As the first whistle of the afternoon blew — sun shining down hard upon Canvey Island’s Moviestarr Stadium, aptly named for such an occasion — the dramatics events of this Saturday in September began to unfold.
With the setting of the harsh star above the Hawks had added another three points to their tally – the third consecutive win of the league campaign. An open, sometimes hypnotic affair, this one began with great pace, both sides slicing through each other’s defence with such frequently that this one might have been 3-3 before the half-time whistle was blown.
Shaun Saunders’ white-clad men, dressed in a third strip never before seen, came into this one in fine form. Impressive victories over Billericay Town and Horsham had brought the Hawks into the top half of the table, but from the off this one felt like another stiff test. There are no easy games on the road in this division, and with a scorching clarity was that seen on this afternoon.
It all began with a penalty. The fourth the Hawks have conceded this campaign already, as a Joe Tennent slip allowed Evans Kouassi to bare down on goal, only to be brought down in the box by a needless Hamish Morrison shove. Whistle. Penalty. Goal. An effortless stroke into the corner from Conor Hubble gave the hosts an early advantage. A chorus of topless Essex natives lift their arms into the air. It set the tone for a frenetic, sometimes chaotic remaining 80 minutes that tested the very mettle of this Whitehawk side.
Within a few minutes this one was level. Who else, but Dominic Johnson-Fisher, collecting the ball on the corner of the box, drifting beyond two men dressed in yellow before calmly powering the ball into the corner. His spot was picked well before he collected the ball, and for Johnson-Fisher it’s his second of the campaign. That electric, slippery presence on the left adding another to his ranks, and helping the Hawks on their way to a victory.
Between that and the final goal of the afternoon, some time after Johnson-Fisher’s delicious finish, it was like a basketball match. End-to-end, hands on hips, sweat pouring from the faces, the opening half swung in the balance. Mitch Walker, who would go on to claim the coveted Player of the Match award, made a string of fine saves to keep the scores level.
Charlie Walker drove, drove, drove throughout the afternoon, chasing and harrying the backline. A new-look defence of Connor Cody and Joe Tennent made umpteen blocks, with Hamish Morrison returning to full-effect. Joel Daly and Tommy Brewer in the engine room, their presence was felt, even after the hosts struck the woodwork from a misplaced back-pass, only for Morrison to head off the line.
The half ends with Johnson-Fisher the talking point yet again. It had been an effortless moment, drifting through a phalanx of bodies before placing it beautifully into the netting’s corner. What followed was pure magic — a masterclass in managerial tactics — as Jack Dixon and debutant Imran Kayani entered the fray, slapping the hands of Ben Pope and Charlie Lambert respectively.
Within a few seconds the difference was felt. The white of Whitehawk spraying the ball about with devastating effect, Dixon slamming one straight into the grasp of the grateful Sam Jackson. But from then on the crowd mimicked that of a tennis match: left-to-right the neck turned as Walker demonstrated his immense abilities by closing down the space, suppressing the imminent threat.
Head’s tilted back to the home goal, Walker slams one toward the legs of Jackson. It falls to Dixon who, after taking a fine touch, drills the ball narrowly wide of the far post. Those were the warning signals, the preamble to what is to come. For not 10 minutes later, with the game even more stretched than a taffy puller, Walker provided the ultimate touch.
Daly standing over the free-kick to the right of the box, playing a clever pass into the onrushing Walker. It’s a deft, divine touch as it takes a slight nick before rolling over the line. Jackson helpless, Canvey Island helpless. Sheer September euphoria behind the goal as a cloud of Whitehawk red move closer to the goal It’s utter delirium, and for the many who reside back in Sussex, it was the perfect moment.
Brewer and Walker would have further chances, as would the hosts who, with the other Walker in the way, would find no way through the blockade of bodies. A triple save to deny a barrage of bullets, Walker would prove the hero on a sultry summer’s day.
Luca Cocoracchio, who had missed the past match with a hamstring injury, arrived onto the immaculate turf with just a few minutes remaining. He might not have kicked the ball, but his presence in the air was felt, swatting the ball away at will as the Hawks held on for three valuable points.
And so here we are: sometime into Saturday night with the Hawks still flapping their wings on their way back to East Brighton. Scores of supporters clapping, celebrating their side – it’s an indefatigable energy unlike any other campaign. The signs are there for a fruitful season – now it’s all about the consistency.
Many a match left in this one, but what is a certainty is this band of battled brothers, fatigued to the bone, will continue to perform at the highest level possible.
Onto the FA Cup now, and a further break from the league, as this side continue to reach new, unforeseen heights.