Jake McCarthy on arriving at Hawks as defensive cover to being top scorer and earning comparisons with Frank Lampard ahead of glamour FA Cup tie at Charlton

He arrived at Westleigh Park in the close season as a defensive midfielder who could provide centre half cover.

By Simon Carter
Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 1:01 pm
Jake McCarthy celebrates the first of his two goals in the 5-3 FA Cup win over Beaconsfield.
Picture: Dave Haines
Jake McCarthy celebrates the first of his two goals in the 5-3 FA Cup win over Beaconsfield. Picture: Dave Haines

Little did Jake McCarthy know that within a few months he would be Hawks’ top scorer and earning comparisons - as well as a new nickname - with Chelsea legend Frank Lampard!

The 25-year-old netted his first senior hat-trick last weekend - in the space of 13 minutes - as Hawks came from behind to claim a National League success at Chelmsford.

That took his goal tally to nine in 10 league and cup appearances. Four have come in the FA Cup, including a stunning volley from a corner in the fourth qualifying round replay win over higher tier Torquay.

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Jake McCarthy scores against Beaconsfield in the FA Cup. Picture by Dave Haines.

It was one of the sweetest strikes you could wish to see at any level of the game and brought Hawks level at 2-2. They went on to seal a memorable 4-2 success that earned them this weekend’s glamour first round proper trip to former Premier Leaguers Charlton Athletic.

McCarthy, who dropped back down to the sixth tier to sign for Hawks after turning down a new contract at Weymouth, started the NLS season as a defensive midfielder against Welling. A week later he played as a centre half at Hampton & Richmond, winning man of the match plaudits.

But it’s in a more advanced role that McCarthy has started to flourish in Hawks colours.

‘When Dos signed me he said he was looking for cover at centre back but mainly to play in midfield, more of a defensive role,’ McCarthy told The News.

Jake McCarthy opens the scoring in Hawks' 3-2 FA Cup win against Billericay Town. Picture by Dave Haines.

‘But after a while he saw my finishing in training sessions and played me in a more advanced role. I can’t complain!

‘I was at Bournemouth for 10 years and always played centre back or holding midfield. I joined when I was 12 and from 16-19 I was a centre back. Then for the last couple of years it was more of a holding midfield role.

‘I did play in a more attacking midfield role at Weymouth a few times, mainly as an 8, not too far forward, but at Chelmsford I played in more of a 10 role, looking to make runs off Scott (Rendell) - I really enjoyed it.’

No wonder he did, it was his first treble since ‘I was 10 or 11’.

Jake McCarthy heads Hawks into a 2-0 lead against Concord Rangers. Picture: Dave Haines.

‘The first one was a half volley into the bottom corner, I thought the keeper could have done a bit better; Billy (Clifford) has put in a great ball for the second (a header from a free-kick); and then Baggs (Abdulai Baggie) has done unbelievably well down the wing and put in a cross where I couldn’t really miss.

‘I started the season playing a more holding role but then I was asked to get forward, and basically now every time we go forward I’m expected to attack the ball in the box.

‘You can’t beat scoring a goal - it’s the best feeling in football.

‘I’m not the quickest but I’d always back myself in certain situations - I used to stay behind after training at Weymouth and do extra finishing with the strikers.

Jake McCarthy, left, celebrates after scoring against Concord Rangers. Picture: Dave Haines.

‘I’m feeling really confident going into each game now.

‘I scored seven in the National League last season, that’s not bad at that level, and the season before (Weymouth won promotion as National League South play-off winners) I scored 12. That’s the most I’ve scored in a season - hopefully I’ll beat that this year.’

Any Weymouth supporter who has seen McCarthy’s thunderbolt against Torquay would not have been remotely surprised. For evidence, look on YouTube to see his volley at Dagenham & Redbridge last season.

‘Against Torquay, it was another great ball from Billy - it’s a cliche but it was one of those that as soon as you hit it you knew it was going in,’ recalled McCarthy.

‘In the circumstances of the game, it was definitely one of my most important goals - and one of my best.

‘I scored a few volleys last season - at Weymouth people used to say I never scored tap ins! Of my seven goals last season, five were outside the box and the other two were headers.’

