In the stifling heat the Hawks head back to their nest for the league launcher against Sittingbourne. In a bizarre burst of deja vu Whitehawk welcome the same opponents as last season’s home opener, when Ronnie Conlon powered his way through the backline to present his side with a 1-0 win. They would triumph a further eight times in the 37 games that followed.
The only way is up, then, for Shaun Saunders and his intrepid side as they look to place the misery of midweek behind them by commencing the glossy new campaign with a victory. Knocked out of the FA Cup by a tenacious K Sports side on Wednesday evening, the chance for vindication comes into view.
Last time out
Forcing a replay after a fine defensive display at The Enclosed Ground in a 0-0 stalemate last Saturday, ‘The Paperboys’ twice came from behind in midweek to send the tie to extra-time. Pegged back after a Ryan Warwick whizzer and then again from Joe Shelley’s penalty-kick, it was the tricky feet of Richard Jimoh that unlocked the Hawk defence for a third time, sending his side into the next round.
In truth, it was Lucas Hanley’s game – the K Sports shot-stopper impenetrable on Saturday, imperious on Wednesday. Chances for Whitehawk arrived at regular intervals, but the legs and arms of Hanley denied those in red on frequent occasion.
Returning for his third spell in the Brickies’ dugout is Nick Davis, re-joining the Kent club soon after the sacking of Darren Blackburn. It had been a lethargic end to Sittingbourne’s season, who recorded just the single victory in the concluding eight matches, losing the final four in the process. Wrapping up the campaign in 10th position, there is much to build on in a new age for the club.
For this is a side revitalised. A squad transformed, it has been a profitable pre-season for Davis and his team with six victories and one defeat from their warm-up matches. New arrivals Lewis Chambers and Harry Harding move from Faversham Town to bolster the midfield, whilst Alex Addai and Bagasam Graham enter to partner the prolific Kane Rowland in attack.
The Hawks and The Brickies both earned the three points on respective home soils last season; the latter breezing to a 3-1 scoreline in misty conditions on an afternoon where former Hawk, Ahmed Abdulla, scored from the halfway line.
The previous meetings between the clubs occurred during the 2019/20 campaign that was later curtailed due to the arrival of the pandemic. After claiming a point in a 1-1 draw at Woodstock Park in late January, the Hawks would win 1-0 at home just two months later, Abdulla again involved as he headed home from a matter of yards out to seal the win in chilly conditions.
Shaun Saunders’ pre-match quotes
“We’ve got to start preparing straight away. Because of extra-time I just felt we couldn’t get them into training [yesterday] because there wouldn’t be any mileage in that, bearing in mind most of them played 120 minutes.”
“It’s just a case of rest up now and look after themselves. I could’ve done with a day or two more in recovery time but it is what it is, it’s the nature of the beast.“
“We’re still buzzing for Saturday, really looking forward to it and the players have got to be strict in their rehab over the next couple of days and we’ll be good to go at the weekend, there’s no doubting that.”