Ross Standen’s reign as Whitehawk manager got off to the best possible start as his side comfortably defeated Broadbridge Heath in the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup on a bitterly cold night at The Countryside Stadium.
The Hawks took a twentieth minute lead courtesy of an own goal, and soon doubled their advantage through James Fraser. Ronald Sobowale ended his goal drought for the club from close-range, before Lucas Rodrigues put the icing on the cake to send his side through to the next round.
Standen made three changes to the side that were beaten against Cray Wanderers on Saturday, as Henry Blackmore, James Fraser and Ronald Sobowale all came into the starting line-up in favour of Lloyd Cotton, Lew Unwin and David Martin respectively.
The opening exchanges were evenly contested, with little in the way of chances. The Hawks had the better of possession, but found it difficult to string together any kind of meaningful attack as The Bears defence remained resilient. The hosts had the first real effort of the match, albeit a half-chance, as Jamie Taylor opted to shoot from an acute angle, but James Broadbent was able to parry the ball into the side-netting.
Rodrigues was showing encouraging signs of life along the right-hand side, and it was his impressive footwork which ultimately presented the Hawks with an early goal. A corner from the right-hand side was sent in by Henry Muggeridge and, in an attempt to clear, a Bears defender inadvertently put it into his own net to give the visitors the lead.
After breaking the deadlock, the Hawks went in search of further extending their advantage, and almost found a second through Fraser after the ball fell to the forward in an excellent position. A Rodrigues goal-bound effort was blocked, and the ball fell to the feet of Fraser, whose shot crashed off the inside of the post, before tricking along the line towards Sobowale, who could not quite fire it home either, as the hosts survived.
The visitors finished the opening half strongly as increasing levels of pressure were applied, causing the Bears’ defence real issues. Having defended admirably for the majority of the half, their resistance was again undone minutes before the break. In what was a crazy few seconds, Rodrigues and Fraser both saw close-range efforts miraculously blocked, before the ball again fell to Fraser inside the box, and he made no mistake this time to double his side’s advantage.
With the hosts seemingly under the cosh, the visitors continued to heap on the pressure as the half-time whistle approached. Rodrigues fizzed a piercing strike against the woodwork from just outside the box, before Liam Matthews denied Fraser a second by expertly blocking the forward’s attempt.
Sobowale then showed confident feet whilst holding the ball up to find space for a shot, which was also beaten away by Matthews. The Hawks finished the first-half in fine fashion, but could not quite extend their lead as Matthews did everything possible to keep his side in the contest.
Following the restart, Fraser left the field to be replaced by David Martin, as the visitors looked to target the left-hand side of the pitch. The first real sign of action in the second half saw a Marvin Hamilton header cleared off the line following a delightfully floated ball in from Muggeridge.
Chances were few and far between for the hosts, but they could have found a route back into the game after Jamie Robinson slipped the ball across the face of goal but, with no one gambling, the ball raced across the six-yard box, and away to safety.
That proved costly for the hosts, who were undone by a brilliantly weighted through ball minutes later. Muggeridge looked up, and threaded an inch perfect pass to the onrushing Rodrigues, who took the ball in his stride. The forward found an angle for a shot at goal, and fired it past Matthews. Sobowale, eager to get off the mark for his club, was running towards goal at the same time, and calmly tapped home from a matter of yards to present the striker with his first goal for the club
The Hawks did not have to wait long for a fourth, as Rodrigues went from provider to goalscorer as he found space on the right to sprint towards goal. Having looked sharp for much of the game, Rodrigues cut inside, and unleashed a powerful drive with his left boot that flew past the dive of Matthews, to further extend the advantage.
Sobowale, bursting with confidence, was given the opportunity of adding a fifth, but with the angle slightly against him, he blazed his effort harmlessly over the bar. There was more good football on display, as Martin and Rodrigues combined to present the latter with an effort on goal, but the forward’s first-time effort was well-saved, and The Bears managed to clear.
Having been on the back-foot for much of the game, Louis Blake had the chance of netting a late consolation, but his close-range effort was deflected, and it looped away from goal, and out for a corner. At the other end of the pitch, Rodrigues was hungry for a second, as he chose to shoot from another tight angle, but his effort thundered the side-netting. With eight minutes of normal time remaining, Sam Wright was introduced for Sobowale, and slotted in on the right-hand side.
Wright certainly looked bright, and he almost scored an immediate goal, but his powerful strike was blocked for a corner. The following attack, and Wright was involved once more. The ball, bobbling on the turf, sat up nicely for Wright to strike it, but he shot narrowly over the bar.
With time running out, Ben Cooksley had one last chance for the hosts, but his attempted lob bounced just wide of the post after Broadbent had rushed out of goal to deny the Bear. Blake then followed that effort up with a curling strike, but the ball was always going away from goal, as the Hawks held out to present Standen with a deserved win on his opening game as manager.
A much-improved performance from the Hawks, who can take numerous positives out of the match as they head into what will hopefully be just a month-long break. With a series of cancellations, the next scheduled match sees the Hawks travel to Cray Valley PM in just over a month’s time.