PAUL McCallum’s quickfire second-half brace has strengthened Eastleigh’s belief that they can reach the Vanarama National League play-offs.

The Spitfires sit ninth, just a point shy of seventh spot, after winning this afternoon’s Hampshire derby 3-1 against struggling Aldershot Town at the Recreation Ground.

Indeed, so tight is it at the top that, after three straight wins for Ben Strevens' side, just nine points separate Easleigh from league leaders Leyton Orient.

Despite being second best for the bulk of the first half, Eastleigh – who lost striker Ben Williamson to a groin injury just ten minutes in – led 1-0 at the break courtesy of skipper DANNY HOLLANDS.

The Shots were guilty of some shabby defending as Alex Finney was dispossessed by McCallum inside the area and, the big No9 squared for Hollands to finish left-footed into the bottom corner with 42 minutes gone.

It was rough luck on the home side who might easily have led themselves had Gerry McDonagh made more of a couple of openings midway through the half.

The first was snuffed out by Alex Wynter, who had yet another solid game at the heart of the Eastleigh defence, and McDonagh somehow dragged the second wide.

Eastleigh, who had got stronger as the first half progressed, almost doubled their tally on 55 minutes when, following a mazy run by Joey Jones, Chris Zebroski played in McCallum who volleyed over.

That miss came back to haunt the Spitfires when Aldershot dragged themselves level three minutes later.

On-loan Huddersfield Town youngster Regan Booty played a defence-splitting pass to BERNARD MENSAH who raced through before slotting the ball past Luke Southwood in the visitors’ goal.

The Shots, rock-bottom of the National League form table, fancied themselves for another when John Goddard unleashed a 25-yard strike, but Southwood managed to parry the ball and Josh Hare was on hand to mop up the danger.

But any hope the home side harboured of a first win since early November was clinically snuffed out as McCALLUM claimed his 16th and 17th goals of a prolific campaign.

His first, on 70 minutes, was a tad unfortunate from a Shots’ perspective as Booty’s attempted clearance ricocheted into the striker’s path and McCallum duly slotted the ball past Will Mannion in the home goal.

Aldershot had barely had time to process the shock when the former Leyton Orient marksman punished them again, this time with a trademark glancing header from Mark Yeates’ whipped-in free-kick.

Job done, McCallum, who has been battling long-term groin troubles, was taken off for a well-deserved rest on 78 minutes and replaced by Oscar Gobern.

But the ex-Saint had to go off himself just a few minutes later, struggling with a calf injury, and Cav Miley replaced him.

Both sides had late penalty appeals turned down – sub Scott Rendell for Aldershot and Yeates for Eastleigh.

There was late danger for the Spitfires, but Goddard sent a left-foot effort wide and Rendell’s effort was cleared after Southwood had spilled Booty’s fierce, low delivery.

Eastleigh have an ideal chance to reel off a fourth straight victory next Saturday (3pm) when rock-bottom Braintree Town are the visitors.

Win that and Spitfires' fans really could be daring to dream of a special end to the season.

Eastleigh: Luke Southwood, Josh Hare, Michael Green, Andrew Boyce, Reda Johnson, Alex Wynter, Joey Jones, Danny Hollands, Paul McCallum (Oscar Gobern, 78, Cav Miley, 87), Ben Williamson (Chris Zebroski, 10), Mark Yeates. Subs (not used): Jack McKnight, Tom Bearwish.

Referee: Chris Pollard.

Attendance: 2,096.