As the days spiral deeper into the month of July we grow increasingly accustomed with the grey clouds that circle overhead, the return of football is a most welcome sight. As fans and followers from each Shire, Borough, County prepare for England’s colossal battle with Italy on Sunday evening, it is always crucial to reacquaint oneself with the teams and leagues that lay the foundations for national success.
Ironically enough, the visitors to the TerraPura on Saturday afternoon played their previous fixture at Wembley Stadium in early May, but were sorrowfully sunk by a late Harrogate strike as the FA Trophy slipped between their grasp. From the hallowed turf of Wembley to the gleaming arena of the Enclosed Ground, that is the real beauty of this sport.
Journeying from the ever-sunny beaches of Canvey Island, it was the striking yellow of Concord Rangers who had the first involvement in this clash of the seaside towns. A switch of ends from the away side presented the Hawks with a first-half view of the Din End, but it was not until long into those initial 45 minutes that the first goal arose as Temi Babalola fizzed one home from the spot to give Concord the lead. A most impressive half ensued after for the hosts, and they earned a share of the spoils as a towering Javaun Splatt header dipped underneath the crossbar.
It was a vintage pre-season first-half. Balls flying into scaffolding, car parks and caravan sites but it was the right-boot of Splatt that shot before all else. Sizing one up from 25 yards, his firmly struck effort was of little concern to the Trialist in net. It was competitive stuff in the early exchanges, but nothing clear-cut, no signs of any immediate jubilation as an optimistic long-ranger from Omarr Lawson was comfortably snuffed out by the same so-called Trialist. Charlie Coppola featured for the first time, too, and looked a threat down the right-hand side.
With noise being sufficiently generated from the Whitehawk Ultras behind the goal, it was a brief moment of déjà vu as Ronnie Conlon combined with Splatt to present the hosts with their finest opportunity of the half. A Splatt flick-on released the former, who arrowed his way towards goal before setting it back to his frontman. He unleashed one first time, but his swirling effort was always angling wide of the far post.
It appeared to the masses that the half would dwindle into the interval all-square, but that was not quite the apparent script. A real thump upfield made life increasingly difficult for newcomer Nathan Stroomberg to judge as he flew out of goal to deal with the danger but ended up inadvertently smacking into the opposing forward inside the box. Whistle. Penalty. Goal. Babalola sends his glowing yellow army into a halftime lead.
A feast of changes was always the plan for manager Ross Standen – still yet to take part in his first league match – as a fair few of the fledglings in Ollie Munt and Demas Ramsis strode out onto the freshly cut grass. It was the confident Munt who recorded his first goal for the first-team last Saturday, and he looked lively from the outset, attempting an audacious 30-yard drive that was parried clear by the newly entered ‘Trialist D’.
Promise was brewing as the prospect of equalising looked a real possibility. The old one-way traffic cliché in full effect as Demas Ramsis showed quality, driving to the byline at such pace before cutting it back to Rhyle Ovenden on the edge of the box, but his side-footed shot was dragged wide of the distant upright.
Despite the seemingly disheartening scoreline, there was an abundance of talent on display as their National League South opponents struggled in getting out of their half. Wave upon wave, chance upon chance, the cherished equaliser had arrived. A quite delicious cross from Whitehawk’s very own Trialist A on the right-flank landed perfectly on the head of Splatt. He adjusted his body superbly to lift the ball over the outstretched arm of the ‘keeper, bringing the scores level whilst keeping his run of scoring intact.
‘The Beach Boys’ were rattled, but there were to be little more good vibrations as the game ebbed and flowed in the closing stages. Rangers had chances, indeed; a dipping free-kick was well-gathered by Stroomberg at the first attempt, before the Hawks’ backline demonstrated their mettle by blocking a chorus of Concord attempts.
It would be the red of Whitehawk who – bearing their fresh recycled home attire – had the final endeavour. A cross worthy of being netted, it was the fierce foot of Conlon which swung in a vicious ball to the back post for the onrushing Ramsis. It was difficult at pace but, agonisingly, his header was sent inches wide of the woodwork as the supporters jumped up in delight, then promptly fell back down in desolation. So close, yet so far as the final whistle ended proceedings.
A deeply promising result nonetheless at such an early stage of pre-season. Whitehawk played fluidly at times whilst defending resiliently when called upon, owing to the real absence of Stroomberg’s involvement. There have been flashes of excellence in the past seven days as the fixtures begin to arrive at higher frequency, and there is further football on Tuesday night as the Hawks travel to Horsham as Loxwood are the next point of call.
Hawks: Stroomberg, Emberson, Redwood (Trialist A 46′), Unwin (Freeman 46′), Trialist C (Blackmore 46′), El-Abd (Trialist C 70′), Coppola (Ramsis 46′), Muggeridge (Munt 46′), Splatt (Trialist B 46′, Splatt 65′), Lawson (Ovenden 46′), Conlon (Coppola 70′)
Photos by Andy Schofield