Battle-hardened Hawkins revelling in ​​​​​​​Portsmouth physical challenge

Oli Hawkins celebrates scoring against Walsall on Tuesday evening. Picture: Joe Pepler
Oli Hawkins celebrates scoring against Walsall on Tuesday evening. Picture: Joe Pepler
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As Pompey’s battering ram, Oli Hawkins is confronted with battling burly central-halves and unsympathetic referees.

Yet the Football League latecomer is becoming increasingly street-smart – and blossoming into a striker capable of overcoming the brawn.

With six goals in his last eight appearances, the argument for Hawkins to start over Brett Pitman is growing steadily more persuasive.

Serving as the lone forward in Jackett’s favoured 4-2-3-1, the towering former Dagenham & Redbridge men offers a physicality and strength unique in the Blues’ squad.

And it has resulted in his regular starting presence in a side topping League One for the last two months.

Hawkins said: ‘For the last seven or eight years of my career of being a centre-forward, I’m used to having a constant battle with the two centre-halves and the ref throughout the game.

‘A few years ago a certain manager, I can’t remember who, told me to buy fouls and, for four or five games, I was diving on the floor, always moaning – and it didn’t look good.

‘Now I’m a bit older I’m trying to assess when to go to the floor, when not to say anything.

‘I’m working the leagues out and it does take me a little bit of a while to know when to use my body, when to flick on the ball, what I can do to the best of my ability in the game.

‘But it feels that in each match I’m improving and I go into the game assessing which centre-half I feel I can dominate.

‘In this league, all centre-halves are big and strong, so I will not out-muscle every centre-half, every week.

‘Some games I might have to lose loads of headers but win loads of fouls – or some I may have to win loads of headers and not hold the ball up. Every game is different.

‘It’s just working that out as quickly as possible during the game.’

Hawkins has seven goals in 22 appearances this season, establishing him as Pompey’s joint-top scorer.

He added: ‘Against Scunthorpe it was very physical, so rather than make flick-ons or holding the ball up, I was just trying to get us fouls and up the pitch.

‘The way our playing style is at the moment, I can help get us up the pitch if we are under the cosh and clear it. I’m battling away, winning the fouls, which helps the team out.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​’