Hawks keen to rid themselves of ‘nearly-men’ tag

Key man Scott Donnelly Picture: Ian Hargreaves
Key man Scott Donnelly Picture: Ian Hargreaves
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There is an increasing wave of optimism at Westleigh Park that the Hawks can finally gain promotion into the National League.

Many believe this can be the season that manager Lee Bradbury and his squad finally ditch the label of ‘nearly men’ after going close over the past two campaigns.

They missed out on the play-offs on goal difference in the dying seconds of the 2013-2014 season.

It seemed as if they had done enough with a goalless draw at Tonbridge Angels on the final day, but an injury-time penalty for Dover Athletic at Hayes & Yeading edged them out of the frame.

Last season they went one better by reaching the play-off semi-finals, where they lost out to Boreham Wood over two legs.

It has been a case of so near and yet so far for the Hawks and Bradbury is keen to make it third time lucky.

If that is to be the case, though, a number of things will have to improve in what promises to be an even more competitive league.

The Hawks will need increased creativity in and around the opposition area, more physicality in midfield and greater discipline.

But the biggest problem last season was the lack of goals from the strikers, which will need to be addressed.

JJ Hooper, Bradley Bubb, Shamir Mullings and, later in the season, Ben Wright all failed to find the net frequently enough.

Hooper made a promising start but faded as the season went on, while the others failed to produce the goods in front of goal.

Bubb and Wright have left and the other two are unlikely to be involved this season.

Instead, Bradbury has brought in Marvin Morgan, Matt Paterson and James Hayter – and much will rest on their shoulders if the Hawks are to go one step further this time round.

Poor discipline hit the side hard at crucial times last season – notably with the absence through suspension of key players for the play-offs.

Meanwhile, at times last term the Westleigh Park outfit also found themselves bullied and outmuscled in midfield.

The manager has brought in the powerful figure of Adrian Clifton from Maidenhead United in an attempt to solve that problem.

He will have a key role to play if the Hawks are to move up.

It will also be a big season for winger Ben Swallow, who has promised much with his huge talent on the ball.

His ability to take on and beat defenders with his close control and pace can be a powerful weapon in the Hawks’ armoury.

Far too often, though, the final product has been missing.

With only four days to go until the season-opener at Bishop’s Stortford on Saturday, Bradbury reckons he has put together his strongest squad yet during his time at the club.

And with their solid defence, along with the presence of the best midfielder in the league, Scott Donnelly, they must be in with a chance of promotion to the National League Premier.

The likely absence of injured central defender Ed Harris could cause problems early on, but come next May, the Hawks should be there or thereabouts.