The Brettsiders’ assistant manager saw his side throw away a one-goal lead — given to them by Shane Wardley — as Jonathan Fairweather’s close-range strike and Tom James’ penalty sent Wisbech Town through to the quarter-finals of the national competition.
Although Hadleigh hold a huge lead at the top of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division, other teams can close in by winning their games in hand and Dilloway hopes the leaders’ title challenge does not falter like it did after last season’s Vase exit.
“Now we have to regroup, stay together and work through it,” said Dilloway, whose side drew one and lost five of their next six league matches following last season’s quarter-final defeat at Tunbridge Wells. “Other teams are playing catch-up, but we’ve got some tough games left and everybody wants to beat us — we have to show our character now.”
Having lost their previous two matches without scoring, Hadleigh are enduring their first patch of poor form this season, but have a chance to bounce back at lowly Thetford Town on Saturday (3pm).
Reflecting on the Wisbech defeat, Dilloway added: “Our A game wasn’t there — we weren’t quite good enough.
“We’ve got to a stage of the season where our performances are not good enough.
“Confidence is low and we had to start with four central midfield players purely because of our injury problems.
“We missed Scott Chaplin and Matt Downing, who are crucial players to us because they get the ball in wide areas and make things happen — when you haven’t got that, you are restricted to how you play.
“We’ve performed really well this season and produced some good attacking football, but that was lacking in our play.”
With the weather causing havoc with the sporting schedule across the country once again, groundsman Chris Towell did extremely well to get the match played for 511 spectators, even reverting to painting the lines by hand after his pitch-marking machine failed in the morning.
The first clear-cut chance fell to United’s Josh Mayhew in the 22nd minute when Wisbech’s defence failed to react to Tes Bramble’s flicked header through and Mayhew advanced on goal before shooting across the face of the net and wide with his left foot.
Bramble also went close for the hosts when he headed Liam Jennings’ right-wing free-kick on to the roof of the net, but they did not have to wait too much longer to open the scoring.
In a demonstration of Hadleigh’s counter-attacking prowess, both full-backs found themselves deep inside the opposition penalty area with Ryan Stafford striking the post before Wardley reacted quickest to slide in and convert as the ball rolled across the goalline.
However, they could not hold their lead until half-time as Fairweather was on hand inside the six-yard box to rifle the ball into the roof of the net after Tony Battersby’s initial shot had been blocked.
Fairweather almost restored the Brettsiders’ advantage moments later when he headed Mark Goldfinch’s deep free-kick against his own crossbar, but the scores remained level going into the half-time break.
All the hosts could muster during a frustrating second half was a tame off-target header from Ollie Canfer and a long-range shot by Stafford that comfortably found the midriff of Mackney.
Hadleigh’s Jennings and Wisbech’s Scott Johnson walked tightropes and were lucky not to receive second yellow cards before being replaced in the closing stages.
However, one illegal challenge Jennings made would prove to be much more costly as he brought down Danny White with a clumsy foul to concede a penalty eight minutes from time.
The visitors’ top scorer James sent Fred Howe the wrong way as he stroked the ball into the bottom left corner and there would be no way back, leaving hundreds of travelling Wisbech fans to pack out the Millfield bar to celebrate after the match.
Hadleigh: Howe, STAFFORD, Wardley, Maher, Goldfinch, Donnelly, Wright, Jennings (Barwick 84), Bramble, Mayhew (Blades 78), Canfer. Subs not used: Rose, Westrem, Moyes.