By Isaac Gleave.
Whitehawk achieved their first league victory of the season as penalties either side of half-time were enough to overcome Phoenix Sports in south-east London.
Lucas Rodrigues and Ahmed Abdulla both scored from the spot, and although Phoenix did have their fair share of chances, the Hawks put in a resilient performance as they picked up their first 3 points of the new campaign.
Jude Macdonald made three changes to the side that lost to Herne Bay last weekend, with James Broadbent, Henry Blackmore and Lewis Unwin all coming into the starting XI in place of Mark Smith, Harry Shooman and Adam El-Abd, with the latter serving a one-match suspension following his dismissal last Saturday.
The visitors controlled the opening exchanges, and almost took an immediate lead as Henry Muggeridge saw his effort from inside the six-yard box crash into the side-netting. Whitehawk continued to heap on the early pressure, as Abdulla saw a shot blocked, before the referee waved away strong appeals for a penalty after Ronald Sobowale was felled in the box. Phoenix struggled to grasp any kind of early foothold in the match, as the visiting midfield continued to press both efficiently and effectively. The London side were starting to grow into the game, and they registered their first shot on goal thirteen minutes in, as an Ainsley Everett free-kick on the outside of the box was blocked by the Whitehawk wall.
The Hawks responded well, as a flurry of Dave Martin corners causing issues for the Phoenix defence, with Abdulla flashing a header narrowly wide of the woodwork. Moments after, there were even bigger appeals for a Hawks penalty, after Sobowale was again brought down inside the box, only for referee Craig Pullen to once more wave away the claims. It was to be third time lucky for the Sussex side just minutes later as Muggeridge was bundled over in the box, leaving Pullen with no other choice than to point to the spot. Rodrigues stepped up, and coolly rolled the ball into the corner to give the Hawks a deserved lead after twenty-two minutes.
That goal appeared to breathe new life amongst the home side, as they began to trouble the visitors’ back-line. A scuffed shot from Jeff Duah-Kessie rolled harmlessly wide of the post before Zak Bryon stung the palms of ‘keeper Broadbent in the Whitehawk goal, and that was as close as Phoenix came to finding an equaliser before the break.
Sobowale did have the chance to extend the Hawks’ lead after he took it past the onrushing Steve Phillips after being played through on goal, only for his cut-back to Rodrigues to be intercepted at the final moment. As the game moved past the half-hour mark, chances became scarce as both sides began to cancel each other out, allowing the Hawks to take a 1-0 lead into half-time for the fourth consecutive match.
Phoenix emerged seemingly shaper after the restart as Broadbent had to get across his line quickly to deny Bryon from close range. After a cautious start, Whitehawk began to grow into the half, with the ever-present Sobowale wiggling his way through the Phoenix defence, only for his attempt sail high over the bar. Abdulla then saw a shot blocked from close-range after impressive footwork had created an opening, as the Phoenix defence stood resolute.
The Hawks then received a huge let-off on the stroke of the hour as George Whitelock was given time and space to fire the ball across the face of goal, but no player in a green shirt was there to meet it, much to the relief of the Whitehawk defence. At the other end, a powerfully struck first-time volley from Abdulla missed the top-left stanchion by a matter of inches, after the ball had found him twenty yards from goal following a Martin corner.
The contest started to become stretched as it entered its final phase. Kweku Ansah will feel he should have brought Phoenix on level terms after Broadbent was equal to his fizzing drive ten minutes from time. With the game still finely balanced, it was the Hawks who delivered the knockout blow. Rodrigues was brought down inside the box after a surging, powerful run, presenting Whitehawk with their second spot-kick of the game. This time, however, it was Abdulla’s turn from the penalty spot, and he thundered the ball beyond the outstretched arms of Phillips to settle the Hawks’ nerves.
As the game approached stoppage time, Sobowale was replaced by Connor Tighe for Whitehawk’s first and last change of the afternoon. Phoenix did have the chance to half the deficit moments from time, but Everett’s first-time effort cannoned off the outside of the post, and away to safety.
Phoenix continued to toil in the closing stages but simply couldn’t find a way back into the game, with the Hawks celebrating a job well done at the final whistle.
A first victory of the season for the much-improved Hawks, who take a short break from league football as they host Barton Rovers in the FA Trophy next weekend.
Sports: Phillips, R. Andrews, Clark, Bryon, Young, Fitchett (Dythe 75′), Dyer (O. Andrews 83′), Bird, Duah-Kessie (Whitelock 44′), Ansah, Everett. Not used: Aziaya, Dakin.
Hawks: Broadbent, Blackmore, Emberson, Unwin, Chappell, Hamilton, Rodrigues, Abdulla, Sobowale (Tighe 89′), Muggeridge (C), Martin (Fraser 90′). Not used: Wilson, Shooman, Ovenden.
Goals: Rodrigues 22′ pen, Abdulla 83′ pen (Hawks)
Yellow Cards: Bryon, Fitchett (Sports), Martin, Blackmore, Emberson (Hawks)
Referee: Craig Pullen
Man of the Match: Luke Emberson