Hawks 1 Oxford City 2 – Iaciofano ends near year-long league goal drought against former club on Westleigh Park return
It was a moment of almost sheer inevitability, and it eventually condemned Hawks to a first home National League South loss of 2021/22.
Turn the clock back to last October and striker Joe Iaciofano struck twice on his league debut for new club Hawks in a 2-2 home draw with Maidstone.
Having been a prolific scorer in the sixth tier the previous season for St Albans, it seemed as if the striker was set for another good campaign.
As it was, he never scored another league goal for Hawks prior to moving to Oxford City in the summer.
Having failed to net in his opening three NLS games for City, Iaciofano was benched for the next two. But he won a recall to the starting XI on his Westleigh Park return, partnering another ex-Hawk, loanee Harvey Bradbury, up front.
Students of footballing irony could have guessed Iaciofano would end his near year-long league goal drought at the venue where Hawks fans, due to the pandemic, hardly saw him kick a ball.
And so it proved. It could have come after just eight minutes, Iaciofano seeing a near post shot well blocked by keeper Ross Worner, but it came after 23 minutes instead.
Oxford were already in front - again, to virtually nobody’s surprise, Bradbury the scorer (as he had been in the corresponding fixture last season) - when Iaciofano received a pass from Josh Ashby before firing a low shot past Worner and in off a post.
Six minutes earlier Bradbury - who Hawks were keen on signing a few months ago - had claimed the final touch to Josh Ashby’s low left-wing cross after a neat one-two had left him in space inside the penalty area.
The two-goal margin, even at such an early stage, did not flatter City at all - left midfielder George Harmon, completely unmarked on the right side of the Hawks’ 18-yard box, had seen a shot parried by Worner just two minutes before the second goal.
Six minutes before half-time, Iaciofano was granted another sight of goal - this time Worner beating out another shot.
Home boss Paul Doswell had seen enough by now – it had been a shocking Hawks performance - and he didn’t even wait until half-time to make a tactical change.
On came midfielder Billy Clifford with Paul Rooney moving back into defence and Sam Magri hauled off (though Doswell said there were a few he could have hooked). From that point on, Hawks looked a far, far better side. Sadly for them, the damage had already been done.
In a post-match interview, Doswell said ‘stern’ words had been uttered at half-time. I presume they were far harsher than just ‘stern’ because Hawks came out and within seconds had achieved something beyond them in the first 45 minutes - an on-target effort, Roberts heading straight at Dudzinski after a huge throw from centre half Manny Adebowale had been flicked on.
Clifford lifted a free kick over the wall and just inches wide of the diving Dudzinski before Roberts shot over from the edge of the area.
With Hawks now building up a head of steam, they hit the woodwork twice in a few seconds - Rooney’s daisy-cutter from the edge of the 18-yard box rebounding off a post and Clifford firing the rebound against the crossbar.
Joe Oastler, signed from Oxford in what was a long close-season, gave Hawks hope in the 55th minute. Adebowale’s header from a Clifford cross was blocked on the ball but the centre half lashed in the rebound from close range.
At this stage, you would not have been surprised if Hawks had bagged a quick leveller. But Oxford, as Doswell correctly identified after, produced a masterclass in what he called ‘gamesmanship’ to slow the game down and destroy the home side’s momentum.
Though two more attackers were brought on, Alex Wall and Abdulai Baggie, the clear chances dried up in the last half-hour.
The best of them fell to Wall. First, he got in behind the defence to collect Tommy Wright’s headed flick, but crucially delayed his shot which was eventually blocked. Unmarked eight yards out, he later headed a superb Baggie cross straight at Dudzinski.
Oxford were less of a threat in the second half, with Iaciofano largely anonymous before being replaced by Jacob Bancroft on 71 minutes. But he had done his job, and had done it well.
Doswell has had to get used to his ex-Hawks playing well against his side - Chris Paul and Ryan Seager were just two to impress for Hemel and Hungerford respectively during the null and voided shortened 2020/21 campaign. So it was again here.
Worner came up for a stoppage time corner, staying up for another one of Adebowale’s huge throw-ins. The final whistle, though, signalled the end of an ultimately frustrating afternoon for Hawks where certain questions demanded to be asked.
Namely, just why didn’t the side start the first half as they did the second? Why wait 45 minutes, and slipping two goals in arrears, before showing any skill or spirit?
They were no doubt the same questions Doswell and his coaching staff were/will be asking in post-game debriefs.
Hawks: Worner, Passley, Oastler, Magri (Clifford, 41), McCarthy, Rooney, Newton, Adebowale, Rendell (Wall, 61), Wright. Roberts (Baggie, 67).
Oxford City: Dudzinski, Asare, Harmon, Ashby, Matsuzaka, Fleet, Owusu, Bradbury (Davies,85), Iaciofano (Bancroft, 71), Carroll, Kyprianou.