Hawks excited by testing league start

Hawks manager Stuart Ritcihe, left, and assistant Barry Blankley are in for a tough opening in their first season at Westleigh Park   Picture: Dave Haines
Hawks manager Stuart Ritcihe, left, and assistant Barry Blankley are in for a tough opening in their first season at Westleigh Park Picture: Dave Haines
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New Hawks management duo Stuart Ritchie and Barry Blankley have been presented with a tough start to their regime in Blue Square Bet South.

The club open their campaign against one of the pre-season title favourites Chelmsford City at Westleigh Park on Saturday, August 18.

The Hawks then make their longest trip of the season just three days later when they tackle Cornwall outfit Truro City.

Chelmsford narrowly missed out on the play-offs last season and are highly fancied to go one better this time around.

Manager Ritchie and his assistant Blankley will be keen to improve on last season when Chelmsford completed a double over the Hawks, winning 3-2 on the south coast and 3-1 at Melbourne Park.

That was part of a largely-miserable campaign for the Westleigh Park club, which saw them avoid relegation only after an injury-time winner on the final day of the season.

The 360-mile midweek round trip to Truro will also test Ritchie’s squad, although the Hawks did complete a rare double over the Cornishmen last season.

They may yet be spared the long trip as the future of the troubled Cornish club is unclear after being made subject of a new winding-up order in the past fortnight.

After settling a £51,000 tax bill with the HMRC, Truro have been hit by a further demand for £700,000 by four separate parties.

The Cornishmen survived two winding-up petitions last season.

On August bank holiday Monday, Ritchie will experience his first local derby against bitter-rivals Eastleigh at Westleigh Park.

The Spitfires, managed by former Hawks boss Ian Baird, are being touted as joint-title favourites after renewed investment enabled them to strengthen their squad.

The visit from Tonbridge Angels at the beginning of September should be an interesting affair as the visitors include midfielder Tom Davis in their squad.

Davis has accused the Hawks vice-chairman Jim Fallon of offering him ‘illegal payments’ in a bid to bring him to the club.

Fallon is insisting he is innocent of the charges and the matter is being looked into by the Football Association.

Eastbourne Borough provide the opposition over the Christmas period, with the Hawks travelling along the south coast on Boxing Day and the return at Westleigh Park on New Year’s Day.

Hawks secretary Trevor Brock admitted it was a tough start but insists everyone at the club is excited by the prospect.

‘This league gets tougher every year and there won’t be many easy games,’ said Brock.

‘More and more players seem to be released from the higher leagues and find their way into ours.

‘Chelmsford are always tough opponents and going to Truro midweek won’t be easy.

‘Eastleigh early on is always going to be a crunch game.

‘We already have more depth in our squad than last season and we are still likely to bring two or three more back in.

‘In that sense, we are far better prepared than last season.

‘Also, our predominantly young squad are a year older and wiser.’