It has been a demanding month (and a bit) of pre-season as Ross Standen’s group have battled valiantly over these previous eight fixtures. For all the trials and tribulations this squad have faced over the past 35 days it has prepared them for August 14 as the door to the fresh campaign begins to open.
But we’re not quite there yet. Before one can even begin to anticipate next Saturday’s league opener with Cray Valley PM, a journey to the South West of the capital was in store. Breeze past the admittedly contrasting tourist attractions of Chessington and Hampton Court Palace and there, somewhere in the distance, are the towering 70s style floodlights of Metropolitan Police.
Oh, what a pitch! The luscious green grass glistened in the August sun following a flurry of sporadic showers that catered for some serious zip across the turf. The game would not go the way of the Hawks, though, as three goals inside the opening 25 minutes for the hosts would be accompanied with a serious ankle injury to Charlie Coppola that curtailed the contest moments before the half time whistle.
Three-quarters of an hour prior to that and all was ordinary. Whitehawk — in their ruby red strip — would lineup in an attacking formation that was spearheaded by Javaun Splatt. The opening exchanges were fairly even with a spate of attacks at both ends. The hosts were piling forward with relative ease but the Hawks withstood the early pressure.
And then it was the turn of the visitors. The ball was at the feet of Trialist as if it were glued on as he turned himself in…and then out again in the box but the lack of space prevented a shot at goal as the defence swarmed the ball.
Corner instead. In it came and then out to the shadows of Coppola who drilled one inches wide of the right post. And that would be about as close as the Hawks would come to finding a goal as the hosts took an eleventh minute lead.
A swift counter-attack followed after Tegan Freeman was dispossessed in enemy territory. Jack Knight carried the ball as far as the 18-yard line before firing the ball low into the opposite corner. A good finish indeed, there would be more trouble ahead.
No sooner after one penalty claim was waved away a second shout from the stands was reciprocated by the referee as he pointed to the spot. Lloyd Cotton the offender, he felled Knight in the box as Jack Mazzone stepped up — confidently on the eye — before slamming the ball into the net.
2-0 it was, but it would be a three goal deficit minutes later as Mazzone doubled his scoring figures on the day with a precise finish. It was calm and collected as the frontman had time and space to pick his spot into the far corner. No chance for Stroomberg. No chance for Whitehawk.
‘The Met’ were in fluid form. The wind undoubtedly in their sails, the hosts were preying on a fragile defence. But soon it evened out a touch. Omarr Lawson took the responsibility in himself to find a route back into the contest with a determined run through the heart of the Met midfield. His ferocious stinger of a shot was turned aside by Liam Beach in the hosts’ net as a sense of belief crawled back into the Hawks’ mind.
It would soon fade away, as would the match itself. There was nothing sinister about it. A 50/50 near the centre circle would see Coppola plant his foot awkwardly in the ground as he beat the ground in clear frustration. The reaction from the players on the pitch told the entire story. Hands on heads, hands over mouths – it was not long before the referee would abandon proceedings as the extent of the injury became all too clear.
Every ounce of thought and hope goes out to Coppola at this upsetting time but there is little doubting his bravery. Responsive and encouraged, he was taken to hospital with a fractured ankle but has since been dismissed. Only positives from here on, he will return stronger.
And the Hawks will return, too. An impromptu fixture on Tuesday, August 10 will see Merstham travel to Sussex for what will most definitely be the final battle before the Isthmian South East Division commences on Saturday afternoon.