By Daniel Shumake
On a chilly Chichester evening, splashes of mist and the in-form Chichester City meant each of the travelling Hawks were just uncomfortable enough. The voice of the Ultras overpowered the ground and the home fans, but such spirit could not be replicated on the pitch. All unbeaten runs come to an end. This one happened to arrive against a proper team who deservedly won.
It was a battle between two of the most in-form Isthmian League South East sides, with the home outfit winning eight of their last 10 in league. By all measures, City found a formula that worked and utilised it from minute one against the Hawks. The first thing that caught the eyes of many onlooking Hawks was the sheer green-and-white intensity.
Just last Saturday, it was Whitehawk who were masters of their own destiny in the air and on the ground. Fast forward to Tuesday, and the Hawks were bested in every conceivable encounter. In truth, the pace on the wings and the desire to cut and carve at each turn led to the hosts taking the lead, something they wouldn’t give up until the final whistle.
In the 20th minute, after some buttery interplay, Ethan Pritchard drove the ball down the right wing and played in a cross to Kaleem Haitham, whose glancing finish scurried across Sam Freeman’s goal and landed in the bottom left corner. Pritchard’s right wing would prove to be a thorn in the Whitehawk side for the remainder of the evening.
And, eight minutes later, City would have their second through defender Conor Cody as he flicked on a low, relatively tame corner kick. The first goal was at least moderately digestible, but this one went down like day-old chili. After scattered chuckles from the Ultras singing of a 4-2 Whitehawk score line, I could only detect grimaces—people sharply inhaled through gritted teeth. My own eyes wandered about the sportsplex and looked over to the paddle ball courts. I wanted to go over to the family’s fun little game and dominate just to feel victory again, but alas, I kept watching the football.
Right before the whistle, Freeman saved well to keep his team only down two, and that is how the match stayed until halftime. Walking over to the club house, I could detect no real talking points. Whitehawk could have enjoyed the ball a little more, sure, but it felt like dominance from the home side and not much else. It’s a humbling experience going into half 0-2 and silently rejoicing in the fact that it could have been more.
Consolation was taken in the form of delightful little finger sandwiches in the Chichester boardroom. The mini sausage rolls also made a much-enjoyed appearance. The red and white migration interrupted such culinary comforts, but we walked to the end with a roof, so that’s always a plus.
The Hawks started the half with a pinch more invention and a dash more belief, though no moves were really made. It’s truly the hope that gets you, as the more promising opening ten minutes were capped off with a Stefan Wright injury. Despite Wright remaining on the ground for multiple minutes, the referee did not stop play. Whitehawk’s night Exhibit A.
The next dozen minutes carried a whole lot of nothing, which, when you’re the side with a two-goal lead, feels like a nice cigarette after a night out. Light little drags and a pass to the side and back to the keeper and over again. In these moments, supporters want to see an all-encompassing need to get the ball back, though no such desperation could be detected. Whitehawk remained second to every second ball.
However, this changed in the final quarter of an hour. The Hawks moved ahead and committed men forward, throwing elbows and putting in tackles. The travelling fans appreciated this, and the trademark Whitehawk kettle started to sing and sizzle.
In the 81st minute, the kettle whistled like a one-way train storming down the tracks to a magisterial comeback. After a cross, and then a half-clearance, and then a deflection, substitute Khris Oti headed the ball home into the bottom right corner. The magic returned. How could we possibly be only one-down after this? Anything felt possible.
The bad thing about “anything is possible” is that anything truly is possible. A minute after Oti’s goal, Tommy Brewer was sent off with a straight red for a late challenge. It was hard to see from where the fans were, but both managers agreed that, if the tackle were against one of their players, they would want the tackler off. Whitehawk’s night Exhibit B.
So, with 10 men, the previously erect magic Hawk hat started to sag a bit to the side. Despite this, the Hawks nearly equalised with a Will Miles scorcher whizzing over the crossbar. This would be the closest the visitors came to any sort of consolation.
When you commit men forward, you always risk the counter. When you have 10 men, such risk is heightened to the max. After a cleared cross to the front post, Chichester broke with pace and strung together a perfect move that left their star Pritchard one-on-one with Freeman. The former danced around the keeper to the left and punched his ticket to yet another home win.
As insult was added to injury all throughout the game, salt sprinkled into the wound one last time as Freeman dove for a ball in the box and allegedly caught a Chichester player in the process. Penalty. Freeman to his left, ball to his right. 4-1.
These results happen. Chichester is arguably the most in-form side in the league, and they rarely put in a bad shift at home. When one considers this side has suffered injuries, players not in their natural positions, and eight games in four weeks, this result makes a bit more sense. While these results do happen, you at least want your team to go for it, and I think everyone of us at Chichester saw the Hawks go for it in the closing stages. On to the next one! Burgess Hill Town at their place. Huge for so many reasons. Come on you Hawks!