The FA Cup: all that glitz and glamour, the unknown sides, the prospect of greatness. Seven seasons ago the very same Whitehawk reached the Second Round Proper, and were a mere goal away from travelling to Goodison Park. Imagine that. That’s what this trophy means for us clubs propping up English football. The ‘basement sides’ that get left behind, caught in the dust. And perhaps on this day, when all of the cosy clubs in every direction of the compass come out to play, one or two will embark on an odyssey unlike any other. For some it’s a distraction. For us it’s a longing, a golden dream that still remains a possibility.
And so on a dry, savannah-like turf the Hawks opened The Enclosed Ground door to K Sports. Who? Well, you’ll soon discover – for these ‘Paperboys’ were formed of brick and cement, flesh and bone. Impenetrable from the outset, a replay will be required to forcibly separate the sides as a goalless draw transpired. All that zeal and buzz was there, the Hawks just couldn’t pinpoint the right key. More prosaically, goalkeeper Lucas Hanley was in the most inspired of form.
Five times was the gloveman called into action in the opening half, tipping shots over and around the post as the Hawks cavalry set in for the afternoon. The start was slow, cagey even, but the hosts controlled the ball and the space to pressurise a deepening backline. Harry Shooman combined with Javaun Splatt to craft the initial opening, with the latter laying the ball into Ryan Warwick’s path for a scorching drive to be diverted around the woodwork. Next it was Rob O’Toole denied on the line, then Joe Shelley seeing an innovative chip clip the left post. The ball was seldom in the Hawks’ half.
As organised as K Sports were in defence, Hanley was at the heart, throbbing his players into life as George Crimmen became an act of encouragement and gesticulation: K Sports’ very own Big Brother. It was all about the shape, so he would shout. Excellent, evidently, when Charlie Harris was forced to shoot from 25 yards, rifling the ball into the railing behind. And by the time Charlie Lambert embarked on a mazy, lung-frothing run behind enemy lines to see his strike skittle wide, almost every man with an embroidered Hawk had had a sight of goal. Save for Luke Glover, who awoke at the sound of the cathartic whistle, sparing the Paperboys from the knockout hit.
Those who had braved the Pride traffic were gratified with a dominant display of patience and puissance, all the lacked was the pizazz. Perhaps the heat had got to the Hawkish heads, or rather the FA Cup had inspired those in the monochrome kits. Shaun Saunders claimed that his reassembled defence breathed an air of reassurance throughout the tie. In the forward positions that clinical nature witnessed in pre-season had vanished into warm air. Splatt was marked out of the game, rarely permitted any more than a few square-inches of grass at a time.
Saunders opted for his reinforcements sitting sweatily behind. Trey Masikini, trialist turned existent, found his place on the left-hand side of the pitch at the expense of Lambert. A shrewd decision, Masikini had freed up space for Splatt to drive, stretch, shoot low at goal only to be denied by the hand of Crimmen. Up in arms are those in red, a lengthy, excruciating pause is followed by a peep of the whistle, and a point to the spot. This is it. The moment all those expectant followers in The Din had been craving. O’Toole steps up, blasting his penalty viciously down the middle. Saved by the flying legs of Hanley. It was one of those days.
But often a side can rue their missed chances. On the few occasions where K Sports moved forward into Whitehawk territory through Joseph Ganiwa and Jordan Sarfo, there was always a dangled limb to prevent a Glover reaction. Will Miles had formed a solid partnership with Shelley, and the former looked a threat from set-pieces by showing both bravery and little care for his head in meeting countless Hamish Morrison crosses. O’Toole later denied on the line after slipping past Hanley in the box; the prospect of a replay had turned into a reality.
One final dive into the ocean: Ross Obazee, scorer of two fine strikes in pre-season, replaced the wearisome Joel Daly who had run himself into the ground. Within a minute the substitute is played through, all alone in the box, but lifts the ball mightily over the crossbar. There it is: the final whistle. K Sports had earned this one on pride alone, yet this is merely the interval. A replay will decide the fate of these two sides shortly but, for the tired many who sauntered from the surface, their wild dreams of cup delight are alive and beating. Well, for a few days at least…
Hawks: Glover, Morrison, Shooman, Harris, Shelley, Miles, Lambert (Masikini 62′), Warwick, Splatt, O’Toole, Daly (Obazee 84′) Sub not used: Wright, Blackmore, Adesanya, Cooper