An awful first-half performance condemned the Hawks to a 3-1 Ryman League premier division defeat against Needham Market at Westleigh Park this afternoon.
There was no way back for the home side after poor defending left them trailing by three goals at the break.
It was a hugely disappointing display from the hosts, with Matt Paterson’s late goal the only positive on a day boss Lee Bradbury was also sent to the stands for an altercation with a visiting player.
New signing Mike Carter came straight into the Hawks starting line-up in front of their largest league crowd of the season – after arrving from Gosport Borough in the week.
The hosts started on the front foot with Jason Prior sending two early efforts wide of the target – one a shot, the second a header.
Reece Dobson it was, though, who gave Needham Market the lead in their first attack after five minutes.
A poor header from Ed Harris let Dobson in and he evaded two more tackles before curling the ball into the far corner of the net.
The Hawks hit back with Alfie Rutherford twice going within inches of equalising.
The game was living up to its top-of-the-table billing with both teams showing good attacking intent.
On 18 minutes, the home side were stunned when the visitors extended their lead.
Luke Ingram pulled the ball back superbly from the byline and the onrushing Jack Simmons stabbed the ball past Ryan Young.
Rutherford then went close again for the hosts when his side-foot shot was scrambled off the goalline by goalkeeper Daniel Gay.
But another dreadful mix-up in the home defence saw Callum Harrison score Needham’s third, five minutes before the break.
Paterson replaced Carter in the Hawks ranks at the start of the second half.
The substitute was soon in the action, lifting a shot over from the edge of the area.
Manager Bradbury was then sent to the stand after an altercation with a visiting player on the touchline as the home side’s woes worsened.
Paterson continued to provide a glimour of hope for the hosts, though, drawing a fine one-handed save from Gay eight minutes from the end.
And it was the substitute Paterson who fired home a consolation goal for the Hawks three minutes from time – on a day to forget.
Ryman League premier division leaders Bognor extended their advantage at the top of the table to four points following a stunning 5-0 win at Canvey Island this afternoon.
Jamie Howell’s men, who saw last season’s prolific strike partnership of Jason Prior and Alfie Rutherford depart for the Hawks in the summer, were at their prolific best in Essex.
And in loan signing Elijah Adebayo – who arrived at the Rocks from Fulham earlier this month – they have a man in impressive form.
A brilliant hat-trick from the highly-rated attacker was just reward for the visitors who outclassed their struggling hosts.
Bognor dominated from the first whistle on a day to remember for Howell’s side.
James Fraser got the ball rolling for Bognor early on, before Jimmy Muitt doubled the Rocks’ lead before the half-time whistle.
Adebayo then hit a superb second-half hat-trick.
AFC Portchester ran out 3-1 winners over Whitchurch United in the Wessex League premier division.
Luke Sweeney scored a Royals double, with Alex Baldacchino also on target.