Well would you look at that: The calendar flips to September and there we have it, sun. And not just any old sun, either. No, this one was sizzling the surface throughout the duration. A day perhaps where the majority of Littlehampton’s inhabitants flock to its jagged stone beaches and wide, green spaces. Oh, what a cup tie they missed.
That’s right. A nine-goal thriller on the coast. It’s what the FA Cup is built upon. Steeped in tradition, where upsets are what spark that energy, igniting the flame for football’s oldest competition to prosper. But on this occasion that ‘cupset’ would be lacking as Whitehawk *just* scraped into the next round following a breathless 5-4 affair at The Sportsfield.
The journey begins in only the second minute. With a healthy dose of supporters from both sides lining the sides and ends of the pitch, the hosts would fire their fans into prompt jubilation. There can be no worse start from Ross Standen’s point of view. An in-swinging Dave Herbert cross found Dion Jarvis in an ocean of space. He heads it back into the mixer where Nathan Stroomberg claws the effort into the path of George Gaskin, who taps it in. Simple stuff, effective stuff. But unequivocally avoidable.
And then came the resistance. Eleven minutes in and the scores were levelled up. Callum Edwards was in fine form throughout, and this move appeared to start that irrepressible trend. It was his low cross that was diverted into the path of Henry Muggeridge by the calm Javaun Splatt. With Muggeridge patient, expectant, he fizzed one beyond James Binfield to even up the score.
And yet, there would be a lot more to discuss. In the midst of chances at either end, the Hawks would strike the next blow. From the penalty spot it was, James Fraser gave the ‘keeper the eyes as he sent Binfield the wrong way 12 yards out after Muggeridge was bundled over by Lewis Jenkins. The tourists in front, that lead was almost wiped out in an instant as Joe Benn slotted past Stroomberg, only for the linesman’s flag to halt the celebrations.
The wait for those limbs would not drag on. As the stopwatch struck the thirty, this fixture would be knotted up once more. Again from the penalty spot, Herbert’s calm and cool pass into the bottom corner would push the pendulum in the opposite direction.
But just give it a few minutes and we’re convinced proceedings will take another turn. There it is: Muggeridge at the double! Stand and deliver, El Capitano. Fraser’s shot on the spin is seemingly blocked by the arm of a ‘Marigold’ defender, but the captain is there again to mop up the pieces as he smacked one past Binfield from 8 yards out. A feast of goals in the opening half…but strap in for what was to follow, it’s just getting started.
Things were just getting started for Ollie Munt, too, who was thrown onto the field in place of Fraser. Two minutes after his inception onto the immaculate turf and a yellow card would be brandished in his face. In the grand scheme of things those fifteen minutes after the restart were of a slightly subdued nature. That is, until the necessary wood was added to the dying flames. Benn the scorer, he lashed home a volley from relatively close-range after Jarvis had delivered the ball to him on a silver platter. The hosts had pulled it back. What else did this have in store for the 525 spectators?
The sun still blanketing Sussex, the players were immense as they toiled hard in the scalding heat. Tegan Freeman replaced Simon Mensah who had ran himself into the ground with little over twenty minutes of the engrossing contest remaining. Time continued to tick with nothing…nothing until the 84th minute.
It’s in! A maiden Whitehawk goal for Callum Edwards, and a laudable strike too. In an unfamiliar advanced position, Edwards would be wheeling away in delight having swept home a fourth following a genius lay off from Splatt. The finish was precise, much to the obvious delight of the travelling Hawks. Five to go…where next does this tie go?
Bereft of belief, the Hawks added a fifth. The hosts had their chances but in the end it would be the Hawks prevailing. The flying arms were still air bound by the time Omarr Lawson crushed the ball past Binfield to make it 3-5 with little time remaining. The first time a two-goal lead had been seen, surely that would suffice.
For all the twists and turns this game offered there was always going to be late drama. Gaskin at the double this time, he sent a curling effort towards goal that whizzed into the far top-corner from just outside the box. Everything seemed to be finding the net. It’s never easy this game…
End-to-end, hearts in mouths – the beauty of the FA Cup has rarely been more vividly depicted on the pitch in all its history. Deep, deep into stoppage time and there’s a break in play. The whistle goes. Whitehawk are through. By the faintest skin of their teeth, Standen’s side march on into the next round.
Catch your breath, you’ll need it for Saturday. Ashford are the visitors to the TerraPura before the next round of the FA Cup takes place the following weekend. Ah, haven’t we all missed this bombardment of football. It’s days like these that make this the beautiful game.