The Hawks made a perfect start to the festive season with a hard-fought and well-deserved 2-1 win over Tonbridge Angels at the Longmead Stadium.
It was a welcolme three points for the visitors ahead of their block-busting double-header against local rivals Eastleigh in the next fortnight.
Steve Ramsey gave the Hawks an early lead only to see it cancelled out in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Hawks weathered a brief shaky spell after that before regaining their composure and for once manager Shaun Gale had players on the substitutes’ bench who can make a difference.
He brought on Craig Braham-Barrett and striker Ollie Palmer, and these two combined to grab the all-important winning goal ten minutes from time.
‘I thought it was a fantastic performance,’ Gale said.
‘It is a tough place to come and Tonbridge are a good side with the league’s leading goalscorer in their ranks.
‘We changed the way we played away from home having just one striker and it paid off.
‘There were little things we could have done better, but in the opening 45 minutes we stifled them in midfield.
‘The players have worked their socks off and done everything we have asked of them.
‘We could have been two or three up by the break.’
The Hawks were boosted by an early breakthrough after good approach work from Chris Arthur – back from Northampton – and Bobby Hopkinson, who was back from his broken ankle.
The two combined to put Steve Ramsey free down the right channel and the midfielder buried his low shot into the far corner.
The well-organised Hawks defence comfortably contained the hosts in the first half.
That was apart from just before the break when full-back Danny Walder crashed a shot against the crossbar.
Within three minutes of the re-start, though, the Angels were level after the Hawks squandered chances to clear their lines.
‘It was disappointing to concede a goal straight after half-time after impressing upon the players the importance of starting the second half on the front foot,’ said Gale.
‘We had the ball three times and gave it away each time, which led to them getting the corner from which they scored.
‘But we didn’t panic, made a couple of changes and continued to do what we had been doing well.
‘The difference was having players to bring on who can change games.
‘It was probably the strongest bench we have had all season.’
Ten minutes from time, Braham-Barrett produced an excellent cross from the right and the unmarked Palmer stooped to head in at the far post.
‘We have a big period coming up,’ said Gale.
‘It was important for us to start the Christmas period correctly.
‘The players to their credit are buying into everything we are doing.
‘They have ignored their critics and others trying to distract them outside
‘When we can get the right people out on the pitch, we have half a chance.’
Hawks: Beazley 7, Newton 8, Arthur 8, Hinshelwood 7, Holland 8, Pearce 8, Igoe 7 (Ryan; 87 min), Ramsey 8, Jones 8 (Palmer 7; 73 min), Hopkinson 7 (Braham-Barrett 8; 53 min), Cashman 7.