11:15AM, Tuesday 21 September 2021
This was supposed to be the game to reignite Slough Town’s flagging league season. Instead, Saturday's 3-1 home defeat to Whitehawk in the second qualifying round of the FA Cup has left the Rebels' management team ‘questioning everything’.
Jon Underwood was quick to accept responsibility for the team's defeat, but admitted to feeling let down by the side's performance, adding that it wasn't acceptable for a National League South side to be outworked and out-thought by a side two levels below them.
The Rebels came into the clash hoping to bounce back from their disappointing 3-2 home defeat to St Albans City in the league and expecting to sweep aside a Whitehawk side who'd hardly set the world alight in the Isthmian League South East, having won just one of their opening five matches.
Instead, there was a slow realisation as the game wore on that they didn't have the edge over their opponents in terms of quality, with Underwood admitting Whitehawk realised 'they were as good, if not better than Slough on the day'.
The tie began well enough for the men in blue and amber, with Freddie Grant directing a powerful header into the back of the Nathan Stroomberg's net in the fifth minute. But Slough's brittle confidence collapsed the moment Henry Muggeridge ran unopposed into the box to control a long punt forward and score. A second goal followed when Javaun Splatt rose to head home on the stroke of half-time, and, for all of Slough's bluster in the second half there was very little quality. Whitehawk could and probably should have added to the brilliant third goal they got through James Fraser.
“They deserved to win the game,” Underwood accepted. “They worked harder than us, they showed more desire than us and they had more quality than us, which, given the two-division gap between the sides is not acceptable.
“Fair play to them, they played above their level today and we played well below ours.
“It leaves us in a very difficult position because we feel let down by the players today. The team we put out there was more than good enough to win this game.
“We’ve got ourselves in front and then had a great chance after 15 minutes, you’d always back Ben to finish from there, and within two minutes we concede a poor goal defensively. Just a runner from midfield who jogged onto the end of a long cross and we didn’t pick him up. Then a free header from a corner on the stroke of half-time.”
Underwood also questioned his players' desire to put their heads in where it might hurt as they chased a route back into the game. While Whitehawk defended manfully and magnificently at times, with Eld Abd orchestrating the resistance, Slough were too often sloppy in possession or lacked the guile to cut open their hard-working visitors.
“We sometimes had bodies there, but not enough people who wanted to die to get on the end of a cross or score the goal that would have got us back into the game. There were also so many mistakes from us today. Some of them did not stop running, there was nothing wrong with their attitude, but they weren't able to show their quality on the ball. It didn't happen for them for whatever reason. There were others who I thought were sloppy in their play and didn't work as hard.
“We got exactly what we deserved to be honest and so did they. Whitehawk grew into the game. When you play a team from levels below you need to have them thinking 'this lot are good, I can see why they are where they are', but the opposite happened.
“They realised they were as good, if not better, than we were, and they realised there wasn’t a lot to fear from us today.
“In terms of the impact on the season, it’s a disastrous day. I can’t overstate that. It’s a disaster. This club needed the finances from a cup run. We’ve not been able to deliver that. That rests with me and Bakes. It’s dreadfully disappointing.
"We hoped this would be the day that kicked us off and drove us on, but it’s done the exact opposite. It’s left us questioning everything. “We’re a long way away from where we need to be. We’ve got some conversations to have over the next few days and then go from there.”
The Rebels will look to bounce back when they visit Hungerford Town in the league on Saturday, a team who sit a couple of places above Slough having won two and lost two of their opening four matches.