At the end of 90 cold yet comfortable enough minutes, perhaps the greatest takeaway from this night in south London was that an imperfect Whitehawk performance can be rewarded with 4 goals, and a place in the Second Round Proper.
A touch cliché, but it’s true that on a different evening this easily could have been 4-4. Kingstonian are a side languishing at the foot of the league table, searching for something to take them out of this hole, take them out of Mitcham. It’s an opening half that saw the hosts spurn umpteen chances, with them arguably and probably the better of the two sides.
And then the heads dropped. You have to feel for a club like Kingstonian – a side with a wonderful history, loyal support and genuine quality, but the present paints a very different sort of picture, with a future growing increasingly unknown. A route back to their home town is all we wish for.
With attention turning to the FA Trophy on a day where the storm creeped in off the coast, there were moments in this match where you wondered whether we’d see its end. Indeed, the Imperial Fields pitch held up just fine, with the Hawks dressed in their blue shirts, white shorts, blue socks combination – like something you’d find Ally McCoist donning in 1986.
There was a touch of McCoist in Louis Collins’ second of the night: driving at the defence, moving beyond his man, and placing it in the corner. He’d have to wait until the second half to enter the fray, as Shaun Saunders named an almost-unchanged side to the one that bruised Bognor Regis Town 8 days prior, with Tommy Brewer coming into the starting XI.
With three minutes played Joe Tennent produced the first of countless blocks in his own box, with this his most vital to deny Darnell Goather-Braithwaite from a few yards out. Whitehawk’s defending has been nothing short of spectacular this season, providing the backbone, the confidence, and the quality.
Fast forward 300 seconds into the future and Rob Tolfrey is collecting the ball from his net. A surging Stefan Wright run is stopped abruptly near the corner flag, Joel Daly delivers a delicious cross onto the head of Jack Dixon, who powered the ball home with time, space and conviction.
Andy Somo was a summer signing for the Hawks but now finds himself wrapped in the red and white stripes of Kingstonian. He led the line, moved into multiple scoring positions, but was denied again and again by the blue wall of Luca Cocoracchio and Tennent. First thwarted by Mitch Walker, then fizzing one viciously wide moments after, the early signs suggested this might not be his evening under the bright lights.
Half time beckoned as the heavens opened, adding some extra zip to a pitch in no need of extra fluid. Even after it dispersed, and then returned, Imperial Fields remained a fine playing surface, and it would soon be annexed by the blue blurs following the restart.
Collins grabbed the first of his brace some 70 seconds after stepping onto the grass. Harrying Rob Tolfrey in the Kingstonian goal, a lazy back-pass gave the ‘keeper little time to hoof the ball clear, as it whacked off Collins’ leg before arrowing into the corner for his side’s second.
And that, likely, was the difference. A deflating way to concede at a devastating time. If there was ever a goal to encapsulate a side’s season, it was probably this. 2-0 turned to 3-0. Kingstonian’s followers grow increasingly restless. The smattering of Hawks supporters high up on the terrace are revelling in a restless performance.
As the third went in with Collins wheeling away with his arm up high, reminiscent of Alan Shearer this time, the cup tie was effectively sealed. Wright bundled the ball home at the back post after Hamish Morrison sent in a low-driven cross that to cap off the night as Ciaran rolled in with its wicked wind and relentless rains.
Imran Kayani, who had one of his quieter games, made way for Dominic Johnson-Fisher as time ticked beyond the 80th minute. Kayani had scored five in his previous four matches ahead of this fixture, but the ability to score freely from all positions of the pitch is especially pleasing. It’s what brought this club so far last season, goals shared all around. Thus far, there’s very little difference.