“I think it was written,” proclaims an incredibly humble, quietly jubilant Will Miles after his 82nd minute header secured Whitehawk’s place in the Velocity Cup Fourth Round. For the centre-half who switched Horsham for East Brighton, following in the footsteps of Rob O’Toole and Charlie Harris, there was a feeling of justice as Miles spiralled away, pointing to the crowd with a grin so wide it was impossible not to smile yourself. Harris with the devastating assist; this was a goal made in Horsham, scored by the Hawks. Be careful who you let slip.
It had been a breathless, drenching evening. Troubled by sweeping, monsoon-like rains that had soaked Sussex, it’s for nights such as these that the hosts opted to invest in an artificial surface. On the pitch the match swung heavily like a see-saw in a storm – much drama, much action, much noise. From falling behind in the 5th minute to going a man up through an Alex Malins dismissal, two weeks ago this all would have looked rather confusing. But here, in what feels like the depths of the county’s countryside, the eight white lights shined down on another vibrant, venomous performance as the novel to greatness typed another impressive chapter.
For Stefan Wright, who would redeem himself later in the night, it was a start far from the ideal. Before things had even had the slimmest chance of settling a misplaced pass unleashes Horsham’s top-scorer, Jack Mazzone, with time and space outside the visiting box to pick his spot, crashing it into the corner for the evening’s opener, the first of many. It was Wright’s first start since August 10 as he slotted in for the absent Kai Brown, and that early game rust was spotlighted by the bright bulbs that hung overhead.
In early October Shaun Saunders’ side had travelled to Isthmian Premier League outfit Folkestone Invicta, forced a penalty shootout but dealt a cruel spot-kick blow to exit the FA Trophy. Despite the dearth of sample size, it showed early on that this Hawks side can compete with those in the division above. Ratified once more, what followed the early setback was a Whitehawk onslaught. Through the intermittent rains the ones from the coast laid down the marker – orchestrated by the midfield – to slowly emerge as a team not just here to make up the numbers, but to prove a point, to make a statement.
202 days prior to Tuesday evening Horsham were lifting the Velocity Cup after crushing Margate 4-0 on home soil. But here they looked a shadow of last season’s worthy champions – perhaps as most were now in opposition red – with the Hawks zipping the ball into feet, zinging it out to the side and constantly, relentlessly, sliding it into the box. With Whitehawk in control of the ball it was always on the move. That’s what fine spirit brings you: a confidence on the ball. It’s like a game of chess: all know their next move, their next pass; where the opponent is going to be in 5 seconds time. Former Hawk Lucas Rodrigues neutralised by Cooper and Co; there was only one side in the ascendancy.
For all their glossy possession, the leveller arrived via the penalty spot, and some hopelessly dismal defending that saw O’Toole wrestled in the box. Since the first day of October Joe Shelley has yet to place the ball down on the spot, and add to his growing tally. The legend that is Biff: never ceasing, always scoring. High to the right of the goal he sends it as Amadou Tangara is beaten. Whitehawk level. Cup tie on.
Richly deserved, they had been brilliant since Mazzone’s opener. Marcus Marku, sharp and spangly as a substitute, came on with 40 minutes played after Mo Juwara picked up a painful knock. Daly would drop into left-back whilst Marku operated in the centre of the pitch. Enforced, yet effective. The final phase of the half, it’s Daly in his new position, skipping and spinning along the byline before slamming the ball across the face of goal for the patient, expectant, clinical Wright to tap home from close-range.
Marvellous, joyous; there’s such a wonderfully exultant feeling dripping from the bubbly wide-man when he finds the net. You could see as he wheeled away, arms outstretched, how much it truly means to him. In the context of the match it was pivotal. So, too, was the dismissal of Malins seven minutes after the restart. As the players returned to a dancing curtain of rain the former Hawk, who returned to Horsham at the weekend, was shown a second yellow card for running into Luke Glover when the ‘keeper was unwinding for a kick. There lies the next crucial moment.
And when Mazzone steered Finlay Knight’s delicious delivery so wide it went out for a throw-in mere yards from goal, the story started to shape up once more in favour of Whitehawk. Even when Mazzone, floating alone at the back post, headed the hosts level with ten minutes to play, it just always had the feeling of a Hawks progression. If you asked someone who would win in a fight between a hornet and hawk, what would you say? Exactly. So when Miles flicked on Harris’ cross, sparking delirium behind the goal, everything just seemed right, seemed perfect.
There’s a real certainty about them: as if every time they step onto the field they are going to leave it victorious. From the players and the supporters, management and the volunteers, every ounce of this club is driving in the right direction. Momentum is a wonderful thing, but so too is belief. For now this tournament is put on hold for another month, with the league – the crucial competition – returning on Saturday at 2nd placed Ashford United. Worry not, for this team full of vigour and velocity, are going to head there with one intention only: win at all costs.