At the full time whistle, players and coaches from Whitehawk and Lewes shook hands, chatted away and walked off in peace. There was a competitive feel to the game throughout. Hefty challenges, arms swung, goals scored. But it was Lewes who came away with the win.
Tempers certainly flared on the pitch and, although it left a rather repugnant taste in the mouths of the supporters scattered around the TerraPura, the football on the sun-kissed grass was compelling, breathless at times in the opening half. Perhaps slightly marred, four well-taken goals catered for a strong Rooks side wheeling away with a deserved victory
Rewind the clock to 3pm, and the atmosphere was jovial. There was a buoyant blend of fans as a healthy Hawks backing combined with a strong collection of Lewes followers as they walked to the rear of their respective stands. Lewes, donning white, opted to face the Sea End first on a refreshingly cool Sussex afternoon. There was a good early flow to the game – fluid at times – as the Rooks were determined in their effort to set the early tempo.
And achieve that they did. Barely 15 minutes on the referee’s watch and the opening goal arrived. Although the absence of opposing team sheets may strain the reports in this time of pre-season, they will return in the near horizon as Lewes’ #7 propelled his side in front with considerable aplomb. It was a strong run, one that saw the forward cut inside before moving it onto his left foot. The space for a shot was there, and rifle one home he did: a precise finish into the bottom-left corner.
The Whitehawk response was positive and direct as they pushed for a swift response in front of the jubilant Din. Too long had the drought in front of goal been as Lloyd Cotton thumped one home from a corner to resurrect his side. On the money was Ronnie Conlon’s corner, it sat up beautifully for Cotton on the volley who swung a boot at it. It was struck well, struck true into the crook of the net as the skipper crisply brought his side back on level terms.
The pendulum had temporarily swung in the favour of the hosts as the half time whistle beckoned. A swathe of Whitehawk attacks so nearly mustered an instant turnaround as Lawson’s header from just inside the box was sent wide of the goal. But It was the visitors who would soon be purring. The ball was sprayed out to the left flank for the onrushing full back to run at goal. An admittedly makeshift backline backed off a little too much, allowing further space and time for the Rook to pick his pass across goal. There in the middle was the Trialist patiently awaiting the ball and there, having received the pass, soon stuck it beyond Nathan Stroomberg with ease to restore the lead.
And then, as if fuel had been added to warming coals, the spectacle ignited into an inferno. Most eyes were glazed on Conlon as an attack of real promise appeared to be brewing until, in the faintest peripheral, sights one would normally not find on a football pitch gleamed from near the touchline. There were arms flailing as Adam El-Abd clashed with the opposing #9 before his and Lewes’ teammates finally broke it all up. A sea of red and white formed a barrier between the players before it eventually simmered down.
Out came the cards. A red to El-Abd and a red for the Rook involved. It was the linesman who spoke with the referee to indicate an elbow had been raised, sparking a dismissal for the Lewes man and the clash which later emanated. Bizarre indeed, there were question marks looming over the game itself as to whether it would continue. Soon enough, it became known shortly after that the game would be resuming as the players remained on the field for the duration of half time.
And so, having splashed gallons of water over the flames, all twenty players were in position for the resumption of the fixture. The action was limited until the 56th minute where Lewes would be celebrating for a third time following a well-executed header. The cross was perfectly weighted, on a sixpence for the head of #19 who rose athletically to nod the ball powerfully beyond Stroomberg.
That was to be the killer blow for the Hawks. Coppola had a sniff of producing a lifeline through a hopeful effort on his left foot as the winger took sight at goal, causing the ‘keeper to fumble the ball, only for a man in white to alleviate the immediate danger.
The half languished as the minutes ticked over, only for some impressive ingenuity from Trialist A to deflect from the main talking point. He collected the ball with bodies around him, shifted it onto his left boot before unleashing a powerful curling strike which had to be tipped over the crossbar.
So close, but not quite close enough as a flatter half of football had reached its terminus. Full time it was. Lewes had defeated the Hawks by a 3-1 scoreline. How different it all could have been. Although it was 10 v 10 in the last 45 minutes it felt otherwise. There was a real energy about the Hawks, however, which had gone slightly amiss in previous matches.
The opposition were strong and posed a threat which was consistently dealt with to real effect as additional strobes of positivity arose. Further minutes will be added to the tank on Tuesday evening, too, as the Hawks hit the road for the second time this pre-season to entertain Newhaven.
Hawks: Stroomberg, Blackmore (Munt 65′), Emberson, Unwin, Cotton, El-Abd (sent off 45′), Coppola, Lawson (Clark), Splatt (Trialist A), Ovenden (Freeman 53′), Conlon (Trialist B 79′)