Those three treacherous bridges have been a thorn in Whitehawk’s side since that ill-fated January affair earlier in the year. This is was the fourth encounter in a little under 12 months and, as New Years hastily approaches from the East, the Hawks will be hoping for few more encounters.
Jubilee Field: a mixed cauldron of memories for an East Brighton club muddled and vexed on their previous two visits with Shaun Saunders stood in his technical area. A Boxing Day bout that always brings a unique ribbon of chime and festivity, but ’twas only the hosts that would be concluding their Christmas with further cheers and merriment.
Shades of Sevenoaks in the Hawks’ previous outing 19 days prior, all that rest and resurgence had swiftly slipped out of the window as the red-clad men found themselves 2-0 down with just 17 minutes on the single small scoreboard in the corner of this sunlit ground. Gorgeous blue skies scraping the horizon as the lone sun’s low trajectory flashed the golden, leafy turf. Confusion at the back, Luke Glover beaten twice; Whitehawk staring at another league defeat.
But for the visitors they had a new face roaming the left wing: Bermuda international Luke Robinson. A silky, sprightly forward who partners with goalscoring machine Nahki Wells when dressed in his nation’s colours. Yet here, on the blades of the Bridges, skipping beyond a shape in amber and black is like knocking down a brick wall. It takes resilience to break this team down.
Before Whitehawk even had a minute to take in the surroundings their own peculiarly coloured red net was rustled twice. Curtis Gayler the first to spark the smallest pocket of noise from their few fans with a thunderous clap that wrong-footed Glover in the net, rocketing into the ‘keeper’s side of the goal after deceiving the one standing solemnly in pink.
And within a few minutes the Hawks were opened up again: Charlie Harris missing his tackle in his own half, Bryan Villavicencio powering forward and placing the perfect pass in front of the onrushing Curtis Gayler. Speeding through every gear like a turbocharged truck, he gets the better of Will Miles at the rear to drive towards goal, taking it past the fallen Glover with a serene degree of composure before slotting it into the vacant, gaping net not 10 seconds after Whitehawk had a set-piece of their own.
There was a clinical edge to the hosts that appeared scarce in the Hawks setup. Three Bridges were not an overwhelming force, these were chances that were duly presented to them by a side unable to offer its defence the necessary protection. Since Joe Shelley, the experienced defensive midfielder who had shone from the spot and in front of his backline, hobbled off against Newhaven in the Senior Cup, there has been a blindingly bright hole in that pocket that has since been exposed.
It’s a collective effort, and the quality that has brought this team so far is still there, still roaming about picking passes, scoring goals – yet there’s an added danger to this team, a threat that at any given moment they could find themselves picking the ball out of their own net. That was this match in its opening period. From nothing Three Bridges conjured success, and Whitehawk were left chasing.
Through it all Charlie Lambert offered the most electric of sparks: picking the ball up, taking players on, testing Leo Anderson in net. The right-hand side offered heightened success with Hamish Morrison adjacent to receive the overlapped pass with countless driven passes across the face of goal just waiting for a red-socked leg to tap it home. Lambert would get his goal: drilling home expertly from 12 yards that flew in off the body of Anderson to half the deficit and inflict hope into the travelling line of supporters stood now cheering and singing behind the goal.
And as quickly as the hosts added their second Whitehawk matched them, level on 36 minutes as the red waves came crashing down on a defence that looked rocked and rumbled. Robinson on debut placed in the perfect position to guide a cross over the line – he scarcely had to move as the band of Hawks were queuing up at the back post. Visitors firmly in the ascendancy, it had been a hotly contested, proverbially breathless half of two halves as Joel Daly comes within an inch of sending his side into a half time lead. There’s the whistle, time for some required rest.
In retrospect Saunders had likely wished the interval never arrived. His side, much with the momentum and movement as the half curtailed, would soon be staring at defeat just seven minutes into the second half. Akin to Three Bridges’ second, the ball was with Whitehawk deep into enemy lines before an excellent counter attack left the Hawks scampering. Three on three it was as a precise pass whipped across the face is steered emphatically home by Kieron Pamment to send shockwaves rippling through the red figures.
It was seen against Ramsgate, Sevenoaks and now Three Bridges as the Hawks continue to be caught on the counter. The visitors, striving for a route back into this contest, would create little in the second half. Anderson was never forced into a meaningful save as Jamie Crellin’s anti-football tactics of kicking a ball onto the pitch from his own dugout at any given moment continued to halt proceedings. The manager, stood laughing on the sidelines, was never even given a talking to. You can only chuckle when things are going your way.
Following this battle Saunders admitted that he had no qualms with the result, that his side were simply not at it. There had been a real spirit in that opening portion to get back on level terms but, as time continued to slip away, the confidence seeped from the skins of those playing away. A triple substitution with 10 minutes remaining shuffled the deck, but Whitehawk went bust. Customary tempers flaring in the final moments sees Miles dismissed for a second yellow after Joe Tennent, constantly in the ear of the referee, riled the centre-back into a shove that saw him walk off. There’s always a red card in this matchup.
But this was not lost by the officials, rather the explosive gameplan that Three Bridges executed to sheer perfection. Scoring three goals is not achieved through luck, and the once impenetrable defence of Whitehawk has kept its door ajar. It’s a team that has much elegance, much force; only a win will likely transform this team back into the beast it so obviously is. Give it a week, and the ship could so easily be sailing in the right direction once again.