Hawks 1 Slough 2 – the worrying ‘trend’ Doswell knows needs addressing after FA Cup hangover ends with shock National League home loss

Referee Dean Skipper was a central figure as Hawks suffered the FA Cup hangover boss Paul Doswell feared.

Flashpoint - Tommy Wright is about to be sent off for this challenge on Slough keeper Jon North. Picture: Martyn White
Flashpoint - Tommy Wright is about to be sent off for this challenge on Slough keeper Jon North. Picture: Martyn White

The official angered the home fans, players and management with a series of at times baffling decisions in Slough Town’s shock 2-1 National League South victory at Westleigh Park.

Skipper awarded the Rebels a first half penalty for an alleged foul by Sam Magri on Ben Harris, and booked four Hawks players including Paul Rooney after the midfielder had been shoved into an advertising board.

His most controversial decision, though, was in sending off Tommy Wright in the 77th minute.

Hawks' Billy Clifford acts as peacemaker as tempers rise. Picture: Martyn White

The striker - very rarely even booked during his National League career with Sutton and Hawks - was shown a straight red after Slough keeper Jon North was left clutching his head following a 50-50 challenge.

Video evidence, though, showed Wright’s foot going in for the ball near the chest area and nowhere near North’s head.

The brutal truth, however, is that Skipper was not to fully blame for Hawks’ fourth loss in eight league games that leaves them in the bottom half of the table.

As boss Paul Doswell knew only too well, the main reasons for a surprise loss - against a Slough side winning away in the league for the first time since February 2020 - lay a lot, lot closer to home.

Hawks v Slough. Picture: Martyn White

In the home dressing room, in fact.

Three days earlier, Hawks were heroes - they had outplayed higher division Torquay United and thoroughly deserved their 4-2 FA Cup fourth qualifying round replay win. Apart from a five-minute spell before half-time, when the Gulls netted twice, Doswell’s side had dominated.

The difference between Wednesday and the first half against Slough - who arrived second from bottom of the NLS, having not won since the opening day on August 14 - was the proverbial chalk and cheese.

‘We looked really tired,’ said Doswell.’They out-ran us, they out-muscled us.’

Tommy Wright and Jake McCarthy exchange words with referee Dean Skipper. Picture: Martyn White

His assistant, Ian Baird, agreed. ‘It looked like a game too far for us after Wednesday. There was a lot of energy used up (against Torquay).

‘Slough were well organised, they had a game plan and they executed it well.’

Scoring goals isn’t a problem for Hawks, they have netted in all but two of their 12 league and FA Cup ties in 2021/22. It’s at the other end where the concerns are.

Loanee keeper Will Mannion, brought in on a month’s loan from Cambridge United, was handed his debut against Slough. He didn’t have a lot to do and the two goals he conceded in the first 18 minutes - a header from a corner and a penalty - had nothing to do with him.

Hawks debutant keeper Will Mannion punches clear. Picture: Martyn White

But the fact remains that Hawks have not kept a clean sheet in 11 league and FA Cup ties since an opening-day 3-0 win against Welling.

They even shipped three to lower division Beaconsfield in the cup and Doswell said: ‘We are conceding goals and that’s a trend we’ve got to address quickly.

‘It shouldn’t be up to me and Bairdy to do something when we’re chasing games. There needs to be some personal responsibility in the back three.’

The ‘trend’ Doswell speaks about can be traced back to last season, where Hawks only kept five clean sheets in 22 league and cup matches - one of which was against two tiers lower Cray Valley Paper Mills in the FA Cup.

In their final five league games of a season abandoned in mid-February due to the National League funding crisis, Hawks shipped two goals in each of them - the last four all ending in defeat.

The latest loss to Slough was a mirror image in some ways of Hawks’ previous home league loss this season, when Oxford City triumphed in early September. Back then, as against Slough, the visitors led 2-0 at the break with Hawks only managing a sole consolation.

Tommy Wright in action against Slough. Picture: Martyn White

Against Torquay, Hawks were so dominant early on Gulls boss Gary Johnson was forced into an early tactical change, after just 22 minutes. Three days later it was Doswell’s turn to make a rare first-half switch, hauling off centre half Manny Adebowale and sending on striker Scott Rendell.

Adebowale had lost his man - Freddie Grant - for Slough’s opener from a corner while the Rebels were winning most of the aerial action against a sluggish Hawks.

Another attacking sub was made at half-time, Abdulai Baggie replacing Rooney, but clear chances were few and far between until Jake McCarthy replied in injury time. Amazingly, McCarthy could have levelled 60 seconds later - a fierce shot hitting a body on the line.

‘I didn’t see this one coming to be honest,’ said Doswell. ‘I felt the lads had got what we were asking them to do.

‘They’d got the trust back they had lost against Oxford … what kind of reaction will we get now?’

He will quickly find out as Hawks start a run of four successive away games, three of them in league action.

They travel to Hungerford on Tuesday before a trip to Chelmsford next Saturday. After visiting Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup on November 6, Hawks are on the road again at Tonbridge Angels three days later.

Due to the vagaries of the fixture list, Hawks now have only two scheduled home league games before Christmas - against Maidstone on November 13 and Bath City on December 4. And the latter fixture will be postponed if Hawks reach the second round of the FA Cup.

In Doswell’s first season in charge, 2019/20, Hawks didn’t lose a single away league game, an astonishing record. In 34 league games, they only suffered five defeats. Conversely, they have already lost four in 2021/22 and their season is only 20 per cent completed.

The manager couldn’t be more right - the worrying trend certainly ‘needs to be addressed quickly’ to haul Hawks back up the table and challenging for the top seven.