Worner the spot-kick hero as in-form Hawks move ever close to National League South play-offs

Hawks moved another point closer to the National League South play-off zone with a draw at third-placed Dartford.

By Simon Carter
Sunday, 20th March 2022, 1:27 pm
Ross Worner saved a first half penalty as Hawks stretched their unbeaten National League South run to six games with a 1-1 draw at lofty Dartford. Picture: Dave Haines.
Ross Worner saved a first half penalty as Hawks stretched their unbeaten National League South run to six games with a 1-1 draw at lofty Dartford. Picture: Dave Haines.

Up against a side boasting one of only three unbeaten home league records in the top six tiers, an Alex Wall leveller gave Paul Doswell’s men a 1-1 draw at Princes Park.

Hawks are now unbeaten in six league games - winning four of them - and have scissored the gap on seventh-placed Dulwich Hamlet to just a point with a game in hand.

Just over a month ago, after going nine league games without a win, Hawks lay nine points off the play-offs. They were bottom of the form guide. Now they are top of it.

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‘It was an excellent performance,’ said Doswell. ‘Up there with our best away performances of the season.

‘To be honest, I don’t think we deserved the three points, but we didn’t deserve to lose either.

‘The only winner really was the wind. We got there thinking it would be a lovely day but there was a 35mph wind blowing down the pitch.

‘In one half the ball was running out of play, in the other Ross Worner’s goal kicks were coming back at him.’

Hoping to name an unchanged XI, Doswell had to make one change as Josh Passley reported ill on Thursday and was replaced by Benny Read.

Hawks thought they had taken the lead when Manny Duku climbed high to win a header and Stefan Payne netted from close range, but a linesman’s raised flag cut short celebrations.

Skipper Joe Oastler, after his two goals in the 4-0 midweek drubbing of Hungerford, also went close, his shot hitting the woodwork.

Dartford went ahead through defender Kory Roberts heading in from a free-kick, but Hawks levelled when Joe Newton’s cross was converted by Wall.

Worner preserved Hawks’ parity when he pulled off a superb penalty save from Darts top scorer Ade Azeez before the interval.

Tommy Wright twice went close in the second half, one shot going just wide and keeper Dan Wilks producing a fine stop from another.

A few weeks ago, Doswell had said he thought the last two play-off spots were up for grabs. But with Eastbourne having rattled off three successive wins, including one against title hopefuls Dorking, he has revised the task in front of his squad.

‘We felt there were two spots available but Eastbourne have done brilliantly. There’s still nine games to go - that’s a lot of football - but it’s looking like a shoot-out for the last (play-off) space between about six teams.

‘There’s a bit of wiggle room but, to use some industrial language, we can’t afford too many ****-ups.

‘A few weeks ago we were saying we needed to win something like 11 of the last 15 and it seemed impossible. But we’ve put ourselves in a position now where we could possibly afford a defeat.’

Paul Rooney replaced Stefan Payne, who was feeling a tight hamstring, while James Roberts made his first appearance since being recalled from a loan spell at Hampton & Richmond, coming on for Duku.

Roberts won a free-kick on the edge of the Darts penalty area late on, which Wall fired just wide.

Doswell said: ‘Both James and Alex are like new signings for us - Alex has finally got a run of games and we’re starting to see the real Alex Wall.’

Next up for Hawks is a home clash with bottom club Billericay next weekend. But don’t be fooled by the Essex club’s league position - they are second in the NL South form table after beating high-flying Oxford City 3-1 at the weekend.