Isthmian League


Around each passing corner in these parts there is the glimpse of a glinting floodlight beaming it’s artificial ray down onto a football field. As the clocks travelled back through time itself so did Whitehawk, again settling in for an afternoon away from home comforts. In south east London’s Phoenix Sports this is about as close as the Hawks will get to the prime meridian with the months of August, September and October scribbled off the calendar.

Welcome to the month of November. Chilly may it be, it flummoxed Whitehawk not. This was a banana skin waiting cheekily to slip up Ross Standen’s side. Ten consecutive losses: that’s how Phoenix arrived into the afternoon with a new, albeit familiar, face in their dugout. Yes, that’s right, the old manager curse that so often turns the overlooked into the overpowered.

But not here, not today. Breeze past the home of VCD Athletic — the Hawks will find themselves there in good time — and carry on a couple hundred metres to the Mayplace Ground. Cozy indeed, it would welcome Standen’s latest addition on the far side of the midfield: Peter Gregory. So too would Charlie Lambert find a place. Absent the week prior, the wide-man began on the other side with James Fraser glistening through the middle.

Four changes in total – Leon Redwood and Lew Unwin the other bodies as Henry Blackmore, Stephen Okoh, Henry Muggeridge and Michael Dome-Bemwin all started proceedings with a roof over the heads. The sky dramatic, revealing a golden tint that lit up the surface as if some deity had thrown it’s own light upon the tilted terrain. A minute silence observed to remember those fallen heroes, it was time for courage and mettle, sagacity and wit, as the referee’s whistle marked the commencement of this fresh battle.

From right to left the ball moved with no real rhythm, no real purpose. Neither side kept it for long as they waited, patiently so, for a mistake, for an outlet. It was combative. Space was rare on this constrictive pitch but slowly the Hawk emerged from the nest, eying it’s exposed prey. Give the ball to Javaun Splatt and he will score, that’s usually how things go around here. That is, unless the opposing defender does it for him. Lambert along the right with that pace and that power. The cross into the box is a vicious, delicious, snaking thing that is ready to be poked home. Clearly Ben Fitchett thought the same, sliding the ball shamefully beyond his own goal line.

The belief had been injected into their skins. Now the first had arrived the taste had gripped them, they wanted more. Relentless around the Phoenix defence, it was time for Gregory to fashion an opening. The ball sprayed towards the D, there was Omarr Lawson connecting sweetly with his shoe. Defence grounded, ‘keeper rooted, it slammed the post. Phoenix survive.

But blink, maybe a few times, and the second arrived. Those Hawks flying high in the ever-darkening clouds that hovered above; Splatt would have his obligatory goal. Slow to react once more it was too simple for Whitehawk. No one was close to the forward as the ball flopped away from the corner’s danger to Splatt on the cusp of the box. Head mightily over the round thing at his feet, the strike was sweet as it slipped through the congested box and out hard into the netting. Steve Phillips helpless, Phoenix hapless.

Victims of disaster, the Sports had offered little for the duration but delivered a handy riposte soon before the half. Somewhat bewildering in the moment, Redwood was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area. No refereeing reluctance, he aimed his finger towards the pale spot. Jorginho-esque – a hop, skip and a jump before passing it into the corner. Jeff-Duah Kessie runs in to retrieve, the lead cut in two, the half at an end.

Oooo. That made things a little nervy. After all, it was going so swimmingly for those clad in blue. They were deserving of their lead. The hungrier, the fitter, the better. But this contest was far from gift wrapped. With darkness descendant over the capital a few pennies were shoved into the meter. We have light! Those tall structures emitting their white light that gave the greeny grass a spotlight clarity, Lambert flashed an effort wide of the post seconds after the resumption as Redwood had sprinkled some magic with a crisp diagonal pass.

De ja vu. Redwood floating in a similar position, delivering the goods for Lambert once more who spanked it first time but spanked it wide. But they would not live to rue this. Ravenous from the restart Whitehawk jumped further ahead. The defending static once more, Fraser tip-toed sneakily around the back to prod Lawson’s enticing cross between the posts as that coveted two-goal advantage was restored. Simples.

The threat posed from the hosts was minimal. Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke had been kept unuttered by the irrepressible Adam El-Abd and Mo Kamara. Those prised points should have been slipped into the Brighton pockets long before Alfie Evans made things close once more. An excellent strike it was. Similar in range to Splatt’s, Evans’ was struck with a bit more venom and a bit more placement as it soared beyond a powerless Stroomberg-Clarke. Game back on with a third of the contest remaining.

Strange as it is this felt far from a five-goal game. The Hawks had created more, defended staunchly but there was something missing from their play. Some sort of connection that could’ve altered the scoreline for the better. Nevertheless the Hawks saw out the remainder in reasonable comfort. They had done just that for much of the ninety. So when Okoh joined the field in replace of Lambert, Whitehawk played with that similar peacefulness. Unshakable when they needed to be most.

And so, as the minutes trickled by so did the evening sky with the sun’s departure as the Hawks cruised through to the conclusion unscathed. Upon this ever-moving, ever-changing tour of England’s south another ground is seized. The glowing white hawk of east Brighton lays a laurel wreath upon this recently captured turf. A couple hops up the table sees them tenth. A few more hops are guzzled in delight. The void to the almighty shrinking with each fleeting week.

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