Chippenham boss taking charge of only his sixth match in huge National League South last-day play-off decider against Hawks at Westleigh Park

Hawks’ play-off dream could be shattered by a manager who has only been in charge of his side less than a month.

By Simon Carter
Thursday, 5th May 2022, 11:07 am

Gary Horgan only returned to Chippenham Town as caretaker boss on April 13 following Mike Cook’s resignation.

Cook left the Wiltshire club after cuts to his playing budget, with Horgan - assistant to previous Bluebirds manager Mark Collier - appointed for the last six games of the regular National League South season.

Victory at Westleigh Park on Saturday will, however, extend Horgan’s tenure in charge to take in a stunning NLS play-off appearance.

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Chippenham (blue) are in with a chance of making the National League South play-offs despite their manager resigning last month due to budget cuts. Picture by Lydia Redman

Hawks only need a point from the weekend showdown to book their second successive play-off spot. As midfielder Jake McCarthy told The News this week, a top seven finish was the ‘minimum’ pre-season requirement.

It’s a totally different story for Chippenham, though, who will finish in their highest ever position in the non-league pyramid whatever the result at the weekend.

With a far inferior budget to many clubs in and around the NLS top 10 - Hawks included - the Bluebirds are shock play-off contenders indeed.

Horgan has overseen three wins, a draw and a defeat in his five games so far. And the sole loss was a 3-0 reverse at second-placed Dorking Wanderers in his opening match.

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Since then, Chippenham have beaten fifth-placed Oxford City (1-0), long-time play-off hopefuls Dulwich Hamlet (2-0) and Hungerford (3-2), all at Hardenhuish. They also led third-placed Ebbsfleet twice last Saturday in Kent before the hosts hit back for a point.

Those results indicate that Hawks certainly have a tough challenge on their hands if they are to book a play-off spot.

There are no star non-league names in the Bluebirds squad, no big signings, no 20-goal strikers.

Midfielders Luke Russe, Alex Bray and Joe Hanks have all played in the EFL while centre half Kieron Parselle was a pro at Newport County.

There is a strong Swindon Town feel to the squad, with goalkeeper Will Henry and striker Jordan Young both ex-Robins. And Horgan has two teenagers on loan from the League 2 club in Mo Dabre and Harrison Mintern.

Hawks enter the crunch game having won six and drawn one of their last seven home NLS fixtures, scoring 22 times in the process. Against that, Chippenham have won just one of their last eight away games - 1-0 at relegated Billericay - and have netted just three times in that period (the other two goals coming at Ebbsfleet).

Overall, though, the Bluebirds have scored the same amount of away league goals in 2021/22 (20) as they have conceded. Only Oxford City (19) have conceded fewer away goals in the entire division. They have kept seven away clean sheets and conceded more than two on their travels just twice (at Dartford and Dorking).

They may be surprise play-off contenders but they have scored more goals (59-58) and conceded fewer goals (50-53) than Hawks in their 39 games so far. They have also beaten Hawks already this season, 1-0 last August thanks to a goal from defender Will Richards.

Chippenham are up there for a reason and cannot be taken lightly.