Isthmian League

Report | Corinthian 0-2 Whitehawk

Listen, Hawks, to that guttural roar. It had been nail-biting, nerve-shredding stuff in a second half where Whitehawk simply could not escape, could not respire. Beneath the blanket of green and white pressure Step Four’s best defence did that thing it does so well: proving an impervious layer. So when Ryan Warwick took it sideways just along the edge of the box, manufacturing space for a cross, a red body; the noise behind Daniel Culmer’s sagging net was one of pure catharsis when Rob O’Toole steered superbly past the guarder of the goal to confirm victory in the Kentish woodland.

For this was a battle played in the middle of absolutely no where. Alas, the novelty is quickly wearing off after the Hawks ventured to Corinthian’s Gay Dawn Farm on Saturday for the third time in a year, yet this remains a place of superiority and serenity for Whitehawk after three successive victories. But this was always going to be an onerous task. The Hoops looked a side well-drilled, well-rehearsed; languishing at the dregs of the division due to their evident wastefulness in front of goal. It wasn’t just that dearth of clinical prowess, they simply couldn’t find space for a shot.

Testament to a defence that is growing stronger with each fleeting week following injuries to Will Miles and Harry Shooman. The former returned on this shivery afternoon somewhere in Kent to take his place on the bench, and at times you just wondered whether you’d see that blonde mane enter the field of play. Instead Saunders opted for youth, for legs. Jerson dos Santos had already sent his new side into a first half lead with a drilled finish that crashed into the corner, but away from home the Hawks just carry a bit of nerve: inviting the pressure, failing to put the game away, almost paying the price.

You saw it at Littlehampton where Whitehawk dug in to run away with a 1-0 win (it’ll always be up there as one of the triumphs of the season). You saw it at Sheppey United, and at Cray Valley PM, and Lancing; points never quite yielded that leaves this side sitting where they are. So, plainly this was a crucial day for Saunders and his bubbly boys. Faced against second-from-bottom club Corinthian, a team that had scored just nine goals from their opening 14 league matches, this was a match they simply had to win if they are to succeed.

Opting for the attacking combo of dos Santos and O’Toole, it catered for a forest of space for Charlie Lambert to forage into in those early moments. With this an apparent black hole for mobile data, only the 92 present in the ground knew of Lambert’s vicious smack of the post five minutes in. He loves this sort of position: galloping about the place like a bunny released from its cage, stretching those long legs as he peppers the net, hoping for a reward. It was all Whitehawk, and finally they received their recompense.

In his first few outings dos Santos has looked like a capable forward. His hold up play is good, his strength his good, his vision is good. All that went amiss in these opening glimpses was that touch of magic at the end, the glided edge. Here he was one-on-one with his defender in the box after fine work from Lambert. In these moments it’s important to remember you’re role, why you’re hear. Options no where to be seen, dos Santos gives himself a yard before arrowing it past Culmer. Just deserves, cue some celebrations and camaraderie, Whitehawk’s spirit spilling out onto the choppy, cold ground.

Tension settled, dos Santos pleased; the Sussex revellers in red began to wretch complete control with Charlie Harris and Warwick pushed deep behind enemy lines. The former would spurn some free-kicks Harris probably claimed were ‘doable’, before absolute retro pinball in the box saw Kai Brown, O’Toole and dos Santos all squander wonderful chances as the wastefulness started to creep into the minds. At The Enclosed Ground Whitehawk can’t stop scoring. Yet on the road that piece of the fruit has to be fully squeezed in order for the net to ripple, for the Hawks to succeed.

And when Harris had another free-kick deflected millimetres wide of Culmer’s left upright, Corinthian were still a side who thought they could muster something from this late November day. But what do you say to a side in the lead that continues to spurn chances? “Keep it up?” “Just bloody score?” Pictures of last Saturday’s defeat to Beckenham Town still fresh in the mind, it will be used as a template for those occasions where the ball just won’t drop in.

It was a little bit different here: Whitehawk already had the advantage. Now it was a case of confirming those points, and getting the hell out of wherever they were. For the first 15 minutes it all looked rather promising: much of the ball still in Corinthian’s half, Hawks’ high press still deployed. It wasn’t an onslaught, but at no point until Lambert hobbled off in the 57th minute were his side under any real threat.

What followed for the next 22 minutes was a brutal storm. Sat on the plane in the midst of turbulence, this felt like a ride that you just wanted to be over. Corinthian, finding belief from somewhere inside their veins, pushed the Hawks back deep, deeper…so deep Nathan Cooper and Joe Shelley were practically on Luke Glover’s six yard box. And yet they would flourish when all seemed to soon be lost. That red iron curtain pulled across the box, there was simply no way through for the roving Oscar Housego, or the marauding Ahmed Salim Futa.

For Whitehawk all they needed was a second. Pumping the ball forward in the hope of gaining a few extra breaths, Warwick was suddenly sprinting across a dozed, defunct box as O’Toole bursted through the middle, connecting with his colleague’s cross as the line of Whitehawk eyes light up, instinctively vibrating the throats and throwing up the arms. It was cruel on Corinthian, but Saunders knows this feeling all to well: fail to take advantage of your dominance, and you will be penalised.

It’s a win. A crucial, challenging win to keep the pressure on those above. In six days time league-leaders Ramsgate find shelter at The Enclosed Ground in a colossal Saturday afternoon matchup. Victory there could well see the Hawks head to the top, but for now it’s time to recover, to relax, to regroup, and then resume with the next rising of the sun.

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