The Emirates FA Cup gives Non-League’s brightest prospects the chance to shine on the big stage, and there are few finer talents outside the EFL than Dagenham & Redbridge hitman Oliver Hawkins.
As the Official Bookmaker of the FA, we’ve been searching far and wide for the next Jamie Vardy. And there was only one man the Ladbrokes News team wanted to see in the Fourth Qualifying Round.
We figured the best place to start was by chatting with someone who had watched Hawkins week-in, week-out since his January 2016 move to Dagenham. Here’s what Daggers season ticket holder Adam had to say about the club’s star striker.
So, following 10 goals in 14 National League games already this season, could the 24-year-old be the hero once again as John Still’s men took on Wealdstone in a crucial Fourth Qualifying Round clash. The prize? A place in the Emirates FA Cup First Round Proper.
There’s a superb atmosphere within the Chigwell Construction Stadium as these two teams step out into the sunshine of a crisp October afternoon – and it’s matched by a high-intensity start from both sets of players.
The first chances fall to the visitors. Tricky Stones forward Elliot Benyon causes problems with his neat passing, before Jonny Wright clips a neat chip narrowly over the bar.
Home captain Scott Doe averts another dangerous situation with a brilliant last-gasp interception, before the Daggers finally show their sharpness – or rather, two of their star men do.
Hawkins slots a beautiful through-ball between the legs of a bemused Stones defender, and it’s gratefully received by Fejiri Okenabirhie, who takes a couple of touches before slotting it home. It’s 1-0 after 30 minutes.
Today’s scouting target continues to impress, heading narrowly wide after great movement from a free-kick. But it’s the Stones players who go into interval the happier after a slice of fortune sees Matt Whichelow’s 45th-minute shot take a huge deflection and fly into the net.
As the crowd head out of the stands for pies and a piping hot cuppa, we caught up with BBC Radio London’s Stuart Smith, to get his verdict on the lively Hawkins.
The fans are barely back in their seats by the time our man Hawkins finds the net with a trademark header, rising highest and nodding past Stones keeper Jonathan North, who can only get a hand to the sizeable striker’s attempt.
To their credit, Wealdstone don’t let their heads drop, and hit the post with a smart effort. But the hosts prove too hot to handle once again, with Jordan Maguire-Drew producing a brilliant solo goal on 75 minutes to put some daylight between them and the visitors.
However, both sides continue to attack, with the visitors rattling the goalframe again, before Hawkins sets up Maguire-Drew for a seemingly simple chance, but he plants it right into the keeper’s arms. This one ends 3-1 and the 24-year-old unsurprisingly scoops up the club’s Man of the Match award.
That satisfies Daggers chairman Steve Thompson, who told Ladbrokes News: “Games like this are always difficult against a lower-league side, and we’ve beaten sides above us, so we know upsets can happen. Our side were workmanlike and produced a good win.”
A neat passer of the ball with an ability to find space and read the game intelligently, Hawkins’ most recognisable asset may be his strength and eye for goal, but like Vardy, he’s so much more than just a target man.
His goal today summed up just why he’s attracted so much interest – clever movement, an instinctive finish and that sizeable presence he has in the box. Combined with his defensive attributes and classy creative play, Ladbrokes News reckon he can play at a very high level.
So, how does the 24-year-old feel about the future? Can Dagenham continue to shine in the Emirates FA Cup? Does he see Vardy’s career path as an inspiration? What does he rate as his best attributes? We asked and he answered.
But we’ll leave the last word to the chairman.
“Ollie has been fantastic. This club has a fine tradition of bringing through young players and he’s another one.”
“He’s got everything to his game, and I’m sure he’ll play at a higher level, hopefully with us. If he continues to develop at the rate of the last six months, there’s no reason he couldn’t play in the Championship.”
High praise indeed, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see him play even higher than that.
This article has been provided by Ladbrokes. As the Official Bookmaker of the FA, Ladbrokes News will be on the Emirates FA Cup trail throughout the 2016-17 season.