Take a gentle stroll up Chichester high street and take in all the sights. A glance to the right depicts a historic wall; a peek to the right portrays an ancient cathedral, protruding high into the air. It’s a quaint little place but, if you made the journey west from Brighton and instead opted for the football on Tuesday night, it was probably best you stayed in the city centre.
Yep, just as Saturday was one of those days, this one was worse. Whereas the weekend’s affair with Ashford was all but over in the 41st minute, this game’s curtain was viciously drawn in only the fifth minute. And although Javaun Splatt made it two-in-two with his spot-kick to halve the deficit, a demolition ensued.
A pleasant evening with a sultry aroma, it would turn sour for Whitehawk with just 180 seconds on the non-existent scoreboard. Hesitant in defence, the ball found Ethan Pritchard in a threatening area who injected some excitement into the 202 strong crowd. Pritchard played it across to Callum Overton who looked unfazed as he drove the ball home.
It was a calamitous start that bore a deeper wound as the second arrived moments after. No sooner had the Hawks played the ball away from centre-circle had the hosts doubled their advantage. Overton again, it was meticulously set-up by Lloyd Rowlatt after the midfielder breezed past Rheo Josephs. A clever through-pass allowed Overton the time and space to pick his spot and, indeed, the net would be rippling for a second time.
But there was hope, there was life! As the half progressed and the game cooled the Hawks started to play some football. James Fraser received the ball with his back to goal before flicking it serenely into the path of Splatt. The ball high in the air, the Hawk reached it first. Contact made in the box and Splatt fell to the deck; referee Paul Barber pointed firmly to the spot. He who won the penalty shall take it. Splatt walloped it down the middle, the game was on.
A brief fifteen-minute spell midway through the first-half was about as good as it got for Ross Standen and his side. Had Fraser’s bold effort from 25 yards found the corner then maybe the outlook would have changed. As it was, it found the roof of the stand as Chichester rode out a spell of visiting pressure.
There was a better feel about the game with ten minutes of the half remaining. Chances were sparse but the scoreline was close, until it wasn’t. The third arrived, then the fourth, then the fifth. In what can only be described as some kind of bizarre blur, proceedings had changed with vigorous velocity.
So, just like that, Rob Hutchings was to be the first to wheel away in delight at the sight of his not so conventional corner finding the green and white net. Neither Nathan Stroomberg nor the man at the near post could prevent the ball from crossing the line as it gladly flummoxed the home crowd.
Then the fourth: Lloyd collected the ball 20 yards from goal with a biblical amount of space. It was too easy; too passive from the Hawks as the goal was gaping. Stroomberg jumped out to thwart, but the ball flew past his feet en route to finding the corner.
The fifth arrived with a hint of expectancy. The Lillywhites were rampant, sparkling in fact. The Hawks were quite the opposite. A cross from the right-hand side was thundered into the box and arrived at the feet of Gicu Iordache. With no one close, he opted for a swift strike and — as it had done for the duration of the half — it whistled past Stroomberg.
The dark clouds revealed a half-moon illuminating the night sky as the players returned to the gorgeous green pasture. A half time team talk that would no doubt have been a difficult one; Leon Redwood and Callum Edwards came on to replace Rheo Josephs and Simon Mensah respectively.
Edward’s first involvement was far from the one he’d had wished for: hacking Pritchard down to floor and receiving a caution for his troubles. Chichester were likely to slow things down a little and ride out the rest of the contest with ease, but they were after more. Iordache injected with belief, he fizzed one at goal that stung the palms of Stroomberg before the ‘keeper collected at the second attempt.
It would be 6-1 soon enough, though. There was little danger, or so it seemed. Redwood stumbled with the ball at his feet in a place where one does not want to do that, allowing Tyrone Madhani to pounce. He robbed Redwood of the ball and accelerated towards the six-yard box. Stroomberg came out but the finish was a precise one. Cotton slid on the line to divert the ball but, much to his own chagrin, there wasn’t enough boot on it as it trickled into the net.
Visibly dejected and understandably frustrated, Omarr Lawson took matters into his own hands by striking one from distance. The effort had the venom but not the placement as Keiran Magee clung on. Transition to the opposite end and the bar would be shaking. Matt Axell displayed trickery with the ball at his feet, bamboozling the Hawks’ defence before teeing up Overton. On a hat-trick, his first-effort smacked the underside of the crossbar before the ball fled to safety.
And that would be that. It’s fourteen goals conceded in the previous three matches as Whitehawk look to depart this particularly strenuous period. But this happens in football. Goals will be conceded, players will get tested but above all else, things will get better.
Next on the agenda is a trip to the west of the capital. National League South outfit Slough Town await in the next round of the FA Cup in a clash that is sure to be another demanding ninety minutes. Sometimes teams need to lose games in order to win games but it is imperative to remember: win, draw or lose, this club will always remain united.
Manager Ross Standen, speaking to the Hawks media team on the morning after the game, accepted that the nature of the defeat was what hurt most: “As a management team we are hurt by the level of performance seen from us and the squad in the last couple of games. We know that it is not acceptable and is not a true reflection of the quality we have in the dressing room. I can guarantee you that we are working all hours of the day to try and put things right. Hopefully by sticking together, working harder and with a little bit of luck we will come through this period.”
Reflecting on where things have suddenly gone wrong, Ross added: “Injuries haven’t made selection easy at times with up to six players missing on occasions, but we can’t use this as an excuse as there is still enough quality in our dressing room to be getting positive results. Most of the players we have brought to the club have had success at this level and played levels above, so ability is not in question but as we have seen we need to all work harder to rectify the issues, cut out the glaring individual errors and stick together.”
For the fans who have seen two disappointing results in four days, the manager’s message was: “I just want to thank the fans who have been magnificent in their support home and away. A week is a long time In football so hopefully we can all put in an improved level of performance starting with Slough on Saturday. Please keep getting behind the lads as you always do, as I know it means a lot to them.”