Jake McCarthy has just scored Hawks' consolation in a 2-1 home loss to Slough. Picture: Martyn White.

McCarthy’s runs into the box - such as the one for his third goal at Chelmsford - have won him compliments from Doswell as well as a comparison with ex-England star Lampard.

‘Dos started it, he was saying how I was arriving in the box Frank Lampard-esque. Now he calls me ‘Frankie’ in team talks and it gets a few laughs,’ joked McCarthy.

Drawn away to Torquay, the trip to the English Riviera last month gave the Hawks squad much-needed ‘bonding’ time. This is a squad containing many new faces - of the matchday 18 that travelled to Marine in last season’s FA Cup second round, only one - Sam Magri - will be part of the squad at Charlton (though the injured Ross Worner and the suspended Tommy Wright and Billy Clifford would have swelled numbers).

‘We knew it (Torquay away) would be a tough game, there were a lot easier draws we could have got,’ reckoned McCarthy. ‘But we had a lot of analysis on them, and we did well to get a draw. It was a real party bus on the way back!

‘The rest is history - the replay was us at our best.’

As for Charlton, a club three tiers higher in the English pyramid, McCarthy commented: ‘We’re looking forward to it, it’s a great occasion to play a team in League 1 in a big stadium. A lot of the lads might not have played in front of a crowd that big before.

‘It’s the FA Cup, the greatest competition in the world, and nothing’s impossible. We feel we have a chance.

‘We have to prepare as if we’re facing their strongest side. It’ll be a good day for the players, a good day for the club. We’re the underdogs and hopefully they will underestimate us - there’s been bigger upsets than us winning.

‘We’ve had a good run, the club are happy we’ve got this far, and nobody expects us to get a result apart from inside our changing room.

‘If we put in a good performance, everyone will take that - but there’s an element that we can go there and get a result.’

Poole-based McCarthy believes the Hawks squad is already ‘tight knit’ - and an another overnight stop in London this weekend can only help as attention will soon revert back to improving the club’s league position.

‘It wasn’t like I was coming into a tightly-knit group of 11 or 12 players, there were only a few left from last season,’ he explained.

‘I knew Billy Clifford from playing against him when he was at Wealdstone. He ran the game against Weymouth. I knew of Jamie Collins, but the only one I really know was Baggs who was at Weymouth with me.

‘We’ve quickly formed ourselves into a tight-knit group. I travel to training with Greener (Michael Green) and Baggs so it’s not as if I’m on my own.’

McCarthy’s treble against Chelmsford took Hawks up to 10th in the NL South, two points adrift of the play-off zone which is the squad’s ‘absolute minimum’ achievement this term.

‘We’ve won against the so-called bigger teams but struggled against some of the bottom ones. We’re still trying to put our finger on it. We’re a new team and it does take time to gel,’ he explained.

‘Overall, it’s not the worst start, though no-one likes losing games. Nothing’s won after 10 games, nothing’s won in November - we just need to stop conceding so many goals. Dos always says it’s clean sheets that win you leagues.’

Hawks have only kept one clean sheet in 10 NLS games, against Welling on the opening day. In their last 10 league and FA Cup games, Hawks have conceded twice on seven occasions and conceded three in another match. Against that, they do score goals - 25 in that 10-game period with only one blank (1-0 loss at St Albans).

‘The play-offs are the absolute minimum for us, with the squad we’ve got and the staff we’ve got,’ McCarthy continued.

‘You obviously want to win the league as the play-offs are a lottery, it just depends who turns up on the day. You never know what’s going to happen.

‘It’s one of the toughest leagues to get out of. There’s definitely no easy games, every team poses a different threat. We just need to get on a little run.

‘It’s disappointing to concede at home, let alone lose, and after Slough (2-1 home loss on October 23) we needed a result at Hungerford. There was no way we were coming away with no points there (drew 1-1).

‘Then we went to Chelmsford and any away win in this league is a good win. If we can get four or five wins in a six-game run the table will look a lot different.

‘If we can average two points a game and a team finishes above us, you’ll have to take your hat off to them, but ideally we’d average more than two points a game.’