Brrrrrr. It’s getting chilly.
So how else would one rather spend their Tuesday evening? If the snaily westbound crawl along the A27 fails to fulfil your appetite then 120 (and a bit) brisk minutes in Chichester’s Oaklands Park certainly will, right?
Well, it did at least for a sizeable band of hardy travelling Hawks who braved Sussex’s ever-reliable infrastructure and Arctic climate to feast on a slice of Senior Cup action. No further from home soil could this tie be played; it flicked a buried memory back into eye view. 64 days reminiscing over that 6-1 mauling in this identical venue the Hawks will justly argue their recent improvements. They are a different outfit. But in this fabled county competition jolts and bumps can slap even the most formidable in the numb face.
We’re talking about you, Whitehawk. Ah yes, find the perky little ground amongst the myriad of floodlights. Countless bulbs emitting such beams that this complex can be spotted from the Isle of Wight. Ross Standen decided upon making a sizeable dose of personnel changes as Henry Muggeridge, Ollie Munt, Lewis Unwin and (inhale!) Declan Kama all were presented with a chance on the grass.
And so with dark, heavy coats aplenty and a stream of condensed vapour exiting the mouths of those lined along the pristine field, it was time for some football. In striking similarity to Saturday afternoon the Hawks implemented a frenetic tempo that would be equalled by their opponents. But as both XIs effectively kept winning the ball back from each other it squeezed very few droplets into the juice of excitement. Omarr Lawson drifted into some zones of space a metre or so from the boxed lines but would be denied, easily, by Kieran Magee.
Ball retention seemed to be a thing until the lack of options opted for a punt forward into nothingness. That happened a plentiful amount — from the hosts as much as the Hawks — but not before the latter were compelled into making an early substitution. Peter Gregory, sat pensively in a heap on the cold pasture, soon limped off in place of the proverbial fledgling that is Billie Clark, inheriting a wing of his own.
Clark would be whooshing up and down, speeding through the gears to present an opening with the midway pause looming. It’s Lawson once more, testing Magee from his new favoured range but with a tad more zip this time. Too hot it proved for the ‘keeper, juggling and spilling before it fell to Clark on the rebound. With a mighty heave of the boot he slammed it goalwards, and with an even mightier lunge of a defensive leg it ricocheted away to safety.
Cue a bit more thrill in front of net. Affairs livened up with the thought of a heated changing room floating around the minds of those in the colourful kits. The ‘Lilywhites’ threatened softly but Kaleem Haitham almost embarrassed Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke; the #1 flapping at a curling yet fiery attempt that dribbled towards the line. Not today, exclaimed the ‘keeper, probably, as he grasped it in the denouement. And before long Muggeridge would be rattling a crossbar, slapping a moving ball faintly but precisely towards the target from 18 yards. Dipping a touch later than intended, it doinked the white crossbar before continuing its journey into the stands. All action, no goals. There’s the half time whistle. Grab a warm beverage…it’ll do you good.
Minutes passed, the mists rolled in and the spectacle returned. Four lone lights beating their energy downwards onto the spinning shapes of Whitehawk blue and Chichester green. A hollower half this time around, it would open with a menacing Rob Hutchings run deep inside Hawk territory. Beyond a few listless limbs he surged, beating one then two before planting his drive precariously wide of Stroomberg-Clarke’s right upright.
Things just lacked a bit of spice, that moment of zing. The ignition key jammed in its sticky slot; the half spluttered with banality. The dreaded thought of extra minutes loomed from the inaugural blow of the whistle, but this chapter may have carried a sunnier narrative had Munt composed himself for a split-second further. Slipped in on the right side in the space of a Kings’ boudoir he was finally closed down, lifting his effort wildly over the woodwork in the process.
The hands of the clock progressing swiftly in its nature; the offside flag a constant thorn in Standen’s side as one, two, three times it prevented a gaping goal. Leon Redwood arrived and so did James Fraser to freshen the legs. For all their weary efforts the ball racked up some mileage on its journey across Oaklands Park. With the ninety up the yellow spheroid would be permitted a later bedtime. This one was going the distance.
An opening extra time instalment belonging to Chichester, Conor Cody and Prichard stifling a wearisome backline. Peppering the Whitehawk net, Prichard was first to set his sights, seeing his snapshot sail over the sticks via a slight deflection. And from that very corner Cody rose emphatically, nodding the ball viciously towards the deck and the net only for Redwood to clear on the lines. The visitors sweating profusely; that freezing fog embellishing the vista proved a Chichester caveat.
One final half, one final supplication: someone please score. Pressure built and soon simultaneous delirium and devastation delivered. Oh, the searing pain felt by a vocal minority. Fraser failing to secure the services of the ball in his own territory, it presented Emmet Dunn with a moment of brief blankness on the field for a shot on goal. The finish was dainty, definite, devastating. Outstretched was the right arm of Stroomberg-Clarke, too far from its intended objective. Into the corner it rushed, up went the scores of guttural noises awakening the night sky.
Efforts in vain. That’s the game, that’s the reality. Finality nearing, Muggeridge encapsulated his side’s performance with a sliding shot that spooned up onto the bar. The obligatory flag of the assistant’s raised high in the air, it was to be one of those nights. A blip in the slip road, a minor deterrent. They happen.
So, Chichester progress, Whitehawk depart. Hopes of cup silverware dashed late on, there are larger ambitions on the horizon. To Ramsgate they travel joined at the cuff, united throughout with one intention resonating in their brains: four straight league victories.