Marmite player who is happy to play striker or centre-back... Why Town fans need to show new signing Hawkins some love
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town are set to announce the signing of versatile striker Oli Hawkins. STUART WATSON takes a look at what the Blues are getting in the 28-year-old who was recently released by League One rivals Portsmouth.
Born and raised in West London, he climbed the non-league pyramid over a seven year period by scoring goals at North Greenford United, Hillingdon Borough, Northwood and Hemel Hempstead Town.
That earnt him a January move to struggling League Two club Dagenham & Redbridge under the management of John Still and, although he was unable to prevent them dropping out of the Football League that season, he scored 18 times for them in the National League the following campaign.
Portsmouth came calling in the summer of 2017, finally landing their man on August transfer deadline day 2017 for an undisclosed fee having already had several bids rejected.
In his debut season at Fratton Park, he bagged eight goals in 26 starts and nine substitute appearances as Kenny Jackett’s men finished eighth in League One. His proved a fine foil for the 24-goal Brett Pitman.
His second season with Pompey was his best. He scored 10 times in 36 starts and 12 sub outings, allowing widemen Ronan Curtis and Jamal Lowe to thrive, as the South coast club finished fourth. He netted the clinching penalty in an EFL Trophy Final victory against Sunderland at Wembley too.
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A back problem disrupted his pre-season last summer though, then he suffered a foot injury in an EFL Cup defeat to Southampton in September which sidelined him for a month.
With new front men John Marquis and Ellis Harrison preferred options up top and Christian Burgess and Sean Raggett forming a good central defensive partnership, Hawkins ended up making just nine starts and four sub appearances in 2019/20. He stepped off the bench deep into extra-time of Portsmouth’s play-off semi-final second leg against Oxford in July and promptly converted his spot-kick in a shootout loss.
He was released three days later.
“Pompey fans either liked me or hated me, but I will always look back on the positives and that Wembley moment,” he told the Portsmouth News, reflecting on his three years at the club.
“I suppose supporters want skilful players who score bags of goals and do great celebrations.
“They don’t want a 6ft 6in striker that may miss a couple of chances and get taken off at half-time or come on for five minutes here or there.
“Even when I did do well, it still wasn’t good enough for some people because I wasn’t scoring goals.
“Those who may not know a lot about football will think ‘he hasn’t done anything’. But people who understand football realise that actually I was helping others to score.
“I would say 40 per cent respected me and knew what I was capable of. The other 60 per cent saw me as nothing exciting or not good enough. That is what I feel.
“It’s hard to take, but people around football will know that my contribution was more than it wasn’t.
“I can’t hear criticism when playing, but even though I got a lot of positive stuff online or when out and about, for some reason one negative replaced all the positives.
“You see comments and it’s hard to take and not nice.
“I wouldn’t want to talk too much about social media, for me it never really bothered me. For some strange reason, though, someone would come up to me – like a friend or family member – and show me these messages.
“Although no fan ever said anything bad to my face.
“A lot of Pompey supporters didn’t think I was good enough and I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just the way it has gone for me.”
He added: “It’s not all about a striker scoring 20-30 goals and if you don’t do that then it’s ‘you’re not good enough for my team’.
“When you see negative comments and I’m not getting picked by the manager, sometimes it puts a downer on yourself. You think you’re not good enough.
“I have always got to remind myself that I was in a team which was at the top of the league (in 2018/19) and we were flying.’
In the second half of his three years at Portsmouth, Hawkins was often utilised as a centre-back.
He ended up playing 16 times there, suffering just three defeats and – by all accounts – largely impressing.
His final outing in that role was against Peterborough last December and he has said he is open to featuring there again.
“I liked being put into defence,” he told the Portsmouth News. “The last two years as a Pompey player I wished I’d played in defence more.
“If you look at the stats, I lost three games in 16 as a central defender – and one of those was against Southampton in the FA Cup.
“I did make a couple of mistakes against Peterborough – and no fan wants to see their centre-forward play centre-half – but I feel I could have had a good season in that position and done well.
“There was less pressure playing at centre-half, I could enjoy my time there more than as a striker.
“At centre-forward there was always criticism from fans. I would be taken off after 50 minutes, I’d be on the bench or out of the squad at times, but I enjoyed it in defence. The focus wasn’t on me that much.
“Then I wasn’t allowed to play there any longer because I made a couple of mistakes against Peterborough.
“I told the manager I wanted to carry on at centre-half. Yes, I made a couple of mistakes, but it’s the only way I’m going to learn. I wouldn’t want to throw in the towel, I wanted to carry on and go again.
“I missed the next game, at Accrington, through the birth of my son, Jett, and never played at centre-half again.
“Basically, from having the conversation saying I wanted to be centre-half, and to let me to try to do this, I was out of the team and three weeks later back as centre-forward on the bench.”
He added: “I’d like to play centre-half again in the future, 100 per cent.
“I feel I have another few years as a striker before I look there. If a team was interested, I would try it as long as I would be able not worry about being taken off.
“Just give me a right go at it, even if I do make a couple of mistakes early doors.”
After being released by Portsmouth, just three days after their play-off loss to Oxford, Hawkins said: “Honestly, I thought I may have got offered something else.
“I feel I deserved at least to have one more year, but it’s football. Obviously with what has happened with coronavirus, I can see why clubs might want to get rid of people and start afresh.
“I didn’t expect it, but I have to accept it.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about moving on anyway to another club or a new start.
“However, I still wanted that chance to maybe have another year at Pompey and give it another go knowing that I still might need to move on.
“It was a three-minute call from the manager, thanking me for being there and how he will always have a good reference for me.
“I actually felt I deserved a face-to-face meeting after three years, but with football you can’t expect a lot of things to happen. You have to get on with it sometimes.”
He added: “I back myself and think I’m good enough to find a team in the top 10 for League One.
“With the current situation financially, perhaps a Championship team might want to gamble on a big striker. I don’t know. I’m waiting on my future.
“I don’t want to drop down to League Two. However, you must look at whatever options are around and assess what’s best financially and the location.
“I still feel I have a few years at League One level, maybe in a team which plays more to my strengths.”
Forget about his goal record. Town have signed Hawkins as a physical pivot point to their attack – an option they badly lacked last season in a bruising division.
Whether he be an impact sub on days when a Plan B is needed, a foil for James Norwood or Kayden Jackson in a front two, or leads the line alone ahead of creative midfield talent such as Alan Judge, Teddy Bishop, Jack Lankester and co, Hawkins’ flick-ons and hold-up play will be another weapon in the armoury.
The fact he can also play centre-back is a bonus. Under the financial pressures of Covid-19 and the salary cap, the Blues have effectively got themselves two players in one.
He’s at a prime age, knows this level and has a point to prove. Reserve judgement and show him some love Town fans – this will hopefully prove to be a shrewd addition.