The air was cool with a gentle north-easterly breeze wafting the sporadic flags from side to side. Dire Straits’ Walk of Life ringing around East Brighton Park through those heavy speakers provided a reminiscent backdrop for those gently arriving. And ironically enough, there would indeed be a sorrowful correlation between the artists’ name and Whitehawk’s display on this mid-September afternoon.
The warm sun erupted through the clouds just in time for kick-off as Henry Muggeridge tapped the ball away from the centre circle to get the stopwatches going. Rheo Josephs made his debut on the wing as an injection of pace graced the turf. Those in green occupying The Din — tipsy from the outset — belting chants from the bottom of their lungs. Reciprocated indeed from the opposite stand, the usual Hawk followers in equally fine voice.
But the atmosphere would soon change. There were early warning signs for a home defence that visibly yearned for Adam El-Abd, and that was plain to see as Ashford snatched an early lead. Unmarked and unfazed, Daniel Hull guided a header onto the frame of the goal but there was Thomas Fagg — waiting with a degree of certainty — to tap the ball home on the rebound.
And that was the tone set. The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ (an unmistakably catchy nickname) were rampant. They could have added a further two goals to their repertoire before the second expectedly arrived. Subsequent to Jack Steventon’s blaring miss from a matter of yards out and an obligatory non-league goalmouth scramble, Jay May swiftly doubled the lead.
Not quite making the acclaimed list of the TerraPura’s greatest ever goals, it was much the opposite. It seemed the danger had evaporated with Nathan Stroomberg collecting a hopeful through-pass but no, not here. The ball having popped out of his grasp, it became loose in the box. Who was their first? May — with time and enough space for a shot — he poked it into the wavy net.
It was tough work for the Hawks. Javaun Splatt was isolated in the forward position, whilst a swathe of Ashford players would outnumber the hosts’ defence on almost every occasion. Tyler McCarthy had perhaps the easiest half of his career, as did his four companions in front of him.
Yet there was time for further damage. Dented and overrun, May would have his second of the afternoon just minutes prior to the interval. The masters of their own downfall, a failure to clear the ball presented May with a chance. On-target it was, the right-foot of Lloyd Cotton made it unsavable. Far into the corner, the game over before it had ever even begun.
Rally the troops and see where things go, right? Stranger things have happened, but we won’t compare Muggeridge’s half time team talk to Steven Gerrard’s of 2005 just yet. Perhaps equally as passionate, it did the trick as Splatt recorded his first competitive goal for the club in emphatic style.
Lift-off! He only needs an ounce of space. A sweet finish with his left-peg from 16 yards out, it smacked the inside of the post before coming to rest on the opposite side of the net. That’s one way to excite a crowd in desperate need of fulfilment.
But there was no real drive, no real desire as Ashford were comfortable. Sure, the Hawks had far more of the ball in this half but McCarthy was seldom involved. The flame of hope was slowly receding. And it was promptly blown out like an excited child on their birthday as the Kentish visitors scored the all-important fifth goal.
On the pitch for all of thirty seconds, Luke Burdon tapped home his side’s fourth after Tariq Ossai was given the freedom of the south-east. A missed tackle presented the space, and Ossai applied the pass across the face for the zealous Burdon who flicked the off switch on the afternoon’s affair.
It elicited the arrival of Lew Unwin and Demas Ramsis for the final fifteen minutes. Off went Josephs who showed glimpses of promise, but this was no easy task. Ashford were good, there can be no denying. Fagg was not finished yet. He wanted another. Driving at goal with colleagues to his left and to his right, he opted for the shot. It was fierce and it was violent but, to his disappointed, it was straight at Stroomberg as he muscled it away.
With time almost out Splatt would have his chance for a brace. A free-kick presented the opportunity on the edge of the box for an absolute net-bulger. It probably would have been just that, too, if not for it being straight at McCarthy.
Out of time and out of luck, the salt would have been especially fine in the wounds had former Hawk Rhyle Ovenden found the net with his optimistic 35-yard attempt that hoped to catch Stroomberg out. Diving to his left, he tipped it over the crossbar as the referee called a dignified halt to the action.
An improved second half in truth, it required much endeavour if Standen’s squad were to earn anything from this fixture. Worthy of defeat for an egregious first forty-five, it is time to leave this game in the forgotten past and move to the brighter future. Chichester awaits on Tuesday night, there is sure to be a desired response.