Report | Whitehawk 1-0 Beckenham Town
It’s Saturday night and the Hawks are dancing. But things were tough, tricky, yet through the thick cloud and the mild temperatures there’s a streak of red that is cavorting in the hazy sunset. Charlie Harris, doing what he does best 20-yards from goal, delivering the decisive strike as Whitehawk’s promotion charge returned to its rightful course: back in the playoffs.
There was a feeling, too, as the Hawks stepped out onto a luscious Enclosed Ground surface a few minutes before 3pm. A feeling that perhaps this team needed a boost, needed a few semi-inebriated Ultras shouting songs in the name of Smirnoff Ice, ABBA, Taylor Swift…
It’s the place to be on a Saturday afternoon, and we’re not just saying that lightly. Honestly, you’d rather go to the AMEX to watch a side barely scrape past Bournemouth? Pleasantries aside, the crowd was strong enough, and the dancing, singing and smiles reached far out into the Whitehawk sky on Saturday afternoon…a day that mattered much for both of these sides.
For the Hawks there was that notion of a need for a return to winnings ways. For Beckenham Town, a side who have been excellent all season, a win would have seen them return to the top for the first time in many a month. On the day, the grey, quintessentially English day, ‘The Becks’ were a fine force. Louie Theophanous, the club’s top-scorer this season, a thorn in the defence that comprised of the usual cohort, though Luca Cocoracchio made his home debut, and would be resolute throughout.
And so there it was: two sides dressed in red and blue, battling it out under a thick, murky sky at the beginning of February. Two good sides, and so it showed. The reverse fixture had seen the end of Whitehawk imperious run: a twelve-game unbeaten run to start the campaign cruelly swatted away with a 2-0 defeat. Joe Shelley, Adam Simpson; names not so heard of these days as the latter returned in the dugout, gesticulating to his side as they fought hard in the opening exchanges.
Indeed, many of the supporters situated behind the goal in the Sea End were a touch entranced by the Shaun Saunders’ latest recruit, Michael Fernandes. Oh, he had it all: the bravura touch, the innate movement – the sort of person who steps out onto a football pitch and just looks the part. He was superb in the #9 position, causing havoc amongst the blue figures at the back. Mudiaga Wanogho and Robert Carter were stern opposition in the November fixture, impossible to subdue throughout, yet here they were one 38 minutes, trudging back with a solemn look in their eyes.
For Harris, Whitehawk’s exquisite midfield maestro, would deliver the crushing blow, the pivotal play. Placing the ball down on the green surface 20-yards out, seven minutes from the interval, eyes fixed on the very top corner. One swing of the right-boot and the ball sails, soars viciously off of where post meets crossbar, the sweetest spot of them all.
There’s arms outstretched, smiles wide as can be; Whitehawk’s first-half lead may not have been entirely deserved, but who really cares when it comes via such esteem? Beckenham had threatened through Theophanous, forcing another debutant, goalkeeper Sam Freeman, who joined in the morning to replace the injured Luke Glover, to a few saves down to his right. Yet as the half time whistle blew, there was only one side walking off with their heads held high.
And to the second half, where unchanged side returned with fine aplomb. Stefan Wright had ran himself into the ground in the opening half, cutting and charging through full-backs at will. That’s Wright brings: he’s a talented forward, not a full-back, who knows who to operate in the attacking positions. Delivering delicious crosses is his mantra, and well, did we see just that today under the shifting clouds above.
With 63 minutes played Beckenham’s net somehow remained untouched. Joel Daly, the intelligent roving midfielder, found a yard of space just outside the box to slam one towards goal, ‘keeper Damian Niemczycki parrying away as far as Luke Robinson, whose shot is saved by the sprawling legs. There’s more confusion, chaos as Fernandes whips in a delicious ball as far as Harris, who smacks the ball wide of goal.
At this point Khris Oti, another new face operating in the forward positions, entered the field at the expense of Wright. Oti was good: running hard at the defence, chopping and changing inside, shooting true as can be. There would be no Oti goal, indeed anyone else in red as Harris’ lone strike secured all three points. It was imperative with a busy, eight-game month underway. A month that, come the end of the season, will likely prove the difference. Now is the time to make a statement, return to the quality that was once seen.
There’s a serious team here: one that has just seen the end of Beckenham, sending them back up the M23 with faces frustrated, confidence crushed. They knew a win could send them top…oh, and how they’ll have to wait for that. As the referee blows his whistle for full time just a few minutes before 5pm, the Hawks’ fate is confirmed: a return to the playoffs with another huge fixture on Tuesday inbound.
Ashford United the visitors then, there’s a feeling that every point from this moment forward is crucial. Well, to those reading, if you were there today then you’ll give it no question: this team is capable of anything. Heed to the new signings, to the management, to the fans. The formula is there – now look to the results, and see how they improve from this moment on.
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