FA Cup: Eastleigh prepare for first ever FA Cup third-round game

By Adam WilliamsBBC Sport
FA Cup fever grips minnows Eastleigh

On 16 April, 2011, the worlds of Eastleigh FC and Bolton Wanderers were a long way apart.

While Premier League Bolton were preparing for an FA Cup semi-final, a crowd of 583 watched Eastleigh lose 3-0 at home to Ebbsfleet in the Conference South.

A day later, more than 75,000 fans saw Bolton play Stoke at Wembley - although Wanderers were on the end of a 5-0 thumping.

Just under five years on, the fortunes of the two clubs appear to be going in different directions as they prepare to meet on Saturday.

Eastleigh, now fourth in the National League, are into the third round of the FA Cup for the first time in their 70-year history.

They host a Bolton side rock bottom of the Championship and £172.9m in debt.

A sell-out crowd of more then 5,000 is expected at the Silverlake Stadium, just a short walk from Southampton Airport, to watch the only non-league side left in the competition.

It's all a far cry for the club from being knocked out at the third qualifying round stage by Gloucester City just three seasons ago.

Chris Todd: Meet Eastleigh's multi-talented manager

Plotting this season's course has been the Spitfires' colourful manager Chris Todd.

The former Swansea, Torquay and Exeter defender has taken the semi-professional club to the same round as the teams from the top two divisions while also revealing his skills as a singer, actor and author.

Todd, who was only handed the job permanently back in October, admits a win against Bolton would be "breathtaking".

"It would be everything for what we're trying to achieve as a football club," he said.

"It would be more history and a momentous occasion for everyone involved, who works day-in, day-out to make this club successful."

Eastleigh team photo before Bolton FA Cup tie
Eastleigh are in the FA Cup third round for the first time in their history

Troubled Trotters still 'tough test'

Bolton's off-field problems surrounding their financial future have been well-documented, alongside their perilous position at the foot of the Championship.

But midfielder Ben Strevens, who scored the winning penalty in Eastleigh's first-round victory at Crewe, and assisted the decisive second goal against second-round opponents Stourbridge, is expecting a tricky test.

"It doesn't matter that Bolton are down the bottom of the league," the 35-year-old told BBC South Today.

"It's sad what's going on there off the field, but the fans will be fully behind them and wanting to do well in the cup.

"We're under no illusions, it's going to be a tough game."

Watching the skies

Perhaps the toughest challenge for Eastleigh will come before a ball is even kicked.

With a record crowd expected, work on an unprecedented scale has been going on to get the ground ready to host temporary broadcasting facilities and equipment as well as additional catering outlets.

Surface water around Eastleigh's Silverlake Stadium
Groundstaff at Eastleigh will have a close eye on the weather before Bolton arrive

Chief executive Mark Jewell will have one eye on the weather and the other on the pitch after having to postpone their National League game against Bromley last Saturday.

"As long as we don't have biblical proportions of rain before Saturday, we should be OK," he said.

"The pitch will hopefully get some drying time and then from Thursday, we'll get the covers on.

"Off the field, it's been quite hectic. We've had crowds of 4,000-plus here before, but a sell-out is a first.

"We're using it as a learning curve for when we hopefully go on to bigger and better things in the future."

Saturday's Football Focus is scheduled to be broadcast live from Eastleigh at 12:10-13:00 on BBC One.