Of all the stories that emerged from the FA Cup third round, Eastleigh coming close to eliminating four-time winners Bolton Wanderers was surely the pick of the bunch.
The National League promotion hopefuls led their financially-stricken Championship opponents 1-0 with three minutes remaining, only for Darren Pratley to equalise and take the tie back to the Macron Stadium for a replay.
“It’s a great place to be right now, there are a lot of happy faces around the club”
Playing a big part in Eastleigh’s fine display in classic Cup conditions (wet and very muddy) was midfielder Jai Reason, whose performance attracted plenty of post-match plaudits.
In fact the 26-year-old has been garnering attention from Football League outfits for the past few seasons, but claims to take it all in his stride.
“It’s always nice to hear, but a lot of the time it’s just rumours, although you have to be doing something right,” he told me.
“I’ll just keep my head down and keep working hard, and we’ll see whatever comes from it, but I won’t let it [the attention] distract me.”
Reason, who began his playing career at Ipswich Town, admits that promotion from the fifth tier of English football is Eastleigh’s main aim this season.
“I’ve been working for six or seven years now to work my way back. Hopefully we can make Eastleigh a Football League side”
They currently sit in fifth, holding off the fending off the likes of Dover and Macclesfield in the hotly-contested play-off positions.
“[Promotion would be] Massive,” Reason agreed. “That’s what we want, that’s what the chairman wants. He’s put all of his money into the club and that’s what we’re all going towards.
“It’s a great place to be right now, there are a lot of happy faces around the club and it’s just great to be around.”
Reason has plenty of incentive to help take the Spitfires up, after a career in the lower leagues including spells at Cambridge, Crawley and Braintree, joining Eastleigh in summer 2012.
“I’m fully focused [on the Football League], ever since I left Cambridge, I’ve wanted to get back in. I’ve been working for six or seven years now to work my way back. Hopefully we can go up and make Eastleigh a Football League side.”
But it’s hard to focus on the league when a FA Cup replay awaits, and Reason believes Eastleigh can head to struggling Bolton with plenty of confidence.
After all, it was his pressure that created his team’s goal in the first match when Dorian Dervite turned the ball into his own net.
“It will be tough. Obviously they’re in a bit of trouble at the moment but at the end of the day, they’re all Championship players and it will be difficult, especially at their place.
“But we’ve taken a lot of encouragement after our performance last week, and we’ll give them a good game. With a little bit of luck and the magic of the FA Cup we might just get the win, you never know in football.”
“It really depends on the frame of mind that the [Bolton] players are in. What I do know is that they’re a Championship side for a reason and we have to respect that. It will certainly be tough but I’m looking forward to it.”
The thought of hosting Leeds United in the fourth round will surely focus the minds of both teams, and arguably Bolton – teetering on the brink with debts of more than £170m – need the revenue even more than Eastleigh.
“If we do get past Bolton we have Leeds at home which will be another packed stadium and again another Championship side who are very good,” Reason added.
“Their stories definitely keep the fire burning in my stomach to keep striving on towards my goals”
“We’ll be very privileged to get there against a side with so much history and who are one of the biggest clubs in the country.”
If Eastleigh do get past Bolton, Reason could well be on the scoresheet. He currently has four goals and eight assists to his name in this campaign and is hungry for more. “I’m on target for my assists and I’m hoping to hit double figures for my goals come the end of the season.”
He takes inspiration from the likes of Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin as he battles to return to the Football League with the Hampshire club.
“You look at the talents of these players and you see what they’ve been through and accomplished, coming from non-league.Their stories definitely keep the fire burning in my stomach to keep on training and striving on towards my goals.”