“We’ve had a couple of chances, obviously they’ve had a couple of chances as well…both sides going at it…a good advert for Sussex football, it’s something to build on”.
There can be little shying away from the fact that 2021 was not the year of the Hawk. For every opposition Whitehawk have blown away, it has not been sufficiently followed up on a consistent basis. Saturday marked the turn of a new year, a new life for Brighton’s non-league contingent. Throughout the years of recent time this club has journeyed up and down the various tables of England’s football pyramid. For it to thrive they must not rush into anything, taking every game one step at a time. And with the first kicks of 2022, Ross Standen stands proud in the hissing rain after his side’s stalemate with Haywards Heath Town. Indeed, a platform for further success.
Oddly mild, pleasant nonetheless, the high cloud catered for low light as a flash of the bulbs above signalled the commencement of fresh beginnings. A single change to that side defeated by Hastings United in narrow margin: Ollie Munt finding himself on the right side of a midfield at the expense of Peter Gregory. Whitehawk in their accustomed red; Haywards Heath in their jazzy blue and white as a fine, boisterous crowd crammed into Hanbury Stadium – half of those children, the other half with increasingly aching heads. A luscious green pitch tucked cosily amongst the swarm of nearby houses, the dawn of a renewed era was upon us.
It began with good pace – the zippy, moist turf owing to some fluidity. ‘The Blues’ gameplan was clear: high-press, high-line. Whitehawk had to move the ball quickly and precisely if they were to succeed. The story was reminiscent of Ramsgate, where the Hawks were forced under immense pressure, and paid the ultimate price…three times. But here things were a little different. In fact, quite the opposite as Billie Clark sneaked behind the defence, sprinted furiously past Hamish Morrison towards goal before seeing a net-destined strike slap the trailing arm of Billy Collings. Frenetic, fast, entertaining. Rewardless, however.
So whilst Whitehawk were seeing less of the ball but more of the goal, the hosts from the Heath were faced with a sturdy wall of red. Painted by the force of Adam El-Abd and Alex Malins, the stalwarts worked tirelessly to deny an increasing wave of attacks. With gratitude to his defence, Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke was not troubled until midway through the opening half, stooping low to collect Tom Cadman’s tame attempt on the turn. Soon enough the bubbles of energy returned, Standen’s side bearing the brunt. Stroomberg-Clarke receiving the let-off of his young life as Jerson Dos Santos failed miserably to capitalise on the ‘keeper’s scuffed clearance with the goal at his mercy.
Pressure relentless, but it would turn a touch in the visiting favour. That is, after Stroomberg-Clarke had prevented Davigildo Cravid’s piledriver and Josh Clack’s rebound from billowing the netting. Yep, move on deeper into the half to find the ol’ Lawson-Munt combination in full procession: the former glancing his header tantalisingly wide of Collings’ left-upright following the latter’s delicious cross into the box. Exhale, inhale, exhale…that’s the half and, somehow, not a goal to show for it. The right kind of football for the defensive purist up in Haywards Heath.
Dim the clouds and return from the warmth, Cravid had seemingly yet to climatise as his frozen feet permitted Luke Emberson from robbing the ball yards from an empty goal after Stroomberg-Clarke had parried Clack’s lolloping volley into his path. A desperately lucky escape, but the Blues would not be without their own God smiling down on them. It had been a muted game for Javaun Splatt in front of goal, but his link-up play with fellow colleagues had been quietly admirable. Here he was, carrying the ball through a scattered midfield before arriving at the final resistance. A cross that just about discovered Clark, the fledgling winger opted for a shot on the spin, low and hard at Collings who got enough limb on it for the ball to squirm and spin to the wrong side of the post. Agonising for Clark, tortuous for the vocal Hawks immediately behind the frame.
Swiftly the Hawks were in the ascendancy. Still hotly contested, and still the possibility of every result, Standen sent on his newest weapon: Alex Laing. The nippy forward found himself floating in positive areas, and he came within the other limb of Collings of being the instant catalyst. For you see, it was his knock-down inside the area that gifted Splatt a clear opening: firing down and straight at the busy goalkeeper. Off his boot and away to safety it veered. Thoughts of a few hundred believing that for no matter how hard each side tried, this one was always going to end without a spark.
Far into the evening darkness and further into the battle, the dying hopes of mid-Sussex raptures was but a sumptuous Stroomberg-Clarke save away from defibrillation. Oh, what a delightful cross it was from the left, curling and swirling onto the onrushing laces of Sam Remfry who struck wickedly at goal. Not today, my good chum. Like a cat thrown into a bathtub, Stroomberg-Clarke leaped instinctively to his right to paw the ball away, and provide his side with a deserved, breathless point.
A New Years Day stalemate. In the growing pages of Whitehawk’s history this will be but a brief chapter at initial glance. But think not, as this read far more than its monotonous scoreline. This was a rapid game of chess between two masters of the board. Those between the posts in exquisite form, defences prevailed under the January lights on the turning of a new calendar.