If Saturday’s slim loss at the hands of Whitstable Town spawned any sizeable positives, it was providing the skilful, slippery Billie Clark his first competitive start. At 17 years of age the forward frolicked up and down, speeding through the gears. A full ninety minutes in his fuel tank – the first of his competitive career — on an otherwise frustrating and stormy afternoon fizzed some confidence into his veins. How clear it was to see on Tuesday evening.
Foiled by some sturdy oysters on Saturday, Clark would finally have his opportunity, his moment underneath the great yellow bulbs that clung to the blackened backdrop. There he went cutting inside onto his favoured right shoe, shimmying into space on the corner of the chalky box before curling adroitly into the far netting. Sumptuous it shall be called in a losing effort nonetheless, it was more than a mere consolation, rather the elegant foundations of something special.
Rain from above swirling and twirling like Starlings in a faint mist delicately tapping on the dugout, Clark would find himself sitting below its shielded roof alongside Lewis Unwin and Declan Kama – the three changes to Saturday’s defeated side. The wind would be howling in the opposite direction this time around as the conditions remained far from the idyllic. A smattering of hardy Herne Bay vocalists braving the late November elements at the foot of the Sea End, this evening affair would leave much to be desired.
Unfulfilling in its vapid nature, it was not for a lack of determination or appliance, rather the constant factors plaguing both attacks once the ball crossed over into the final third: that final pass, the killer instinct, nobody gambling….all of the above. Passing iffy too, they were sloppy in their formalities as the scores of those sat waited patiently for the ignition key to turn. Flick mildly it did with Zak Ansah and Kieron Campbell on twenty-five minutes, the pair combined smartly to allow the latter with a distant sight of Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke’s goal. Firmly driven as it skittered off the greasy surface but wide of the right post it soared.
The dancing precipitation providing a dramatic backdrop as the lights twinkled in the night sky, it spotlighted an essence of life for a Whitehawk side devoid of ingenuity in the forward positions. James Fraser firmly placing the ball towards the feet of an idle Omarr Lawson who, back turned to goal, swivelled and slammed it against a visiting leg as it meandered away through the damp air.
But soon Herne Bay had the advantage. A half that had produced the slightest fragments of hope and zing, soon it would have a goal – one that perfectly encapsulated the opening forty-five minutes. So there was Stroomberg-Clarke, simply tapping the ball out to Adam El-Abd. Unaware of the pressure posed by Bradley Schafer, El-Abd’s touch is a heavy one as the opposing forward gobbles it up, advances briskly towards goal before caressing it painlessly through the rain and into the loose nettage. Yep, sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.
And then things can swiftly get out of hand. For soon after Russell Jones’ whistle that restarted the stopwatches, Schafer had casually thumped home his second. Asleep in defence as Bode Anidugbe swings the ball into Stroomberg-Clarke’s zone, it drops onto the head of the unmarked Schafer who powered it into the roof of the net. Those in red stationary, hands and voices raised as they all seek out the culprit. Regardless of the source, the Hawks had a far steeper gradient to conquer.
Yet for their tribulations along both channels and their endeavours through the centre it was still far from hedonistic viewing. Wasteful they were in possession; formulating yet failing. Ross Standen heeds to his remaining cavalry. ‘Ollie, Billie…it’s time’. On they came for Charlie Lambert and Fraser. Whitehawk proud to have produced such talents, now on for the remaining twenty minutes in the hope of salvation. Tick did the clock, the silent Javaun Splatt stood over a free-kick 22 yards from the target. Whacked it was, straight into the palms of Jordan Perrin for the Hawks’ first shot on target. Better…
Luckless over the previous 177 minutes, the fireworks were finally lit, though late on it was. Luke Emberson offloading the ball to Clark who, hugging the touchline, accelerates along the wing, twisting and shifting before moving inside. This move waves goodbye to two defenders before a third hastily closes Clark down. But it’s already too late. Curling viciously is the ball with acute precision into the far corner. Beyond the hands of Perrin, it wraps around the netting with a guttural raw from the Hawks behind. Lift-off for Clark, lift-off for the Hawks.
Quickly enough the momentum shifted drastically. If only it hadn’t taken eighty-seven minutes for the match to scratch the red-strip. The Bay box peppered from all angles, Munt slaps the ball high into the box in search of a man clad in red. Splatt leaps high off the turf to connect, heading the ball down towards greatness. But there’s a sprawling Perrin, flopping to his left to tip it around the post. That was the chance, that was the moment, ended with a blow of the referee’s whistle.
Balanced was the play for much of the duration, costly were the mistakes made by themselves. Testing times where things don’t always fall the way you’d like them to, it’s a constant in this ever-evolving sport. For young Billie Clark a moment to cherish. A fine strike of the ball, it deserved greater implications for his side. As it is the Hawks lose their third in a row, onto Sevenoaks in search of happier times. But through this murky mist of falling rain the Hawks have a shining light that is just starting to blossom beautifully.