Glad it's all over!
By Wendy Gee -
EASTLEIGH boss Ian Baird doesn't mind admitting he will be glad to see the back of the 2011/12 season.
In all his time as a manager he has never experienced a rollercoaster ride quite like it.
When the season kicked off in August, the Stoneham Lane club had taken a cost-cutting change of direction, parting company with several core senior players and opting to run with a mix of youth and experience as part of a player development scheme.
Baird's brief then was to ensure Blue Square Bet survival - and anything more would have been a bonus. But the picture changed dramatically just priot to Christmas when Bridle Insurance burst onto the scene with ambitious plans to turn Eastleigh into a Football League club.
Baird was furnished with funds to significantly strengthen the playing personnel and start building a squad capable of challenging for promotion to the Conference National - if not this season, then next.
Money was released to draft in quality additions like Damian Scannell, Bradley Bubb and Daryl McMahon and predictably, expectations soared.
But Baird said all along that regrouping for a play-off push mid-season would be a tall order - and so it has proved.
Results have been consistently inconsistent with January's 4-0 high against Sutton United followed by an embarrassing 6-1 low at Boreham Wood in March. And, football being football, it's invariably the manager who takes flak when things go wrong.
Some supporters have called for Baird's head, questioning his style of play. There have even been rumours on the fans' forum about possible replacements. Throw in some majot back-stage changes - notably the departures of director of football Dave Malone and chairman Paul Murray - and it's fair to say Baird has had more drama to contend with than your average Conference South manager. Small wonder then that the ex-Saints and Leeds United striker can't wait to draw a line under 2011/12 and get on with planning for next season.
"This has probably been the most difficult season I've had," he admitted. There have been so many ups and downs and 'he said, she said' situations going on. It's been quite draining really. At the start of the season we had one remit and we were getting things on an even keel. Then the new people came in with an influx of money and players and we had to try to bed it in and be successful.
"Certain objectives were set, some of which were unrealistic, and the criticism has been difficult to deal with," he confessed.
"As a manager, you know you are going to be criticised, but some of it has felt unjust because people don't know what's going on at the club or what's gone on in the past.
"Expectations have been unrealistic, but somehow we seem to have got through it.
"We've got the Hampshire Senior Cup final at St Mary;s to look forward to now (versus AFC Totton on May 16) and hopefully we can make that a good night for the fans."