Isthmian League

Report | Bognor Regis Town 2-2 Whitehawk

On 9 April, 2022, almost two years to the day, Shaun Saunders stood in the Whitehawk dugout for the first time. Inheriting a side that was fearing relegation and relied heavily on one striker’s right-foot, his new team would succumb to a sorry 2-0 defeat at the hands of Hythe Town. 

Little over a year on from that his Hawks, having just about staved off relegation the season prior, would then be lifting the play-off trophy beneath a plume of red smoke. What a moment. Moving swiftly through time, and it brings us to 19 March, and a floodlit affair between two Sussex clubs searching to extend their seasons.

From the very first peep of the referee’s whistle, Whitehawk were right at it. There was a press, a desire, an intensity that Bognor Regis Town simply could not combat, could not answer. Within moments goalkeeper Ryan Hall demonstrated his capabilities with a stunning triple-save to deny Charlie Walker, then Rob O’Toole, then Lloyd Dawes in quick succession.

Charlie Lambert followed up with a near-post effort that was beaten away by Hall’s palms, before the pressure paid off with 16 minutes on the electric scoreboard. Walker burst into a square of space on the right-hand side of the box, before fizzing a fine cross into the mixer that was collected by debutant Kai Jennings. Touch, shoot, goal. A divine start to his Whitehawk career, his assist on Saturday was bettered on Tuesday, and what an evening the 18-year-old had.

Whitehawk arrived into this fixture with a seven-game unbeaten run, and it showed. Confidence shone down onto a soft grass, with Saunders’ men controlling possession, and the match. Yet as time ticked on through the opening half the hosts started to grow into the game. More injuries woes, too, as Lloyd Dawes, who had returned from a long spell on the sidelines, sauntered off with a grimace on his face, allowing Joel Daly to take to the field.

Half-time was just a few breaths away before the Rocks stole them away. An equaliser that was a touch harsh on the Hawks, it was the movement to drive into the box that permitted Jasper Mather to slide home from just a matter of yards out. And then the whistle for the break blew, and how frustrating it is to concede at such a time.

This is true, too, when one concedes minutes after the restart. For in the 53rd minute the hosts were in front. Similar to the first, Whitehawk lose possession in the opposing half, allowing Bognor to drive forward at pace, and pick the spot of Lucas Pattenden at the far post, who tapped home his side’s second.

The reverse fixture at The Enclosed Ground in October shaped up to be a thriller. 3-2 it ended in the favour of the Hawks, this clash was hastily moulding into something similar. Charlie Harris is enjoying his best form of the campaign, and this arrowed strike from 25 yards pretty much summed it all up. Perhaps provided with just a bit too much space from Bognor’s stance, Harris’ finish flew beyond the gloves of Hall to level the night.

Josh Nandhra came on, Robbie Blake’s side spurned two glorious opportunities, before Hamish Morrison missed the most clear-cut of them all. On his knees with palms together just below the chin, the full-back had the entire box to himself as he diverted his header wide of Hall’s right-hand post. That was the proverbial chance, until Nandhra burst through late on, only to see his low effort denied by the excellent Hall.

Six minutes of additional time were signalled, but 10 were played. Nervy were those final few minutes as Bognor slap a free-kick hard into the wall, as some excellent defending from Luca Cocoracchio and Tommy Brewer make sure of the point, and prominent one at that.

Nyewood Lane was Saunders’ 100th game at the helm, and what a journey it has been. Barring a few sticky patches, Whitehawk have been a revitalised and ruthless team. It has brought them back onto the map, raised the profile of the Sussex non-league scene, and changed more lives than you’d believe.

Here’s to the next 100, gaffer. 

Leave a Reply