It was a gorgeous afternoon for football. The chorus of sheep grazing up on the overlooking hill, looming large over a resplendent TerraPura Ground as the searing sun blanketed the glistening turf. Conditions as perfect as can be, it was the festive-looking red and green jerseys of Chalfont St Peter that would grace the Whitehawk grass. The match would not quite live up to its impeccable setting, though, as that vintage pre-season feel would echo around all corners of the TerraPura.
A reasonably stale goalless affair, Ross Standen’s side would show further signs of promise but proved ineffective in attack. One of the more makeshift defences you’re likely to witness, the backline mimicked that of a brick wall as Nathan Stroomberg had a quiet game between the posts. Chances did come, but would swiftly float away as the ball appeared determined to avert its way from goal. Not that it was a disheartening performance – far from it – as this game probably should have been signed, sealed and delivered soon after the restart if not for a particularly resolute defensive performance from the visiting ‘Saints’.
The clicks and clacks of the turnstiles reverberated around the cozy amphitheater as the steady flow of supporters made their way behind the Chalfont goal as the referee in the middle started proceedings. There was to be a deep pre-season feel about the early moments as both sides searched upon finding their rhythm. And it was the Hawks who found their feet first as Ronnie Conlon showed flashes of sharpness down the left-hand side, fizzing one across the face of goal for the determined Javaun Splatt who was unsuccessful in his attempt to poke it into the gaping net.
The hosts had duly awaken, and they came within a matter of inches from breaking the early stalemate through a Splatt header. The ball was pumped forward from midfield as the tall target-man preyed on a myriad of defensive frailties to fashion an opening, but his looping header bounced off the foot of the post before somehow evading a blue shirt in the box. The warning signs were there for the visitors, only for a moment of timely luck to keep the scores deadlocked.
The experienced legs of Adam El-Abd would shortly come to the rescue for the Hawks as Chalfont foraged for a goal themselves, but the former Brighton defender would heroically stick out his leg to deny a certain tap-in at the back post as the players began to boil in the sweltering heat. It was the sizzling circumstances that perhaps stagnated the flow of the half as it wound down without further thrill. Still, there’s always another 45 minutes around the corner…
And so, it began. A re-galvanised and refreshed band of 22 returned to the field of play as Standen’s battalion attacked the Din End. The lifeblood of Whitehawk, the booming of the drums and echoes of a distant cowbell so nearly provided the catalyst for elation. So soon after the restart was Conlon causing issues once more, taking the ball past the ‘keeper from an increasingly tight angle before squaring it to the patient Ollie Munt. It looked a certain goal. By some miraculous feat, the opposing defender produced a moment of sheer brilliance, diving in to snuff out Munt’s hopes of giving his side the lead.
And here came the chances. One by one, minute by minute, the attacking waves of Whitehawk were among us, but Omarr Lawson could not quite find the desired finish as his long-ranger was tipped wide into the side-netting. Positivity was there, and so was the confidence. A spirited performance in the opposing net appeared to be the Hawks’ kryptonite as a flying arm parried a Conlon drive away for a corner. Deprived of further opposition names (as one may have gathered), it simplifies things somewhat as the Saints’ #16 unleashed fury from 20 yards out, but his firecracker drive skimmed the bar as it crashed into the melting seats.
Oh, how the pendulum swings in an instant as the Hawks soon had a spot of defending to do. A clumsy challenge mightily close to the box resulted in a free-kick which, after it was eventually taken, flew inches wide of Stroomberg’s right-upright. It was all a bit of a scrap, bit of a slog in the final half-hour as a series of superfluous shoving injected some further life into the contest. Would it produce a goal? Not quite, although Sam Wright showed skill with a gorgeous touch in the box that set up an effort at goal, only for the resulting swing of the boot to slice the ball wide of the goal’s frame.
With the final sands falling through the hourglass, the sprightly Munt so nearly provided a winner. It would have been game, set and match if not for the young attacking midfielder’s pass across the six-yard box being marginally overhit. The desire from the one who went by Trialist B was worthy of a connection, but the ball just evaded his studs as Chalfont held out for the goalless draw.
Moments to savour, elements to forget but at the end of a roasting day, Standen’s squad remain unbeaten in pre-season. The defensive performances of late have admittedly slipped under the radar but this makeshift defence were efficient and adept in all categories. Little time to reflect on past endeavours, though, as the heads swivel in the direction of Raynes Park Vale as they travel down on Tuesday for an evening fixture under the lights in the fifth instalment of the Whitehawk warm-ups.
Hawks: Stroomberg, Muggeridge (c) (Freeman 46′), Trialist A, Unwin, Cotton, El-Abd (Blackmore 46′), Coppola (Wright 65′), Lawson (Ovenden 59′), Splatt (Trialist B 46′), Fraser (Munt 46′), Conlon (Ramsis 59′)