A familiar sight awaits those that glimpse The Trafalgar Ground from afar. Steepling hills overlooking the arena? Rustic seating plucked from the Withdean? Hey, that’s our thing!
Throw in an adjacent cricket field, a mammoth of a skatepark and a harbour that appears to be functioning and there we have it: Newhaven.
The evening was cool with a slight breeze that would grow throughout the night. The football you ask? Fascinating at times. Rich with fluidity, it ebbed and flowed as much as the scoreline with the Hawks twice surrendering the lead from the spot to give the hosts a well-earned share of the spoils.
So out they came. One by one they stepped out onto what would be a slow(ish) turf as the falling Newhaven sun descended over the towering main stand. Off went the whistle to get things moving with the visitors in their dark azure away strip attacking the ‘Surf n Skate’ end. And how stimulating it all was. Both sides racing out of the blocks in the early stages, Omarr Lawson so nearly launched his side into a sixth minute lead if not for the fingernails of Jake Buss in the hosts’ net. The set-piece, fairly central and twenty-odd yards out, may just have been brushing the crossbar but that will remain a mystery for life as it was tipped over and out.
And then the goal came. It had been a progressive start for Ross Standen’s side as they seemingly acquired the freedom of the Sussex Downs in the small minutes of the encounter. Lawson was everywhere, here and there in a flash. But here he was at the corner of the pitch, swinging one into the danger zone for the soaring head of Frankie Chappell to thunder one into the top-left corner of the goal. Emphatic.
And then Newhaven replied. In an instant, the slim lead was dashed. Much to the delight for the hardy collection of the scattered home supporters, Harry Reed was adjudged to have fouled Alfie Rogers inside the box. Penalty awarded. The Hawks would soon be paying the fine as Ian Robinson stroked the ball beyond Nathan Stroomberg and into the bottom corner to bring his side level.
It was breathless action. End-to-end the ball would travel, with promise oozing out of every free-flowing counter-attack. Pockets of space arose at increasing frequency as one and the other strived for a foothold in proceedings. It took some time, but this was ultimately achieved as the contest began to cool. Both midfields appeared to have awoken midway through the opening half with a 1-1 scoreline arriving as a modest surprise to those with a watchful eye.
Billie Clark — making his first start for the Hawks’ first-team — would cause a grain of fear into Buss’ mind with a swirling effort towards goal. The 17-year old struck it well enough, but it was deposited into the rickety seats behind. Onwards the clock ticked, arrowing itself towards the interval as Reed was forced off with a niggling injury. Lew Unwin would replace him and then, before long, the half time whistle would echo around the arena.
The time for the second instalment had arrived and, well, Standen’s words evidently broke through to his players as they retook the lead barely 90 seconds into the resumption. Lawson again involved, his pass along the grass to ‘Trialist B’ out on the right-flank was inch perfect. The receiving winger broke at pace down the channel before whipping a low, vicious cross into the box that was inadvertently stabbed home by an unlucky man in red. The net firmly rippled, the lead was Whitehawk’s.
But then the pendulum took a turn for the Hawks’ worse. The men in blue would attempt their best Agincourt impression for much of the remaining minutes. Retreat! Retreat! The backline would be pushed back, inviting countless waves of pressure. Alfie Rogers was first up. Slipped in through the middle, he had oceans of space and a healthy amount of time to place his shot. Sliced wide it was, it would serve as a caveat for what laid ahead.
And so, as the time moved closer to the ninety, the visiting resistance continued to thwart the dangerous Newhaven attacks. Stroomberg was tested, but not vigorously. The Whitehawk goal was never really under any serious pressure until deep, deep into the contest. Oh, the drama! Callum Connor is sent clean through on goal with only Stroomberg to beat. The #1 leaps out of goal like a wild salmon in a Canadian lake, thwarting the initial shot before Joel Daly was felled by Luke Emberson. Whistle. Penalty. Goal. Connor slams it one way, Stroomberg dives the other way. 2-2 in the dying seconds.
And 2-2 it finished. Spirited indeed was the response from our friends along the coast, it was deserved on the balance of play. All of this for a mere three English pounds you say? How could this possibly dissuade the masses…
A scintillating battle between the two sides, it proved a stern test for Standen’s squad as the season opener looms closer by the day.