Since a humiliating and heartbreaking FA Cup replay exit at the hands of bitter rivals Grimsby Town, Scunthorpe United FC have barely looked back.
Having dispensed of manager Brian Laws and replaced him with his assistant Russ Wilcox, The Iron are unbeaten since that dreadful November night, and now sit second in the League Two table with an excellent chance of promotion well within their grasp.
And yet in the midst of this stunning turnaround lies a peculiar twist; the regression of winger Terry Hawkridge, the scorer of United’s goal in that 2-1 cup defeat that spelled the end for Laws. First things first, this isn’t designed to destroy Hawkridge’s reputation; I firmly support any Iron player. But for me, and seemingly many others around me in the Glanford Park stands, Hawkridge’s performances during United’s 16 match unbeaten run have become gradually worse.
Given his initial promise, the situation is even more difficult to understand as the season heads towards its climax. Having arrived from Gainsborough Trinity in the summer, Hawkridge quickly secured himself the right wing berth with a string of impressive performances during preseason. That form continued into the start of the campaign, where he belied his lack of football league experience by turning in some excellent displays. He showed no fear. He attacked defenders. He got balls into the box. He set goals up. Things were looking rosy for The Iron, and Terry Hawkridge was at the heart of everything good.
But Scunthorpe’s displays became stale and stagnant. A couple of defeats, and the fans lost confidence. The team did too. Hawkridge became a little more reserved. And then; some salvation. A mouthwatering cup derby with ‘the codheads’. A chance to reaffirm our status as the region’s top team.
The first tie, a tense and fraught 0-0 draw was something of an anti-climax, but a home replay would surely bring joy to the terraces once more as Scunthorpe’s season stuttered. Not so. Just days after a ridiculous home defeat to bottom side Accrington, Grimsby came to Glanford Park and won the derby. I left the ground to the distant refrain of ‘Maarrriiinnneerrrs’ feeling lower than I ever had after a football match. I’m still not over it.
And neither, it would seem, is Terry Hawkridge. Since then, he has not performed to anything like his potential. He now seems afraid to attack defenders and run at players. His passing has been poor. He has lost the ability to get a good cross into the penalty area. He doesn’t score goals (the Grimsby game remains his only strike for The Iron).
And all the while, the exciting 17 year old prospect Hakeeb Adelakun remains on the bench, restricted to 20 minute substitute appearances where he invariably injects new life into the game, creating chances and worrying tired defenders. Having come on at half time in last week’s return game at Accrington, Adelakun turned the match, scoring an equaliser and turning in a majestic display as United won 3-2 from 2-0 down.
It’s hard to explain Hawkridge’s regression, and it seems that not everyone shares the view. I’ve heard it said on BBC Radio Humberside that his displays have become more ‘mature’. And yet having given away penalties in his last two home outings, and creating little for our forward players, I’m not sure how that argument can be used.
For me, Hawkridge has undoubted potential, but perhaps is simply in need of a rest. It seems as though Wilcox is tempted to start Adelakun for the match with Portsmouth on Saturday, and that would be the right call; Hakeeb looks dangerous and deserves a shot while Terry Hawkridge needs to do some soul searching and rediscover his early golden performances.