By Ant Scott
Whitehawk got their first point on the board after battling with nine men against Hastings United.
Former Hastings duo Jack Dixon and Ryan Worrall both saw red either side of half time, but the Hawks dug deep to earn a point against their Sussex counterparts.
And Shaun Saunders’ side even had chances to win the game despite their numerical disadvantage, but will ultimately be happy with a point having played a man down from 10 minutes in, and then two men down with 79 minutes on the clock.
Hawks named an unchanged starting line up from the loss at Margate three days earlier, with Stefan Wright and Reece Price-Placid named on the bench.
It didn’t take long for this Sussex derby to heat up. Just ten minutes was on the clock when Jack Dixon was judged to have stamped on Tayo Oyebola in front of the main stand, although the Hastings player grabbed at the ankle of the Hawks captain to initiate the contact. Andrew Dunn then followed to brandish a red to Dixon, with Femi Akinwande booked for unsporting behaviour in the aftermath.
However, despite their numerical disadvantage the Hawks held firm – restricting Hastings to efforts from distance before going close themselves. Good build up play outside the box led to Ryan Worrall having space for the shot 20 yards out, and it took a fine stop from Charlie Grainger to deny him against his former club.
Luke Robinson then did well down the left hand side, cutting back onto his right foot before his low drive was beaten away by the keeper. It was actually from a counter attack that Hastings threatened Mitch Walker for the first time, as Akinwande broke forwards, stepping inside from the left and looked for the far corner, but the Hawks stopper pushed the ball away diving to his left.
Shooting up the hill at The Enclosed Ground in the second half, Hawks fans could have been forgiven for fearing a struggle. However, Shaun Saunders’ men almost went ahead nine minutes after the break. Worrall’s corner in from the left picked out Charlie Walker, whose header was well tipped over by the outstretched Grainger.
But Hastings continued to pose a threat with their pace down the wings and John Ufuah almost broke the deadlock when he broke down the right, but his drive across goal came back off the post. And the woodwork kept the Hawks level again midway through the second half. Akinwande did well to turn away from his man and his shot across goal was tipped onto the post by a great hand from Walker.
Hawks’ task was made even harder when they were reduced to nine men with eleven minutes to go. After picking up an earlier booking, Worrall was judged to have fouled in midfield despite winning the ball, and was shown a second yellow card.
Walker then denied the visitors again. Dominic Vose got the ball in and picked out Tyler Christian-Law whose glancing header was turned away by the diving keeper. And the Hawks stopper was at it again as game entered stoppage time, saving from Freddie Legg at his near post as the hosts held on to earn their first point of the new season.
A fine point indeed, every man dressed in red should be proud of their performance under the bright lights of Whitehawk.
Hawks: Walker; Morrison, Tennett, Cocoracchio, Worrall; Brewer; Daly, Dixon, Walker (Lambert 81), Robinson; Collins (Wright 12).
Subs: Johnson-Fisher, Price-Placid, Glover (GK).
Hastings: Grainger; Okoye, Fregene, Stone, Akehurst (Scott 90); Lovatt, Christian-Law; Ufuah (Legg 72), Rodari, Oyebola (Vose 61); Akinwande.
Subs: Walker, Sontan.
Referee: Andrew Dunn