Hawks boss Doswell ready to ‘embrace and enjoy’ trip to leaders Maidstone after extending unbeaten National League South run against Billericay
Four wins and three draws in an unbeaten seven-game run have taken Hawks to within a point of Dulwich Hamlet, who occupy the sixth and final play-off place.
After a weekend 2-2 draw against Billericay, 10th-placed Hawks are one of six clubs - from seventh to 12th - separated by just four points
If they win their game in hand on Dulwich and St Albans, Doswell’s squad will be in the play-offs. But they have played the same amount of games as Hungerford, one place above them, and trail the Berkshire club by virtue of a single goal.
It could hardly be tighter. And realistically, Hawks are one of six clubs aiming for just the final play-off place as there is a eight-point gap between Dulwich and sixth-placed Oxford City.
‘There’s eight games left, as I keep saying to people that’s a lot of football,’ Doswell told The News. ‘It’s an eight-game season now, simple as that.
‘Eastbourne have done incredibly well, they’ve won four in a row now.
‘I think that leaves six teams going for one (play-off) place.’
On February 12, Hawks lost 3-1 at Concord. It was their ninth NLS game without a win, a dire run from which they banked just three out of 27 points. They have since taken 15 out of 21 to rekindle fast-fading hopes.
Did Doswell ever believe Hawks were out of contention? ‘If I’m being honest, yes,’ he stated. ‘After the Oxford City game (3-1 loss on January 29), I didn’t think we had a hope in hell.
‘Now we have given ourselves a chance.’
Regarding the draw with Billericay, he remarked: ‘It was a very good game against a side who have brought in some good, experienced players. For the neutral, it was a really good game.
‘They had quality on their bench, their manager has been backed by his board. But we looked a real threat.
‘I was really happy with the way we played in the first half against the wind and the slope. We scored two great goals.
‘You obviously don’t like conceding three minutes into injury time, but if you’d offered me 0-0 at half-time before the game I’d have taken it.
‘In the second half we did to them what they didn’t do to us in the first half. We dominated the second half.
He continued: ‘If you’re not going to win, it’s important you don’t lose. But we deserved more from that game, in the second half we created four or five good chances - their keeper has made two fantastic saves from Billy Clifford and Joe Oastler.
‘There was a good atmosphere, it was good to get over 1,000 here, for the first time in a long time I could put five (outfielders) on the bench - everything is looking brighter.
‘We’re looking strong, physical … I think we will be a match for everyone we’ve got to play.’
Next up are Maidstone, four points clear at the top after a late, late winner against St Albans.
‘They’ve just scored a 96th minute winner and are top of the table,’ said Doswell. ‘There could be 3,000 there but we’ve got to go there and embrace and enjoy it. If you’re involved in football, these are the games you want to be involved in.
‘If we lose to Maidstone, that won’t put us out of it. The pressure is on us, though, we know we are up against it.’
Hawks goals against Billericay came from strikers Stefan Payne and Manny Duku, who have had a major impact since arriving in early February.
At the time of their arrival, Payne hadn’t scored in 18 league and FA Cup appearances for Chesterfield in 2021/22 (eight starts, 10 as a sub) while Duku had failed to net in 20 Scottish League appearances for Inverness Caledonian Thistle (10 starts, 10 as a sub).
Those barren runs are a thing of the past now, with the pair having netted nine times in the last eight Hawks games.
Doswell said: ‘Stefan’s got five goals, Manny’s got four - and they’ve both had a goal disallowed that shouldn’t have been: Manny against Hungerford here and Stefan at Dartford.
‘Their height, physicality and pace has made a difference.’