The Hawks’ promotion dreams are hanging by a thread after they went down to a 2-0 home defeat in the first leg of their Vanarama Conference South play-off clash with Boreham Wood.
First-half goals from Junior Morais and Graeme Montgomery condemned Lee Bradbury’s side to defeat, with the visitors much the better side on the night and deserved winners.
With Ed Harris and Brian Stock back in the ranks after suspension for the return leg on Saturday, perhaps there is still hope as those two were badly missed.
But even the most optimistic Hawks fan will find it hard to make a case for turning the tie around on the evidence of this display.
Boss Bradbury made all the right noises in his post-match briefings to the media that the tie could still be salvaged.
He has been around the football block long enough to have seen plenty of games turn on their head and he’s never been the type of bloke to throw in the towel on a seemingly lost cause.
In his defence, he has recent results on his side with Hawks having won both league meetings 2-1 against the same opposition this season.
But it will need to be even better than that on Saturday to pull this one out of the fire.
Frankly, it’s hard not to be pessimistic.
It was the visitors who threatened inside the first minute as Vanarama Conference South top goalscorer Lee Angol saw his shot deflected behind, although the assistant’s flag was raised.
But that early warning was seemingly ignored as Boreham Wood snatched the lead inside just three minutes.
With Hawks unable to get close enough to get a tackle in, Angol’s clever flick found Morais, who hammered in a shot from the edge of the box that beat Ryan Young at his near post.
While the shot carried plenty of venom, the Hawks keeper is rarely beaten in those situations and was unable to get more than a hand to it as it flashed past him.
The awful start left Hawks looking somewhat shell-shocked but they briefly rallied as Scott Donnelly’s clipped pass found Bradley Bubb who hooked back from the by-line as a Boreham Wood defender just got back to put the ball behind.
But things almost went from bad to worse for the home side inside 12 minutes when Brian Dutton was fortunate to only be shown a yellow card after hauling back Angol as the striker bore down on goal.
As Hawks fans held their breath waiting for a red card and a penalty, referee Alan Young gave the defender the benefit of the doubt, presumably seeing keeper Young racing off his line and judging that the offence had occurred a matter of inches outside the box.
What is certain is that if the incident had happened at the other end, the home fans would have been baying for a red card and a spot-kick with the defender seemingly the last man.
Hawks went close to finding an equaliser when Donnelly’s long-range strike through a crowd of bodies left the goalkeeper rooted to the spot and puffing his cheeks with relief to see it whistle past his upright.
But it was Boreham Wood looking the more likely to extend their lead as the half-hour mark approached with the dangerous Angol twice unable to take decent opportunities, dragging one effort wide and then failing to make the right connection to Ricky Shakes’ low cross to allow Young to make an easy save.
Hawks then responded with their best spell of the half and could have been back on level terms.
Harry Cornick’s fantastic mazy run saw him cut in from the left past several defenders and get his shot away, only for James Russell to make a decent stop, with JJ Hooper then flagged offside as he also saw his attempt from the rebound saved.
It seemed to give Bradbury’s side some extra belief and Bubb’s enterprising run from the halfway line might have grabbed an equaliser if he had been able to find the finish to dink over the advancing goalkeeper, who produced a smart block to deny him.
But Hawks’ promotion hopes were dealt a major body blow six minutes before the break when Boreham Wood made it 2-0 with Graeme Montgomery given far too much room to latch on to a lay-off and drill a confident shot past a helpless Young.
It then meant Boreham Wood were quite content to stay compact, soak up any pressure coming their way and play on the counter-attack in the second half.
Morais almost made the most of a Warren Cummings slip on the halfway line, running at the last defender before Hawks got back to get the ball away.
But there was precious little threat at the other end with Donnelly wasting a good opportunity as he fired a free-kick way over the crossbar from a prime position on the edge of the box.
The Boreham Wood front two were still causing problems for the Hawks defence with their workrate and pace, while Bradbury opted to make a change with 16 minutes left as Bubb departed to make way for Shamir Mullings.
Although Hawks were pinning their hopes on finding some kind of foothold in the contest, the visitors again appeared to be the more likely to increase their lead as Ben Nunn’s curler drifted over the crossbar as he seized on a loose pass from Josh Carmichael.
With six minutes remaining, Mullings was close to giving his side hope, stealing in at the far post but he was inches away from connecting with Cornick’s cross as the ball eventually went harmlessly through to the keeper.
But the telling fact was that the Boreham Wood goalkeeper hardly had a save of any note to make in the second half.
On the night, Boreham Wood were simply the better side all over the pitch.
And unless there is a huge change of fortunes and performance levels at Meadow Park in Hertfordshire on Saturday, Hawks will be playing in Vanarama Conference South again next season.