Bank holiday football in Hastings. The typical grey skies sat above a Pilot Field that was teeming with life on the field and around the arena. A touch over 1,200 people flooded through the gates to witness a slightly under-par Whitehawk performance as the hosts recorded a 2-0 win.
Ross Standen made four changes to the side that narrowly overcame Sittingbourne little under 48 hours before. Welcome to the fray: Callum Edwards, Henry Muggeridge, Tegan Freeman and Demas Ramsis. A first half marred by a wealth of stoppages; it disrupted any sort of flow as a goalless half ensued.
Return to the turf, and the ‘U’s were purring. A strong left-footed effort from Sam Hasler beat Nathan Stroomberg at the near post on the stroke of the hour, before affairs were royally put to sleep in the final minutes as Ben Pope finished sweetly.
But the Hawks weren’t outclassed. Javaun Splatt — spearheading the attack once more — had an early sighter following a corner, although his rather gentle effort was an easy grab for Louis Rogers in the Hastings net.
There was a familiar face amongst the opposition; Dave Martin, following his departure from East Brighton at the year’s beginning. He was involved soon after the initial whistle, whipping a cross into dangerous territories where Pope headed over Stroomberg’s crossbar.
Splatt was evidently intent on recording his first competitive goal for Whitehawk and came within a matter of inches eleven minutes into the contest. His effort looked a good one as Rogers was sent scrambling as he prayed it would evade the far post. It did. Much to the relief of the home support, too.
There was no great deal of relief dealt to Tegan Freeman, though. A lengthy stoppage soon arrived midway through the half as Freeman laid on the deck with blood flowing from the head. It looked a bad one, but after a couple more that went unpunished it was time for Freeman to depart, opening the door for Lewis Unwin to come on in his place. Scoreless at the interval, there was much left to fight for.
The home side began in ravenous fashion. The bar almost rattled, Lloyd Dawes came within a micrometer of smashing the deadlock into oblivion. The ball soaring over, the pressure relieved for now.
For all their waves of attacks it was Ramsis who came close to silencing the town of Hastings. Having found a yard of space on the left-hand side, he cut in onto his stronger right foot. His shot has the power, but lacked the sufficient accuracy as the ball drifted wide of the far corner.
That was to be his last involvement on the grass as he was replaced by James Fraser. An attacking move, it couldn’t prevent the murky inevitable. Just one minute after running onto the field and the hosts were in-front.
One of the more unconventional strikes you’ll find this season in any league, Hasler shot from near the corner flag to deceive Stroomberg and the rest of his Whitehawk teammates. The box was ever so crowded, awkward indeed for the ‘keeper as he was unsuccessful in his attempt to claw the ball away.
But Stroomberg responded valiantly. Shouts of ‘handball’ emanating from the visiting followers, Pope appeared to bring the ball down illegally, but justice prevailed to full effect as the current incumbent of the #1 shirt denied the forward brilliantly from close-range.
A spark had begun to ignite amongst Standen’s side. Still a good twenty minutes of time remaining, Splatt would have levelled the tie if not for a commendable save from Rogers to turn the ball away for a corner.
And then came the chance. It was neat football: pass, pass, pass. Simon Mensah, Omarr Lawson and Muggeridge all involved, the ball fell to the former with just Rogers to beat. But no! The pressure was too much as the ball whizzed past the post as a sea of red and blue dejection filled the stand.
With time against the tourists for the day it was Billie Clark who arrived as attack was the only option. Four minutes of additional time, there was to be one more goal in this feisty, tight encounter. The ground would erupt in delight as Pope polished things off in style.
Having received the ball following some tenacious Jack Dixon work in the centre of the pitch, Pope showed composure to find space in the box before unleashing a curling effort that found the corner.
Two-nil the final score and that appeared a fair enough result on a day where the Hawks never quite snuck over that elusive hurdle. In spots there was potential. A fortunate clean-sheet for Rogers perhaps but the hosts were hungrier as Chris Agutter’s men inflicted the first defeat for Whitehawk in this fresh stage of the season.
After a hectic couple of days, a short break from the league follows as a further trip along the coast to Littlehampton on Sunday sees the Hawks in FA Cup action. A banana skin to be wary of, a win there will be integral as Standen hopes to set aside the past shadows of this Bank Holiday.
U’s: Rogers, Black, Elphick, Stone, Chalmers, Dawes (Adams 79′), Dixon, Pope, Hasler (Pogue 85′), Jenkins, Martin. Not used: Greig, Scott, Turner.
Hawks: Stroomberg, Emberson, Edwards, Mensah (Clark 89′), Blackmore, El-Abd, Muggeridge, Lawson, Splatt, Freeman (Unwin 38′), Ramsis (62′). Not used: Chappell