What’s that soaring through the sky? No, no. Not the showers from above, rather a sodden ball lolloping toward the far corner of Finley Thackaway’s vacant netting. Joe Shelley stands a man bedazzled, bewildered. Off his dome it completes the comeback, downs the Dockers. On a soggy September day the Hawks trudge from the field euphoric, impervious, victorious. A cold, rainy night in Tilbury? Completed it mate.
Ahead of this drenching, gushing evening of FA Trophy football a sombre Chadfields, packed to the rafters with 85 in attendance, stood in silence to pay a minute’s respect to Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps, on reflection, the larynx’s were stolen for the full duration as the majority of this part of Essex had evidently peered behind their curtains, spotted the perpetual downpour, and decided to give this one a miss. The gloom dampening the spirits, but not for the Hawks who fly into the next round, sealing a short stay in Corinthian in 10 days time.
There was always that tedious uncertainty over how Whitehawk would react to the loss of Javaun Splatt. The catalyst for survival last season, his void was felt in an opening half that lacked cohesion, lacked an answer. A change in both Prime Minister and Monarch since our last kicking of the ball, there was plenty of time to find a solution as Harry Shooman slipped into the Starting XI as the only change from the 3-0 hammering of Three Bridges.
Joel Daly pushed out to the wing, there was a strong gust of energy from the Sussex revellers who began with great zeal and fire in their thickened formation. Heading to the home of a side similarly unbeaten in their respective league, Hamish Morrison and Shooman sliced through a slippery backline that appeared obtuse to Whitehawk’s vintage fast start. Daly testing the grip of Thackaway’s gloves with a low drive before cutting it back to a vacant Rob O’Toole, who flicked tamely enough for the ‘keeper to recover on the line.
There was a narrowness to Tilbury’s structure – cramped and constricted. It posed space out wide for Charlie Lambert and Daly, Shooman and Morrison to rove, pounce, penetrate. To the bylines left and right, but the cluster of white and black shirts prevented O’Toole from a clear sight, a certain rustle. The rains began to blanket the turf with increasing velocity, and the mood beneath the retro eight bright white lights of Chadfields was one of growing despondency and desire.
But what could be better than 22 men flinging themselves about on a soaking spot of grass adjacent to a major port? Certainly wouldn’t get this sort of entertainment in the Champions League. Well done all, you’ve chosen proper football over the glitz and the glamour, the wealth and the greed. Some excitement, too, from a Dockers’ point of view as Adam Topley breaks the deadlock with a rasping drive from 20 yards. Too hot for Luke Glover in the Whitehawk net, this one veers over his hands before billowing the net. Deserved? No. Did it awake the Hawk? Yes.
No time to act, to ponder – Ryan Warwick with sights for salvation but misses the ball entirely from close-range, the conditions clearly not of service. Half time with one side in the ascendancy having possessed less of the ball and fewer of the chances. The Hawks had looked OK, a tad wasteful on occasion, but nothing a good shellacking from Saunders and Co. won’t solve…
And, right on cue, those dressed in all raffish red returned with debonair in their legs, air in those lungs. For not 14 minutes after the restart had the Hawks picked themselves up, and altered the scoreline entirely. Neither arrived with a breath of finesse, but there’s only one thing in this beautiful, besotted sport that matters: placing the ball over the line. Up for the task, Lambo? Lambert obliged, swinging his right boot at the ball as it boinged through a crowded box of bodies on its way beyond the hapless hands of Thackaway.
That was the leveller, and now for mains: a Shelley surprise. Shooman the provider, his long throw into the box was flicked on at the near post by the one named ‘Biff’ who, with back to goal, headed behind in search of someone, something. In a drizzly haze Tilbury stand confused, conquered. They were in the saloon of a sinking ship, looking across at Shelley through the pelting droplets. Sometimes it’s best to drop the anchor early.
With 68 minutes played the fourth official’s board was raised. Only it wasn’t, as that sort of technology scarcely trickles down to this level, but you get the idea. Anyhow, the sprightly Stefan Wright was on for Lambert to sharpen up the left side of the pitch. This coming moments after Alex Clark had set course his shot for Gravesend after the goal presented itself to the Tilbury man. It was as good an opportunity as any for the hosts with time dripping steadily away from them.
Jayden Smith smacked the hands of O’Toole on his way towards the front line with the denouement strongly underway. But for a side owning a slender advantage in the final few minutes they remained an untroubled bunch, assured in a last line consisting of that cobalt-formed partnership of Will Miles and Nathan Cooper. Both were quietly excellent, doing their jobs, not making a fuss. It’s not that Tilbury didn’t try, they simply couldn’t get close.
As the final whistle sounded it sealed another finely executed showing in the Saunders era. This was a collective effort by a young and hungry team who fight for every ball, press every opponent, counter-punch with energy and, most importantly, win football matches. Satisfied yet? We look forward to seeing you, Lancing.