Whitehawk’s relegation from the National League South was confirmed on Tuesday night, but only after a battling display away at play-off hopefuls Braintree Town.
The Hawks led twice at the Ironmongery Direct Stadium, but two late goals from substitute Reece Grant saw the hosts prevail 4-3 in a thrilling game for the neutral.
Gold Omotayo and Yannis Ambroisine strikes had seen the Hawks go into the interval 2-1 to the good after Mark Okoye had given Braintree a 20th minute lead.
Jon Muleba drew the hosts level with just under twenty minutes to go, but Lloyd Macklin restored Whitehawk’s lead going into the last eight minutes.
However, with the Hawks needing three points, Braintree responded and Grant struck twice, including in the third minute of added time, to turn the game around and condemn the Hawks to relegation for only the third time in their 73-year history.
Steve King made two changes from the team that beat Welling 2-1 on Saturday, with Elliot Benyon and Caden Genovesi coming into the starting line-up.
And the Hawks had a great chance to go ahead after just ten minutes. Arnaud Mendy did well to win possession high up the pitch and found Benyon, who teed up Omotayo but with just the keeper to beat saw his effort saved by the scrambling Nathan McDonald.
Ky Marsh-Brown then fired over when well placed before the Iron made the visitors pay for their misses by going ahead after twenty minutes.
Josh Hill got on the end of a free-kick deep into the Hawks’ area and found an unmarked Okoye who headed in from six yards.
However, that lead lasted all of seven minutes. Omotayo was tripped inside the area and referee Paul Howard had no hesitation but to point to the spot. The striker dusted himself down and sent the keeper the wrong way for his third goal in his last four games.
Braintree then had chances to regain the lead, with Ambroisine doing well to get back and clearing off the line after Dan Thompson had rounded Dan Wilks and got his shot away, before the centre-back was robbed of possession before recovering well to deny Marcel Barrington.
And the defender rounded off an eventful period for him personally by putting the Hawks ahead. Jordan Gibbons’ long throw dropped to Macklin, who saw his drive parried by McDonald and Ambroisine was the quickest to react and bundle the ball over the line – the linesman awarding the goal before Okoye’s attempt to clear on the line.
The second half started with a more scrappy feel to it – with Benyon seeing a shot deflected wide the only real action in front of goal until the game burst back into life with eighteen minutes to go.
Substitute Roman Michael-Percil floated the ball in from the left and picked out the run of Muleba, who was unmarked and made no mistake with his bullet header finding the bottom corner to draw the hosts level.
Wilks was then at his best to produce a fine stop to spare Genovesi’s blushes after he sliced his clearance towards his own goal, before Whitehawk regained the lead with eight minutes to go. McDonald could only clear the ball as far as Macklin having been put under pressure, and from 35 yards the forward fired the ball into the unguarded net to make it 3-2.
However, the lead barely lasted two minutes. Muleba lifted the ball in from the right and picked out sub Grant, who rose between two defenders and headed into the roof of the net.
With five minutes of additional time indicated, the Hawks had half a chance to claim all three points, but Simon Mensah dragged his effort wide of the near post from just inside the area.
And with time running out, the hosts broke Hawks hearts. A corner in from the left was never really cleared, and the ball eventually dropped to Grant who nodded in despite the attempts of Wilks and several defenders on the line.