As Whitehawk returned for the second half with the score deadlocked, wind woeful, there seemed a slicker, more sparkling band of blue under the shifting grey clouds. Sittingbourne, a side swiftly slipping further down the table, had chances of their own to alter the incalculable script. But when Will Miles steered the ball juicily into the corner two minutes after the restart, the Hawks’ compass was pointing towards three crucial points.
Miles, captain for the day and the lone change from Monday’s Starting XI, had spoken pre-game of his confidence in front of goal. “I’m going to get a goal today”, we’re fairly confident he proclaimed upon arrival at Woodstock Park on Saturday afternoon. He’d have to wait a bit of time; make the odd challenge, occasional pass forward, yet when Whitehawk needed someone to step forward, it was the one with the armband that would seal the salvation, craft the camaraderie.
An opening half that, for its duration, stretched the players’ and supporters’ patience alike. Possession wrested with Shaun Saunders’ side, Charlie Lambert’s early poke through the legs of home goalkeeper Harley Earle, who looked uncomfortable for much of the match. Racing back was a figure in red and black to steer it away a mere yard or two from the line but, besides a hopeful fizzer that came within an inch of knocking out Whitehawk’s most faithful behind the goal, there lacked a conversation starter in the warm clubhouse.
For this was another on the Tour de Kent, Sussex and a bit of London that will be hazily remembered for the bitter weather. The mighty wind whipping off the sparse fields, Woodstock Park gives you the feeling of being stranded after your car has broken down: is this the right place? Corinthian vibes, these cosy grounds dotted in the midst of Kent create a jovial atmosphere, and on the pitch the Hawks wheel away with another 2-0 victory, and three exquisite points.
Sittingbourne had chances of their own, yes, but you never really got the impression that they would be rippling the netting. Luke Glover, who had been suffering with illness in the buildup to this afternoon, was a touch unsteady between the sticks but, when needed most, came through strongest of them all. ‘The Brickies’ were a wasteful, confused cohort – erratic at the rear, careless in front of goal; this was a team, even with former Hawk Duane Ofori-Acheampong, that were calamitous from the commencement.
Half time arrived, mercifully, so the travelling party could shield themselves from the furious elements. And the second slice of action came with a burst of blue grins as a customary Charlie Harris assist allowed Miles, who had floated into an ocean of space in the box, to power the ball beyond Earle. Sittingbourne’s clumsy defending punished, the calamitous turned comedic four minutes later as Earle and centre-half Galvin Hinds-Cadette’s lack of communication resulted in the former spanking the ball into the legs of the defender, with the ball trickling in slow motion toward the goal-line.
This was a goal that is often expected at this level, yet rarely witnessed. It’s almost hard to celebrate – sheer melancholy from those Brickies fans behind the goal opting not to move to the end of where their own team is attacking. Bit bizarre, but Whitehawk care not, and for opponents who were an impressive contingent back in August, this just looked like facing an utterly different team.
In this particular stretching of the legs Lambert was an unfortunate footballer. On another day he might have had a hat-trick, though this can be a cruel, often unforgiving sport. Sprawling to his right was Earle after being left stranded a distance from his own net, the recovery to catch Lambert’s header on the line was perhaps the most impressive play the hosts managed all afternoon. To the left and right of Lambert were the creators: Kai Brown and Luke Robinson – both were impressive in their own right; making an impact on this surface was a laborious, taxing task.
Whitehawk returned to Sussex having been in complete control of an away fixture. Few times in this brilliant, clinical season have the Hawks dominated for a duration away from the Enclosed Ground but, as the referee’s whistle creaked through the leafless trees lit up by the floodlights, the halfway stage was marked with an imperative three points.
A day where teams around all collect maximum points, victories such as these will go a long way come the month of April. But with the turn of the New Year spawning back-to-back wins, “long may it continue”, states Saunders as he stands chuffed with his flat-cap, laying the laud onto his team. And that, right there, is a sight we can all smile at.