooting up into the playoff spots the season following.
Their appearance in the 18/19 playoffs remains their last, and luckily for the Eastleigh faithful it looks as though the Spitfires are right back in the hunt this season. A run of form at the right time could be all it takes to secure a highly competitive spot in this year’s playoffs.
The fixture is set to kick off at 15:00pm at the Silverlake Stadium on Saturday 20th January 2024.
The referee is Callum Walchester, alongside assistants Lewis Mansfield-King and Luis Martin. The fourth official is set to be Martin Bloor.
Match coverage and information
Live audio commentary is available on Latics Player, guiding you through the match.
Alternatively, supporters can also follow the game with live updates on the club's official Twitter account: @OfficialOAFC
As this game is being played within the blocked broadcast hours stipulated by UEFA, live streaming will not be available through National League TV for supporters in the UK. The game will be available overseas.
As always, we will endeavour to ensure confirmation of the line-up is published as soon as possible.
However, supporters should note that team sheets in the National League are exchanged 15 minutes later than in the EFL and as a result, the line-up is likely to be published slightly later than in previous seasons.