It was at around 41 minutes, shortly after Joel Daly had found the goal direct from a corner-kick, that this Isthmian Premier clash took perfect clarity. The dull thud off Charlie Walker’s laces. The thunderous crack as it clattered off Mathew Wilks’ waist and in. And the whip of a perfectly executed corner creeping in at the far post.
It was ruthless, relentless. Robbing and harrying our Essex counterparts under a thick grey sky, the showers softened upon the first peep of the referee’s whistle. A few changes to the side from that of last weekend: captain Jack Dixon and Ryan Worrall missing out through suspension while Dominic Johnson-Fisher earned his first start of the campaign, coming in for Luke Robinson.
Charlie Lambert and Stefan Wright also joining the fray on the artificial surface – somewhat zippy at the game’s commencement. It’s a big ground, too. Not typically something to shout home about, but after the last few seasons this one just felt a little more special. But there was no need to rise to the occasion, for they were the occasion. The Hawks belong here, and come 5pm when the afternoon was at an end, there would not be an onlooker in sight who didn’t think this victory was deserved.
Funny, too, if you look to the past. Whitehawk’s previous visit to New Lodge made history, and not good history, either. A 9-1 defeat in 2018 would earn the Hawks their biggest ever defeat, and a rather large dose of the ol’ ignominy. But here, a near five years into the future, the tale would tell something rather different indeed.
It started with some home pressure. That’ll be expected, but once the waves were ridden with relative ease, Whitehawk began to string together a few neat passing moves of their own. Most noticeably with 17 minutes in. Johnson-Fisher, who has shown to be impressive in the air, flicks on a pass into the path of Walker, who is through at goal. He simply will not miss. Giving Dan Wilks the eyes, he drills it low into the corner.
There’s the first in a hypnotic half of football. It was all about the shape: rigid, in sync, gelled. That final word has been thrown about a little bit in these early weeks, but when defences change it does take time to build those relationships. In this case, however, we’re not so sure. Luca Cocoracchio and Joe Tennent were imperious at the rear, Hamish Morrison might have had his best ever game in a Whitehawk shirt, and Wright was a wizard on the left.
Oh, and it’s 2-0. A flurry of corners and a slice of pressure presents Lambert with the ball in ‘his’ territory (20-yards or so away from goal, fairly central…). One big swing of the right foot and the ball is travelling, quickly, quicker, before reaching Wilks. Imagine a cannon ball hurtling towards you, you’re not going to get much behind. And so, despite Wilks trying his very best, the ball slams into the roof of the net. A ground silenced, save for a pocket of Hawks in the corner, and a dugout giving it the fist bumps.
By the time one had finished their discussions on how Billericay’s backline probably should’ve closed Lambert down a little better, the ball was back in Wilks’ net. Daly, a magician in his own right, swings a corner in that curls, bends, dips into the side of the netting. A streak of red run toward Daly who, with arms outstretched, will wholeheartedly claim that one. It’s his first of the season, and not a bad one either.
Half time. 3-0. A shellshocked ‘Ricay hobble over to the bar for a much-needed pint, much-required re-think. And at the restart the Hawks set out to further protect their goal. Everybody utterly in tune, Brewer at the centre of the controls with the captain’s armband, he was the galvaniser, the difference.
How many blocks? It might have been a new club record. Barely allowing a man in blue to breathe, space was closed down within the blink of an eye. You could barely notice their top-scorer from last season, Bradley Stevenson, was even on the pitch. Malachi Napa came closest to inflicting some nerves, but fired over from 8 yards out.
It was an inexorable hard power that one this one. They were physical, but skilful. Able to play themselves out of danger, working the channels, feeding the forwards. Connor Cody came on for his first start in a Whitehawk shirt, replacing the roving Lambert, shortly before Dom’s effective shift came to end, making way for Reece Price-Placid with 25 minutes left on the clock.
With time ticking the pressure rose, and this is where Walker in the net thrives. A hypnotic blur of yellow he was, playing at his most brilliant to deny a barrage of bullets. Only in the end was he undone from a scramble in the box, turned home by Brooklyn Kabangolo.
A mere consolation it was, as the remainder was seen out in professional style. It was perhaps Whitehawk’s greatest performance under Shaun Saunders, a kind of footballing perfection, museum worthy. Billericay schooled on their own patch of plastic, a famous victory for those heading back to Sussex.
As the storm rumbled in, lightning struck thrice for our Hawks on a memorable day in Essex.