Doswell: ‘Inexcusable’ first half display led to Hawks’ home loss to Oxford City

Paul Doswell blamed an ‘inexcusable’ first half display as Hawks dropped points against Oxford City for the first time in their history.

Sunday, 12th September 2021, 2:52 pm
Former Hawk Joe Iaciofano, right, celebrates putting Oxford City 2-0 ahead at Westleigh Park. Picture: Dave Haines. (Photo credit should read Picture/s by Dave Haines)

Having won the previous six league meetings between the sides at sixth tier level, Hawks were beaten 2-1 at Westleigh Park.

They trailed 2-0 at half-time - to goals from ex-Hawks pair Harvey Bradbury and Joe Iaciofano - and though were vastly improved after the restart, could only manage a solitary consolation from former Oxford skipper Joe Oastler

Doswell was at a loss to explain how a side that had started so well in the previous week’s National League South victory at Ebbsfleet - two goals in the opening five minutes - could be so bad in front of their own supporters.

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Hawks striker Scott Rendell tries to block Oxford City keeper Ben Dudzinski from gaining possession. Picture by Dave Haines.

‘We were very, very poor in the first half and that cost us the game, he declared.

‘We could have been four or 5-0 down at half-time - we were out-run, out-fought and out-thought. It was inexcusable to be honest.

‘Alan Ball used to say that now and again as a manager your team would dish up a performance that in no way you could see coming. This was one of those.

‘We knew Oxford would be busy, very energetic, they like to play one-twos - but defensively we didn’t mark tightly, the midfield was getting run all over the place, we weren’t tracking their runs - if it wasn’t for Ross Worner we’d have been three or four down.

Manny Adebowale's header is about to be cleared off the line, but Joe Oastler forced home the rebound. Picture by Dave Haines.

‘There were stern words at half-time. We said to the players it was about pride - their families were watching, the supporters were watching. Why did it take 45 minutes for the players to show up?

‘In the second half it was more like us - we had more energy, more desire. But the players don’t get out of jail with me for their second half performance. I can’t understand why we didn’t start like that.

‘Yes, Oxford were excellent in the first half but in the second half we made them look average

‘I’m not normally one to criticise the players, but the first half was possibly one of the worst performances I’ve seen in my time here. They should be taking a look at themselves for a change.

Hawks striker Alex Wall's shot is blocked by an Oxford defender. Picture by Dave Haines.

‘If I’m being honest, I’d have to ask ‘did we really deserve anything today?’

Doswell continued: ‘You saw how Oxford celebrated their goals and their win, and rightly so. I’ve told the players time and time again that teams will come here and raise their game by five or 10 per cent and they have to match that. Normally we do.’

Hawks dominated the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Before Oastler’s goal, Paul Rooney’s shot low shot had rebounded off a post with Billy Clifford firing the rebound against the crossbar.

After the goal, though, the best chances fell to sub Alex Wall - a shot that was blocked, after he had delayed pulling the trigger, and a header straight at keeper Ben Dudzinski, once a Westleigh Park loanee.

Hawks keeper Ross Worner goes up for a stoppage time corner towards the end of the home loss to Oxford. Picture by Dave Haines.

Doswell said the head of steam Hawks had built up was ‘cleverly’ negated by the visitors.

‘Oxford managed the game very well. They kicked the ball away six or seven times and the ref did nothing, their players went down a few times,’ Doswell explained. ‘I’m not knocking them, they were very clever in their gamesmanship.

‘What they did was take away the momentum we had built up. That (momentum) was never going to last for ever and we needed to get another goal.’

Doswell had made just one change to the starting XI that had won so impressively at Ebbsfleet, dropping Clifford to the bench and recalling former Oxford City favourite James Roberts.

Armed with the glorious benefit of hindsight, it seemed a mistake - especially when Clifford was introduced after just 41 minutes in a tactical change with saw Sam Magri sacrificed, Rooney drop from midfield into a central back three and Clifford take on a link role between defence and attack.

That was a role totally lacking prior to his arrival, with Hawks regularly passing it around at the back, due to a high Oxford press, only to then launch hopeful long balls which were easily repelled.

With Clifford on the pitch, Hawks were a changed side; his introduction certainly allowed right wing-back Josh Passley to play a big bigger role in the home side’s attacks.

Explaining the decision to drop Clifford, Doswell said: ‘We wanted to play three up top at home and James was unlucky to be on the bench at Ebbsfleet.

‘James is capable of scoring 15/20 goals a season, that’s why we’ve brought him in.

‘Mags (Magri) came off - he hasn’t played much this season, he became a dad in the week … but I could have taken any of nine players off.

‘Billy came on and he was clearly our best player.’

Hawks now have a clear week to prepare for next Saturday’s FA Cup second qualifying round tie at home to one division lower Beaconsfield Town.

A week later, on September 25, Hawks - who only dropped one place to fifth in the NL South table, Oxford leapfrogging them - travel to St Albans.

‘Without being too dramatic about it, we’ve got two defining weeks coming up,’ said Doswell.

‘The FA Cup is very important to this club - it’s important to all non-league clubs - and then we’ve got a league game at St Albans.

‘If we can nick a win there we’ll have 12 points after six games and that would be an unbelievable total.

‘I’d have been happy with 10 points from those six games as we’ve played Hampton, Ebbsfleet, Oxford - all teams that were in the top group last season.

‘There’s no need to panic yet, but if we don’t get two good results in those games there will be dark clouds hanging over the changing room.’