It was a game that looked bleak from the outset. For Whitehawk this was another on the list of performances where things simply did not seem to click. Burgess Hill Town’s Tommy Reid forced into few saves as the shifting blue shapes were fruitless in their offensive attempts. The Hillians by no means overwhelming; Whitehawk powerlessness the masters of their fate. Destiny was sealed on the stroke of half time: Martyn Box in the, errr, box to nod in the affair’s lone goal. It was all just a bit too obvious.
But anyway, the scene must be set: a tinge of the usual grey pillows above provided a murky vista, surrounding trees danced majestically in the swaying breeze. An enclosed ground (no, not that one), but a green environment nonetheless. Stands full, fences lined to the hip with fans of England’s non-league. The real fans, the one’s that value its gravity. 744 cold faces watched on as the newly-acquired-from-Margate Daniel Thompson led the line, Javaun Splatt to his left, Peter Gregory to his right. Plagued by a myriad of injuries, illnesses, recalls this squad was a little thin. And did it show.
Slipping from the tunnel strode the lines of t-shirted footballers, sinking their studs into the soft mud. The ones dressed in black and green started the scattered stopwatches to a strong noise, stronger crowd in this revered Sussex rivalry. Our very own A23 derby, only this time those that hail by the sea had a strikingly smaller xG. In the ascendancy for a split second, the byline Splatt striking it acutely goalwards, summoning Reid into rare action by shifting it away with his hands. No foreshadowing here. At the opposite end stands a lethargic Tegan Freeman, dispossessed close to goal with Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke stranded. Like a topped golf ball its takeoff was aborted, landing serenely into the arms of the Hawks’ goal guarder.
With sharpening frequency that Whitehawk backline was placed under pressure. Defence, midfield, attack – lacking in the fluidity and cohesion as Josh Spinks heads woefully wide from a header as free as bald eagle gliding over a Texan desert. Formulating passes in the final third was not a thing of Ross Standen’s side. Burgess Hill appeared sharper, fitter, and with the desire of a side who looked like they wanted a play-off position. Lewis Taylor at the heart of this body, the electricity source that spun and surged to excellent precision, whilst also invoking a fine acrobatic save from Stroomberg-Clarke, tipping it away for a corner kick.
And then the goal: simple, unmarked, emphatic. A real net-bulger. Dubious was the decision for the far side free-kick, it was swung in true with skill and power. But where was the marking? Where were the wavy blue shirts to head it away? Mere moments from a little break, Box climbed softly to crash the ball fiercely into the green netting. Hands placed onto the heads, confusion raining down on the tops of the Hawks. A shambolic time to concede, that expectant whistle blew with a distant darkness approaching.
Back out. Lights on, please. For brief spells Whitehawk had the advantage. Returning with a purpose, Freeman unleashed something few knew he was capable of: rifling from range towards the goal Reid is called upon, soaring through the air at height to push it over the crossbar. In truth, however, this half was perhaps poorer than the first. Succession of corners resulting in nothingness, the ability to score slowly died throughout the ensuing forty-five minutes. A laudable shift from Jay Lovett’s men, they remained a resolute band of brothers by heading, clearing, launching the ball away from the intermittent danger.
Ollie Munt would send it over, Finney dragging it wide. It was a contest that was desperately short in offensive quality. Testament to two rigid defences, there was far too much careless loss in possessions. Both sets of players culpable, seldom seen was attractive football. And when it was, the finishing was constantly weak. Time drying out, hope for the Hawks’ wonderful support fading – a shining light in a fixture otherwise bereft of belief. The recently flung on Alex Laing drilling it into Splatt’s chest, a swift turn and pass out wide to Harry Reed catered for a precise pass into the box for the patient Thompson. This was the moment: the stars aligning for this last flicker of promise, arrowed recklessly high into the great, green trees behind.
Epitomising Whitehawk’s frustration this cyclical process continues to swirl. An icy shake of the hands between Standen and Lovett signals the end of another defeated afternoon. Winless still since the earliest days of December this one showed why. It will happen. Tides will change and games will be won. For now that candle remains lit but as the calendar flips, thankfully, to the month of February, the desperation for some more wax is starting to grow.