It’s on nights such as these that your respect for Scandinavian football viciously increases. For the twenty or so who had made the Wednesday post-work pilgrimage from Brighton to Sevenoaks they soon stood frozen in time behind the goal like the Moai statues on Easter Island. ‘Feels like -3°’, said the many phone screens that were starting to frost over in the still, sharp air. The artificial surface survives the ordeal, as does the four-letter scoreboard behind: Oaks 2-1 Hawk.
From the moment the affair commenced Whitehawk looked like a team in the middle of a muddle. Ahead of this December evening Shaun Saunders’ soldiers had lost three of their previous five matches after revelling in a 101-day 90-minute unbeaten streak Injuries have played their part – the ghost of Joe Shelley a menace to the Hawks midfield who struggled for possession and parity in an opening half commandeered by Sevenoaks.
It was a first start for Mo Juwara in the left-back position since the earliest day of November as Saunders made one change to the side defeated on Saturday. But there, at The Enclosed Ground, the Hawks were deeply unfortunate in their endeavours not to secure at least a point. Fast forward further into the week, where a northerly jaunt away from the seaside takes us to Sevenoaks, and Whitehawk fail to match the intensity and impetus of their 10th placed opponents.
For not ten seconds had passed when the hosts heaved control of the contest with a swift move that culminated in Nathan Cooper bringing out the big block, and the follow-up sent spiralling over by Joshua Bohui. From that precise counter you knew who was fired up more. The cold air filtering through the lungs made this a painful, punishing exhibition of Step Four football. On the occasions where Whitehawk wrestled their way into the box, toward the byline, there was always a blue and black shirt standing to smack the ball away to a degree of safety as the barriers separating statues and footballers began to develop a thin film of frost.
William Hoare would be an omnipresent headache for the Hawks throughout the night, controlling and commanding the play. He’s rarely known for his ability to score goals but he took the evening’s opener like an assured striker: latching onto a through-ball that split the defence before lightly lifting the ball over Glover’s frame and into the netting behind. A second of shutdown for a backline that prior to Saturday was the most resolute in all of the top eight divisions in the country. And perhaps that snuck into their heads, as since the loss of Shelley the need for an experienced sweeper in front of the base has increased with each fleeting game.
More midfield woes: Charlie Harris walked off the pitch of his own accord in the 26th minute after signalling his discomfort to the dugout. Marcus Marku told to get stripped and warm, it was a fine chance for the box-to-box player to shine beneath the six bright white lights of Greatness Park. Instantly into the action, Marku would depart the field 10 minutes early due to a second bookable offence, but looked a prevalent force in the midfield throughout, notably in the second half.
But by that stage the match was retrospectively at an end. A wicked Dami Olorunnisomo cross from the left caught the Hawks out once again, permitting Freddie Parker to soar and stretch his neck toward the ball unmarked in the box for his side’s second on the stroke of the interval. The proverbial ‘bad time to concede’; in football, is there really a good time to let your opponent score?
Right, options. Charlie Lambert hadn’t quite managed to get into the game and was relinquished at the expense of Jerson dos Santos, who arguably looked his best in a Whitehawk shirt to date. He’d have a few chances: one meatily blocked seven yards from goal after fine work had sent Marku to the byline, but the hosts were proficient in their second half gameplan of stemming the flow, taking their time.
Billy Fuller replaced Kai Brown for a bit more zip in the centre of the pitch, and he would have halved the deficit had his legs been fully grown. But dos Santos was involved again, twisting in the box and unleashing a thunderous drive that required more blocking. Yet in between these brief phases of potential hope there was an abundance of misplaced passes and idle movement. It was better, but still something lacked. Saunders had evidently expressed his irritation toward his players in the makeshift portacabin changing rooms at half time, and there were improvements.
“I asked them at half time: minimum we win the second half, minimum we don’t concede”, Saunders discussed in his post-match quotes. The latter portion was assured, and deep into stoppage time, with the contest effectively over, so too was the former. Dos Santos brought to the icy plastic blades inside the box, he picks himself up and sends Tyler McCarthy the wrong way. Half won, but the game had already slithered out of the palms as the Hawks are condemned to their third defeat in a row in all competitions.
All good teams will lose games, it’s part of sport. Momentum doesn’t purely follow the victor, and for this side that has achieved so much already, the expectations of all are one of high degree. Radiance doesn’t fade overnight, and with another chance for redemption on Saturday, there shan’t be long till we’re all rejoicing together again.