Hawks sent a strong line-up to Reading for round 1 of the Tier-1 O50 HA Cup competition to face the current holders Reading Rustlers. The warm-up provided the Hawks team to stretch-off the aches from Saturdays fixtures but also admire the volume of England crested shorts being worn by their opposition!!
The game started with Reading immediately showing the sort of pace and skill that saw them win the competition last year and sees them second in the London league today. Crisp passing, lots of space being created and utilised and not a single player taking the ball into contact – we had cause for concern! This seemed to be confirmed when after 10 minutes of play Reading scored their first goal of the game a well worked move, decisive passing and good finishing leaving Atkins little chance in Hawks goal. Shortly after Reading added a second another fast breakaway, exploiting space and again leaving Johnny Atkins and the defence little chance to halt the attack.
At this point Hawks seemed to realise they could roll-over or make a fight of it and we selected the latter, a couple of small tactical changes saw Gary Mahon move to fullback with Andy “Nobby” Clark moving from Inside Right to Centre Half and Simon “Boots” Dawson moving from Left Wing to Centre Forward. Hawks started to fight and make their own space with both Phil “Dunlo” Dunnill and Nige “Dog” Doggett seeing more of the ball and the visitors were rewarded ahead of half-time when Boots broke into the circle and crashed in Hawks first of the afternoon. Hawks created more opportunities before the break but were unable to convert and 2-1 was how it stayed until half-time.
Nobby got his whiteboard out at half-time to much chuckling and sarcasm from the team, but he easily demonstrated how Reading were exploiting our positioning and what we should do to combat it and this seemed to work, the second half was far more competitive and Hawks began to dominate periods of the game and it wasn’t too long before Boots scored his second, moving across the top of the circle until he had enough room to get off a shot which he duly thumped into the bottom corner for 2-2.
Reading realised they were in a game they could lose and their key players tried to get more involved and one promising attack resulted in a save by Atkins that went on to hit Billington who was moving away from goal, but the umpire said it was goal-bound and awarded Reading a penalty stroke. No VAR and despite Atkins and Mahons protestations the flick went ahead, it was very nearly saved by Atkins diving to his right but alas, Reading restored their lead 3-2.
At this point Nobby pulled his hamstring and the team had to reshuffle with Colin “Buzz” Burrell moving from Inside Left to Centre Half with Mark “Whitey” White, Andy “Duracell” Sumser and Dog rolling in the inside forward positions, with Dunlo, Boots and Rich “DL” Venables up top Hawks continued to press for yet another equaliser, even Chris “Hutts” Hutton and Dick “Dutch Heinrich” were pushing further forward, leaving Chris “Billers” Billington and Andy "from t'north" Kaye to hold the fort (t'fort in Andy's case) in defence. Continued Hawks pressure resulted in a short corner which Buzz injected crisply to Boots who crashed his hat-trick and the equaliser inside the near post, with about 10 minutes remaining.
Reading were rattled but they kept their shape superbly and shortly after were lucky to see a miss-hit shot bobble under Atkins boot into the Hawks goal for 4-3. Hawks tried to recover again, but time and tide were against them (and that isn't a comment on the colour of the water coming off Readings pitch!), the game finished 4-3 to the home side and reigning champions. A very amicable drink and meal ensued in the bar and the talk from both camps was very much that here was a side more than capable of winning the tier-2 cup that Hawks will now find themselves in. That now has to be the teams ambition and on this performance why not...
Thanks to manager David "Huggy" Hughes for his organisation and bench management, to Dave "Blommers" Blomley for standing by as extra defensive cover and to our travelling support for the much appreciated encouragement.