Crawl carefully through the snug countryside roads of deepest Kent and soon you’ll find it: A science park that throws up one more surprise, a flash of a floodlight lurking behind a faint December mist. Trudge along the damp, leaf littered pathway to this next calling, a scenic spot in amongst the naked trees that houses the opponents of another foe, those that hail (slightly afar) from the industrial town of Sittingbourne.
A passing Ross Standen delivers news of a rare unchanged starting eleven that earned a valiant home point when table-toppers Cray Valley Paper Mills swung down south for a visit to East Brighton Park. But here, far from that familiar slope that looks down onto the rustic Enclosed Ground with an invisible smile, it was a thickening fog that settled in for the afternoon. Many a squinter, many a mistake, it would soon transpire that the festive points would not be returning home to the county of Sussex.
Out through the swollen haze arrived two lines of eleven bodies with those pre-match thoughts of prosperity buzzing around their fixated minds. Into position like a beautifully arranged tactic board, a guttural blow of the whistle commenced the next phase of a fleeting chapter, whilst awakening many of the neighbouring hibernators. Back to the football on display, if you can see it, as the dewey turf provided the zip for the game’s sporadic life.
In a half governed maturely by Whitehawk, it was The Brickies who earned the first sight of goal: Kane Rowland released into an expansive area via a gorgeous arched pass that skipped smoothly off the surface, but he was to be denied by the flailing legs of an alert Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke.
Turn the heads to the opposite direction, where you can just about make out a voracious James Fraser, full of life and intent, skipping beyond a few feet until Harry Brooks thwarts the forward. Henry Muggeridge, who is in line to make his 100th Whitehawk appearance against Hastings, is alive to the situation, collecting the loose pass but his hefty rebound balloons over courtesy of a mighty deflection.
An abundance of misplaced passes owing to a constant change in possession, it catered for a scarcity in attempts at goal. Omarr Lawson exhibited a positive energy in the centre of the field, carrying the ball from his expansive zones and into the encouraging areas. A few clicks over the half’s halfway point and Peter Gregory is controversially adjudged offside after already slamming the ball into an empty net. Incandescence from those with an embroidered Hawk, the billowed net would count for nothing.
Reminiscent of last weekend’s opener — as Mo Kamara’s sweeping pass found the laces of Muggeridge’s boot — it was a similarly exquisite defence-splitting pass as it unleashed an advancing Javaun Splatt to race towards goal. It’s the old one-on-one, striker versus ‘keeper, Splatt versus Brooks, but who prevails? Certainly not the former, as his inside-of-the-boot attempt flew off into an adjacent field. Wasteful when they could afford otherwise, the scoreless scoreline hovered over Woodstock Park at the game’s pause.
The unforgiving obscurity began to mix intensely with the evening darkness that rolled in from the east. Those warm lights from above attempted to shine through the density but still the vision was impaired as the mutterings of an abandonment echoed around the clubhouse. No, no, nothing to see here. The show must go on, and upon resumption the hosts posed more of a slippery hazard for the Hawks’ backline. A swift bombardment of Stroomberg-Clarke’s uprights opened with a Harrison Pont hisser over the crossbar from just inside the box (we think). Sittingbourne were starting to shoot on sight, Jedd Smith slamming into the advertising boards behind after his whack narrowly evaded the post.
Something had to change, had to be spiced up a little. Ollie Munt stormed onto the field to replace Muggeridge for some extra charge in the midfield. Rejuvenation for a moment, Gregory’s low arrowed strike was finger-tipped around the far post by Brooks as the referee directed his arm towards the corner flag.
Yet it’s the hope that kills you. It was not until deep into the contest, the 68th minute to be precise, that the deadlock was broken: Pont collecting a short-corner pass as the defence was momentarily flicked off. Punished for their obliviousness, Pont advanced towards a more central position and, once found, laced the ball through a crowded box, smooching Stroomberg-Clarke’s near post on its way into the netting.
Oscillations were a regular, but by now the wearying limbs had widened the available space for Lawson to drive into. A glance to the right sees Splatt dashing towards goal, a look in-front spots just the one defender. Further they pushed towards goal before the ball was released, fiercely, inaccurately to his frontman as another attack fizzled into an abyss.
And then it all went a bit berserk. Minutes from the final appearance of the official’s glitzy board, Ahmed Abdulla showed a moment of the highest class. The Hawks know all too well his secrets, but this was special. Time was slipping through Standen’s hands when the ball plopped to Abdulla a touch inside his own territory before taking a brief peek at goal. Audacious it was, he tried the unthinkable: lacing it high and true into the dark mist. There it went…spinning…dropping…landing beneath the bar and into the nettage. Ludicrously special; the knockout blow.
Or was it? In a hurry Gregory adroitly controls a steepling pass a yard shy from the Brickie’s box, baiting Brooks out of net. A simple pass across the face presents Splatt with an open goal, to which he calmly stroked the ball into. There was life! Oh wait, never-mind, for in these hectic few minutes Sittingbourne had a third, Abdulla had a second. Positioned patiently on the edge of the area, Whitehawk failed to close the midfielder brimming with confidence down in time, as Abdulla whooshed the ball into the gates of victory.
A not so merry show, it’s remains one of note that the Hawks have salvaged just the one point from a losing position in the league all season, and that was on the very first afternoon in August. Quality, desire, passion: it’s all there, it just needs to be unlocked all at once. And when it is, like it has been on a number of occasions, this is an exciting team to follow. A visit from Hastings United soon after the festivities, here’s wishing it shows a brighter glimpse into the future.