Isthmian League

Report | Horsham 0-1 Whitehawk

The new year is here. Horsham standing, drenched, solemn, as Charlie Harris, enraptured, powers home the most delicious of strikes. Block, buffer, deny absolutely everything. A Whitehawk defence robust, ridiculous. An immaculate display of prominence and spirit from the red blurs as the curtain fell on this drizzly New Year’s Day. Whitehawk collecting three crucial points.

Of course it was him. As the ball dropped to Harris fairly central, just inside the box, there was one thought on his mind. This is the stuff of non-league dreams, and little question Harris was spinning in his bed last night, manifesting the very scene that sparked utter delirium behind the goal as he haunts his former side. There’s your story, scribed with a smile.

We’ve known the situation, felt the pressure. On forgotten afternoons in some sleepy towns north of Whitehawk, performances haven’t always been at the level seen earlier on in the season. There are always dips in form, and you can liken this to last season’s sticky patch that required a heap of effort to escape.

And Monday afternoon just felt like one of those moments. Harris’ strike seemed a cathartic release, a defibrillation of some kind. Shaun Saunders’ side have scarcely been outplayed all season, yet a tight, tense 1-0 victory in a Sussex derby might act as the turning point in a long, winding and often exhausting campaign. “This is a good start to the new year”, as Saunders added.

We’ve said all along of the indefatigable desire instilled in this band of Hawks. A December that may have made the Christmas turkey taste a touch sour, the fireworks of a new chapter sees a revived dawn, and here at Hop Oast everything was functioning perfectly.

That is, minus the legs of Lloyd Dawes and Charlie Walker, who after 27 minutes would both be nursing their respective injuries in the dugout. A hefty blow to the front-line that saw Imran Kayani and Ryan Worrall take to the artificial surface with the scores deadlocked. An opening half of few chances, Walker’s lob bouncing off the crossbar the finest of such moments.

Horsham enjoyed more of the ball, posed more of a threat; but there emerged a slight lack of direction. They picked up their trench and gained yards at will, but once they reached the box the yellow and green shirts appeared to hesitate, almost as if they needed to look toward their dugout for a further instruction.

Charlie Hester-Cook whipped a drive wide and Mitch Walker kept out a swirling Lee Harding effort as Horsham presented their offerings, but Whitehawk’s chances were crafted with care, and with a direction in mind. Half time arrived with a contentment from the travelling Hawks, but with the knowledge that Horsham were sure to be sharper, hungrier and better in the half that followed.

As the darkness rolled in over the nearby fields and the lights shined brighter, the illuminated pitch handed the 1300+ spectators a slice of surprise. ‘The Hornets’, watched by an increasingly sombre Dominic di Paola, spurned a few more opportunities that Walker watched drift behind into the advertising hoardings.

With 60 minutes played Kayani found space on the left side of the pitch. The goal is there, somewhere, as he wrestles his man to the ball. There’s a gap in the goal, but the shot on the slide slips wide. It was a chance, but it shone a light of belief into Whitehawk. Horsham demonstrated their vulnerabilities, and for those in red there was something to be taken from this.

Horsham threatened more, Tommy Brewer came off for Jaden Perez after playing another sensational fixture protecting Joe Tennent and Luca Cocoracchio, and the net billowed. For all the superlatives you could use for the defence, Harris’ crunching strike that whistled beyond Mitchell Beeney like a bullet proved to be settler.

Ultimately Whitehawk had just a few more tools in the bag. Tennent and Cocoracchio continued their effective partnership at the base of the spine; Harris, Brewer and Joel Daly offered energy in midfield. And Rob O’Toole was utterly superb with the armband: winning headers, encouraging his teammates, and putting in the most fantastic of shifts.

Horsham are a fine team who are superbly run, but here the vibes were all off. They’ve been to Oakwell, and rescued a replay. They face the Hawks, twice, and lose them both. Football, eh? Nothing is written, and nothing is certain. A first league win in nine, and how sweet it feels under the stars tonight.

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