There was a slight feeling of discontent in the crisp Lancing air as the clock struck 5pm. Close to 360 scoreless minutes had passed before Ollie Munt placed the ball delicately on the white spot, hands on hips, shaking off the stress with a penalty so cool his blood turned to ice. Indeed for the many from Whitehawk who witnessed with their eyes wide open, bodies frozen, it was a moment of relief, minds at peace. But that longing sensation for more remained: it had not been a fine performance, yet through perseverance and a wounded few a point was rescued in the finale.
Contrasting to the reverse encounter this one was a shivery occasion. Not through sheer excitement, rather the falling degrees that made the teeth chatter, breath visible as the away procession rolled in close to the commencement. A marvellous sight behind Alieu Secka’s goal: flags draped over the local advertisement, familiar faces with great big smiles squished closely together as the noise reached nearby Shoreham. Grey are the clouds above in quintessentially British fashion, they looked down upon two new additions — Stacey Freeman and Lekan Orimolusi — as Ross Standen opted for four changes to his side’s previous, infamous, ‘game’.
Slipping smoothly into their positions went the players of red and yellow. Any fears of a kit-clash alleviated as they surfaced from the darkness, it was our nearest neighbours who got things underway by immediately losing possession. The Lancers had not tasted victory at home since October 2, The Hawks had failed to find the net in their last three matches. All the hallmarks of a Sussex thriller, the hosts began at a mechanical pace, roving in numbers and seeping with confidence. Lorenzo Lewis’ flair and speed diagnosed Declan Kama with reoccurring headaches as he flashed one invitingly across the face of Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke’s goal, but to avail it was not.
Too many lazy passes, too many sleeping Hawks. Reducing the fluidity and optimism with each fleeting phase of play, the torpid travellers were awoken by a chance. Nothing to dance about, but a brief instant of hope: Tegan Freeman nodding a header gently over the crossbar. Things were just starting to appear encouraging for Whitehawk as Omarr Lawson saw more of the ball, Peter Gregory causing the odd issue here, there, then here again. But shut off, and pay the penalty. Not that it was from the spot, yet, as the slippery Lewis slammed the ball beyond Stroomberg-Clarke’s arm from 20 yards like an archer nailing his target. Arrowed as sweet as a grandparent’s Victoria sponge this was one of those ‘yeah, fair enough’ kind of strikes.
Were Lancing deserving of this first half lead? Yes, yes they were. Hungrier, shaper, fitter; the home midfield were moving the ball quickly, both short and far, to areas that put Adam El-Abd and co. under pressure. Not that the Hawks’ guarder of the net was often troubled, it was that in the opposing goal Secka could have been out doing his weekly shop, and still would have kept a clean sheet. Strengthened by Alex Laing who, with the time nearing that of the temporary curtain drop, hooked a tangential effort wide of the right-upright. And there was the whistle. Those on the field disappeared down the tunnel, those in the stands disappeared into the bar. Pint, anyone?
Once sufficiently guzzled they returned to a darkened setting. Naturally, of course, it being Winter and all that. But the unique-looking floodlights had been switched on, thankfully, as both those in shorts and long socks joined their coated supporters in finding their respective positions. The engine remained stalled, a threat was rarely posed by either side. Lancing unsurprisingly content in holding on for a precious three points, they turned down the offensive volume as Standen too turned around, looked to his bench, and sent on his attacking weapons in James Fraser and Munt. Now the isolated Javaun Splatt was pushed out to the wing where he could drive with the ball. Fraser the cog in the quickening wheel. Off came the rust. Munt with a surprise drive yards outside the box. Over the crossbar it surged before crashing into the large ball-saver thingy behind.
Admittedly the football was not quite electric. It had its moments, and so did Splatt – oh, the agony. This is where he thrives. Dancing on the left, jinking this way and that, leaving his defenders in a cloud of rubber pellets as he paces at goal, angle acute, Secka onrushing, wide of the far-post it’s sent. Undervalued goalkeeping, Secka had kept his side in the lead without even deflecting the football. One final change: Orimolusi on, Henry Muggeridge off. Standen’s final roll of the red dice. No snake eyes here. Whitehawk had conjured a way back into this one.
The ninety looming. Well into the denouement now, Splatt swings in a hopeful cross for Fraser who climbs highest…quickest…heading over the bar as he is clattered by Secka. In a heap they lie on the ground. A nasty collision. Seconds pass with most assuming it’s a corner. Whistle blown, finger pointed, penalty awarded. The one’s sporting yellow incandescent at the referee, the decision stayed as Secka remained on the ground.
Minutes past and he was back to his feet, just, and now tasked with saving a penalty. All this time of waiting around, Munt did not move. Now it was time. Those nervous supporters behind willing him on, the unflappable midfielder calmest of them all. Straight down the middle it was lifted, nestling into the goal as Secka sprung to his left. A first competitive goal for the fledgling talent.
Jubilation! The Hawks behind dancing with grins, now into the additional minutes as Secka was unable to continue. Defensive man Harrison Parker with a swift change of shirts, sliding into the sweaty gloves for the time that remained. Comfortably enough they saw it out. A point apiece in the not-so-talked-about Sussex derby. A first point from a losing position for Whitehawk since the opening afternoon of the season. Resilience on display, true spirit shown as Munt’s late, late strike might just be the most pivotal of them all as we dive into the latter portion of the campaign, hopeful for a renewed sense of positivity.