Whilst Whitehawk’s hard-fought victory over neighbours Peacehaven & Telscombe will unlikely be remembered for the performances on the grass, it will instead remain a momentous occasion for its deeper, efficacious meaning. Too painful a wait was the 245 days that followed the Hawks’ previous home fixture but, unlike that disconcerting loss at the hands of Cray Wanderers back in October, a sense of positivity returned to the Enclosed Ground on Saturday.
With the conclusion of lockdown looming seemingly larger with each passing day, it seems the appropriate time for the return of England’s favourite pastime. On a misty, murky afternoon on the Sussex shoreline, fans and followers witnessed a new-look, newly-pieced together side that breathed a renewed sense of life onto the greasy, glistening turf.
Proceedings did not start quite as fantastically as one would have previously envisaged, however, as Jon Evans preyed on a myriad of defensive vulnerabilities to give Peacehaven an early advantage. No matter though, from a Whitehawk perspective at least, as freshly acquired talisman Javaun Splatt levelled the scores swiftly afterwards with a fine forward’s finish into the far corner.
Attempting to pick the lock of Peacehaven’s defence proved burdensome, but the Hawks’ indefatigable spirit paid off soon after sixty-minutes as Ollie Munt slotted the ball into the net to award Whitehawk with a winning start to their pre-season.
Adorning the kit of deepest blue, a blend of the recently signed and familiar few strode out onto the field to the very unfamiliar sound of applause as supporters settled into their seats. It was the sprightly partnership between Splatt and Ronnie Conlon that brewed excitement in the opening stages, with the former controlling the ball beautifully before sending Conlon on his way down the left wing. The ex-Lewes winger forced his way to the byline with raw pace, and cut the ball back to the onrushing James Fraser, who saw his firmly struck shot bravely blocked inside the box.
An effective, creditable start turned sour on the quarter-hour mark. Another new face, 22 year old shot-stopper Nathan Stroomberg would have a moment of madness on debut as he sliced a clearance straight into the path of the grateful feet of Jon Evans who, with the empty goal gaping simply passed the ball into the net.
The blushes were soon spared to the instant relief of Stroomberg, as Splatt rounded off a crisp move. It was he too who started the play – trapping the ball from a long, high clearance – before laying it off to Fraser who, with space in front of Splatt, picked out his man with such ease, such delicacy that it sent his partner clean through with just Lawrence Sanded to beat and prolifically, he fired the ball into the opposing corner.
It was almost the perfect comeback minutes after, as the Hawks began their rampancy over their opponents. Football was fluid, captivating at times – but to no immediate avail. Fraser was desperately unlucky, as his individual skill and purpose was worthy of the ball crashing into the red and white nets. Having taken the ball down with his left foot at some height, it fell to his right boot perfectly and with the ball in the air, cranked a sumptuous strike from 25 yards out that sent the crossbar shaking. Such venom in the drive, oh what an effort it would have been.
The laser-like passing of Lew Unwin was causing increasing difficulty for the ‘Tye’ backline as the irrepressible Splatt was feasting. A ball that was weighted with such perfection, it split open the defence for Splatt to sprint towards goal but, unlike his earlier effort, Sanded stood tall, beating out his opponent’s firm strike. The hosts were certainly in the ascendancy as the half-time whistle beckoned, but still the score remained level. The combination of Splatt and Conlon was on display once more in the dying seconds, but the latter’s fizzed cross was an inch or two high of his striker, as his headed effort saw the ball fly into the scaffolding.
HT: Whitehawk 1-1 Peacehaven & Telscombe
What greeted those at the TerraPura at the start of the second half was the arrival of six substitutes as the side was shaken up. The creative spark had appeared to depart, as the Hawks seemed content in controlling the ball in midfield. It can be a risky game to play at times and, on cue, that was just how it unfolded. A soaring, hopeful ball was sent from deep inside the visitors’ half to wide-open Evans 35 yards from goal. His initial touch was effective, his second was perfection – tapping it beyond the defender to set up a shot at goal – but Stroomberg’s strong wrists prevented a second before the rebound was snuffled out.
As the overcast skies were duly replaced by the silky blue of the Hawks’ shirts, the comeback was completed just after the hour-mark. A moment for Ollie Munt to saviour, the former under-18s captain sent his side into the lead with a composed finish into the bottom-left corner to send the Whitehawk faithful into raptures, as the fledgling Munt recorded his maiden first-team goal.
That imperious strike proved pivotal in a half that was admittedly lacking in chances. It was cautious, not adventurous. Just the half, perhaps, that would be expected after a lengthy hiatus. Munt was sharp though and looked a threat, on and even off the ball. With the remaining time dwindling the 18 year old span his man in the centre of the field, thus creating space for a shooting opportunity 20 yards out. He struck well, struck true, only for Sanded to palm his effort away for a corner.
There were to be no further changes to the script, as a fine defensive display from the hosts proved the catalyst for victory. A valiant effort too, from a Peacehaven outfit that stood resolute in defence, and dangerous at times in attack. For Whitehawk it is a first home win in nine months and although that might sound bleak on paper, it is truly the opposite.
Football is here to stay, hopefully, and there is a further chance to watch this ever-improving Hawks unit next Saturday, as National League South side Concord Rangers make the journey from Essex to Sussex for the second instalment of Ross Standen’s first pre-season.
Hawks: Stroomberg, Emberson (Trialist 46’), Redwood, Unwin (Cotton 46’), Blackmore (Lawson 46’), El-Abd (Chappell 46’), Muggeridge (c), Ovenden (Freeman 46’), Splatt, Fraser (Munt 46’), Conlon (Ovenden 75’)
Goals: Splatt 18′ Munt 64′ (Hawks): Evans 9′ (Peacehaven)
Photos: Andy Schofield