Hawks boss Doswell desperate to avoid another FA Cup hangover as focus shifts back towards National League South ‘priority’
Paul Doswell is desperate to avoid an FA Cup hangover as Hawks turn their attentions back to the ‘priority’ of National League South action.
The manager knows from first-hand experience how a cup run can affect form in the ‘bread and butter’ of league football.
Hawks booked a glamorous FA Cup first round trip to former Premier Leaguers Charlton Athletic on Wednesday night - coming from behind to stun higher division Torquay United 4-2 on a memorable evening at rain-lashed Westleigh Park.
But Doswell admits cup fever will have to be put on hold as Hawks have three league matches before visiting The Valley - starting with a home game against lowly Slough this Saturday.
Hawks then travel to Hungerford next Tuesday before visiting Chelmsford on Saturday, October 30.
Asked if it would be difficult to keep the squad’s focus firmly on the NLS, Doswell replied: ‘Yes - it’s not easy at all.
‘We’ve got three games before Charlton and it’s really important we stay on track for what is our priority.
‘There’s always a comedown and we have to be careful of that against Slough.’
Back in 2016/17, Doswell’s Sutton United made worldwide headlines when they reached the FA Cup fifth round, eventually losing to Arsenal.
But after their famous fourth round win against Leeds, Sutton lost their next two league games and also crashed out of the FA Trophy, hammered 5-0 at Boreham Wood. Though they did win their next two league games after the Arsenal fixture, Sutton only won three of their last 14 National League fixtures.
Hawks are currently ninth, two places and a point outside the play-off zone. But of the eight teams above them, they have at least one game in hand on six - and their next three opponents are all in the bottom half.
After the fourth qualifying round draw gave Hawks a trip to Torquay, Doswell told The News it was a poor draw. Actually, he used a different four-letter word than ‘poor’. The footballing Gods have been kinder now, and a trip to Charlton is ‘a great draw.
‘We said to the players before the (Torquay replay) game, treat this as a cup semi-final - Charlton away is our cup final.’
Even before the Torquay games, Doswell spoke about being delighted with the performance levels in home wins against Billericay (3-2, FA Cup) and Concord (5-2, National League South).
Having now masterminded a cup shock, he knows his new-look squad have set the bar even higher.
‘The first half at Torquay, we knew we were better than that. But the next three halves was not far off our best. We passed the ball well, moved it quickly. That’s the football I knew we were capable of playing.
‘On our day we can give anyone a game.’
Doswell made three changes for Wednesday’s replay - Charlie Searle, Joe Newton and Manny Adebowale coming in for Ross Worner, Michael Green and Jamie Collins.
Worner is facing at least eight weeks on the sidelines with a hip tear and a meniscus tear, while Newton had been ‘unlucky’ to be rested to give Green a chance to get match fitness. Veteran defender Collins, meanwhile, ‘can hardly move’ after a Saturday game and was never going to feature in a replay.
While Doswell decides whether to recall Collins for Slough’s visit, he was also working on bringing in a loanee goalkeeper - Worner’s injury having left ex-Baffins man Searle as Hawks’ only senior shot-stopper.
Elsewhere in the team, the manager believes the ‘combinations’ are gelling nicely.
The central midfield trio of Jake McCarthy, Billy Clifford and Oscar Gobern were exceptional in the last three halves against Torquay, while up front James Roberts and Tommy Wright ran the Gulls defence ragged.
Wright could have had a hat-trick in the replay - he was denied twice by keeper Shaun MacDonald in the second half prior to scoring the late fourth - while Roberts’ injury-time stunner at Plainmoor earned the replay in the first place.
Hawks had started the season with Scott Rendell partnering Wright up front, and Doswell said: ‘Bairdy (Ian Baird, assistant) likes the ‘big man, small man’ partnership - like Toshack and Keegan.
‘But we realised we had better footballers, and you don’t always need to go long.
‘It’s about finding the right combinations. The three central midfielders combination is working well. Jake McCarthy is like a non-league Frank Lampard - I think he can get 15 goals this season, the same as a striker.’