Yesterday, Havant & Waterlooville found themselves entertaining Hellenic League outfit, Highworth Town in the FA Cup second qualifying round. The Hawks, who the last few seasons have not had to enter the competition until the third qualifying round, had a significantly better team than their opponents on paper but had to treat the match with respect to ensure progression.

The match saw the return of Brian Stock from a head injury in place of Andreas Robinson and also saw Ed Harris return to the starting eleven to replace Lee Molyneux. James Hayter was preferred up front to Alfie Rutherford, with Jason Prior missing out on the squad through injury.

The Hawks started in the best possible way, after a long clearance from Ryan Young was latched onto by Patterson, who side-footed the ball past the goalkeeper from the edge of the penalty area. It highlighted Highworth’s defensive ineptities, as a lack of communication between the centre-half and Max Schofield allowed Patterson to nip between them and guide the bouncing ball into the corner.

Things did not immediately improve for the visitors, as the Hawks were gifted a string of goal scoring opportunities in the next ten minutes. Ben Swallow, in particular, was causing havoc for the Highworth defence, and one spell of play brought cheers from the crowd when the Welshman beat three defenders – all of whom were doing their best to bring him down – before swinging in a dangerous cross.

Havant finally doubled their lead shortly after and, unsurprisingly, Swallow was the man who made it. He was brought down 35 yards out on the right wing and brushed himself down in time to curl a delightful ball into the area from the resulting free kick. The ball was begging to be attacked, and it was duly met by the head of ex-skipper, Ryan Woodford, who guided the ball back into the far corner.

At that point the game looked to be all but over, and the pace of the game slowed to reflect that. The Hawks could have been accused of letting their foot off the gas to a degree around the half hour mark, and Young twice had to be alert to push shots around the post. There was concern for the hosts shortly before half-time when the reliable Dan Strugnell was substituted as an injury caution. He was replaced by Pompey academy graduate Harry Medway at right-back.

The first half drew to a close with no further incident and, though the Hawks looked fairly comfortable, they will have been disappointed not to have scored the third goal to kill the match.

The second half continued in the pedestrian manner in which it had been played for the majority of the first half. There were very few meaningful attacks until the hour mark, when Hayter used his experience to draw a foul in the penalty area with his back to goal. The ex-Cherries man stepped up to take the penalty himself, and calmly sent Schofield the wrong way to end any chance of a comeback.

Swallow continued to cause problems from the right wing, and forced two good saves from Schofield by cutting in on his left foot. However, Highworth were awarded a penalty of their own with 20 minutes to play when Theo Lewis felled his man. Ashley Edenborough’s penalty clipped the inside of the post on its way into the net, with Young having dived the right way, as he got his side back into the game.

Lee Bradbury made a double substitution to keep the Hawks on their toes, as he withdrew George Barker and James Hayter and replaced them with Brad Tarbuck and Alfie Rutherford. The change didn’t have the immediate desired impact as Highworth were unlucky not to score from a long range effort which cannoned back off the Hawks’ crossbar.

Young again had to be on his toes with ten minutes left in order to turn a goalbound shot wide of his goal which would have made the final minutes nervy for the hosts to negotiate. As it was, they needn’t have worried as a late goal from Patterson ensured the win would be a comfortable one. Some tidy play at the back from Woodford preceded him playing a lovely ball over the defence to Theo Lewis. The ex-Ebsfleet midfielder found himself two-on-one with the goalkeeper and calmly squared for Patterson to convert into an empty net.

The lower league opposition seemed to lack fitness and capitulated at the end of the match. A bizarre passage of play in the closing seconds led to Patterson completing his hat-trick. A strong challenge on the halfway line from official man of the match, Rory Williams led to the ball bouncing through towards Schofield. However, with the Highworth keeper having already committed himself, the ball ended up spinning past him into the path of Patterson, who couldn’t miss. It wasn’t the most difficult of hat-tricks that has ever been scored, but I’m sure he won’t mind!

The match finished without any more happening, and although it was a deserved win for Havant, the scoreline probably flattered them. The Hawks were not at their best but were able to overcome their opposition. Although Highworth did not have anywhere near the quality of player that the hosts had available to them, they stuck to their tasks admirably and would have got a respectable result if they had been able to play the closing stages with the same vigour as they had the rest of the match.

Next up in the league for the Hawks is the visit of Staines Town, who were Havant’s opponents in the Conference South not too long ago. First though, they have to negotiate a Hampshire Senior Cup tie against Hartley Wintney on Tuesday night. It is likely that Bradbury will name a much weakened side in midweek, which will give the key players a well-earned rest ahead of another important match

The Hawks have now won every game since their opening day defeat to Leiston, and sit second in the Ryman Premier League table. They will be keen to continue their good run of results and get themselves up into first place. Promotion is certainly the season aim for Bradbury, but they will be very keen to win the league rather than risk the lottery of the promotion play-offs.

Player ratings:

Ryan Young: 8 – Belongs at a far higher level than this and the Hawks are lucky to have him.
Dan Strugnell*: 7 – Injured early on but is another player who is far too good for Havant.
Ryan Woodford: 8 – Looked assured at the back and took his goal very well.
Ed Harris: 7 – No signs of his injury coming back. Looked confident.
Rory Williams: 8 – Dominated the right winger and offered a good attacking threat.
Brian Stock: 6 – Failed to make an impression on the game.
Theo Lewis: 9 – Worked very hard and was challenging for everything as well as being an attacking threat.
Ben Swallow: 9 – Deserved at least a goal from his performance, beat the left-back every time he got the ball.
George Barker***: 7 – A solid display but the final ball was lacking at times.
Matt Patterson: 8 – Has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
James Hayter**: 7 – Worked hard and did well to win the penalty.
Harry Medway*: 6 – Slightly anonymous but did his job adequately.
Alfie Rutherford**: 6 – Could have assisted Tarbuck but was too greedy.
Brad Tarbuck***: 6 – Didn’t have much of an impact.