Isthmian League

Report | Folkestone Invicta 1-1 Whitehawk (4-3 after penalties)

“Heads.” There, right there was the moment that decided this one. With a single flip of a silver coin the winner on a spectacular sun-kissed afternoon in Folkestone was determined. For as Bailey Vose flung his body and his arms to deflect Joel Daly’s penalty onto the crossbar, Whitehawk’s FA Trophy quest ended with a midfielder’s hands on his head, and a goalkeeper dancing with arms outstretched like a plane tackling turbulence.

Ah, penalties. Great for the neutral, gruelling for the supporters who peer with hands hovering over face, stomachs flapping at the fragrant tenseness of it all. For 90 and a bit minutes Whitehawk played smart, stylish football on a squidgy surface. Charlie Harris at the nucleus of it all, spraying and stroking the ball about in search of angles and red blurs. There’s a debonair vibe to the guy: hair so immaculately precise that a single strand out of place might strike fury into his face.

But as the shrill of the final whistle closed in the Hawks needed someone to step up, to thread the ball, to bring the vibes. In the blink of an eye substitute Markus Marku had nothing but the ball at his feet, and the goal at his mercy. Legs whirling as Vose scuttles out to shorten the angle; Marku clips the ball deftly and adeptly into the netting to ignite the hawk, earn his first goal, and force a shootout.

An afternoon that showcased an Isthmian League Premier side struggling to stave off a plucky, resilient cohort eying promotion in the division below. A gulf not as vast as once thought, it was a contest of two attack-minded, mentally-driven sides with a place in the competition’s ‘proper’ rounds at stake. Even after the referee awarded the hosts a contentious spot-kick with five minutes to go — Ade Yusuff blazing the penalty well wide of Luke Glover’s post — the Hawks hurried and harried Folkestone’s backline, earning that supreme reward they so yearned for.

Manager Shaun Saunders would have been wary of the threat his counterparts posed and the offensive trio of Ira Jackson, Ibrahim Olutade and Yusuff possessed an air of class as the three poured forward. It was the former who snaked his way through the Whitehawk backline before sending a low-strike at goal for Glover to divert. A makeshift visiting defence with Will Miles absent through injury, Joe Shelley partnered Nathan Cooper at the back with Hamish Morrison and Harry Shooman providing the width with their speed, flair and lungs.

There was a wasteful feel to the hosts: Scott Heard crashing one toward Folkestone West station; Olutade slamming one into the tall wall of Glover. Sandwiched in between was the Hawks’ finest opportunity of the half. It was Daly – still reeling after his previous thunderbolt back in August – who smacked the ball with fire and venom, ball hissing in the air, as Vose soared to beat the ball away. A sun-drenched pocket of travelling Hawks behind the goal applauding, lauding their side as they trudge toward the tunnel for a welcome interlude.

On 69 minutes something strange happened. For the first time in 489 minutes the Hawks found themselves behind in a game. It had all looked rather promising until Folkestone broke at pace, precision and power. Ploughing in the direction of the visiting defence, Glover could only parry the ball to the feet of Olutade, something you do not want to do, who poked in the game’s first goal of the afternoon.

By this stage in the match the net could have been rustled by either side. Rob O’Toole had made way for Marku after picking up a knock late in the opening half as the pressure for Kai Brown to do something, anything rose with each fleeting minute. His touch was good, a shadow on the grass, linking and thinking with intelligent sheen, but lifting an effort over the crossbar shortly before the hosts demolished the deadlock. And following Folkestone’s fantastic chance to seal their place in the next round via the spot, Neil Cugley’s prodigal players had reason to rue the reprieves when Harris, feeling the geometry of Marku’s run, split the ramfeezled defence and sent the forward on his way to justice.

So, penalties. Everyone’s favourite…until it’s you who steps up with the weight of the cup tie on your shoulders. It has to happen to someone, and here, as a a yellow beam from the sinking sun slanted onto the green turf, Daly saw his penalty tipped onto the bar by Vose. A cruel end to a day of pure emotion, desire and heart. Folkestone will walk away 4-3 penalty shootout winners, still shaking after Vose spares the home blushes.

For Whitehawk that flames keeps flowing. They are still yet to lose after 90 minutes this season. They are still yet to walk off the pitch outplayed and outmanoeuvred.  And they are still yet to cast a frown upon their supporters. Indomitable even in defeat; fighting until the last kick of the ball. Tell me, my friend: how can you simply not love this club?

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