By Daniel Shumake
Quite possibly one of Whitehawk’s scrappiest wins also cemented itself as one of their most important. Shaun Saunders must have had his defenders training on the beach—in the stones. The titans of terror dug their heels in deep and fought for the badge with the assurance of a side now trailing the top by a tantalising four points.
It was an odd game, though. Even before kick-off, the normally scheduled programme saw some interruptions.
Sam Freeman, who had been Whitehawk’s #1 for the past ten matches, went down with an arm injury. For the good of the team, he made the decision to hand the place between the pines to Luke Glover, who managed to get on the team sheet by the skin of his teeth.
Also, Whitehawk lost the toss again, so they were attacking the Din to start. Who’s on the coin these days? It seems teams are getting a bit too comfortable with those 50/50 odds. I say it’s time for a change!
Kick-off! And off the Hawks were. From minute one, there was an unrelenting hunger for the ball from backline to final third. Such bloodthirst directly fuelled the Ultras to be louder, to sing with even more vibrato. On the pitch, the Hawks played with bravado.
In the 11th minute, the always dangerous Luke Robinson snatched his defender’s ankles and put in a delicious left-footed cross to the back post. Against the back post. The ball rattled and rung off the upright and fell to defender Reece Butler. Here’s where things got weird again.
He leathered it!
I mean, from the Din, it truly looked like he put his laces behind it and rocketed it into the back of the net from three yards. From the opinions of many bouncing Ultras, it was a real poacher’s finish. Gary Lineker would be proud. 1-0.
Such good fortune would not deter the soaring Hawks, as they continued to press the Chats backline and win balls back. Our defence stepped up the pitch a bit and were able to distribute balls out wide and over the top. In just the 15th minute, Whitehawk were already looking for a dagger.
In the 19th minute, the home side nearly had their two-goal comfort. Rob ‘Chief’ O’Toole played a cross which bounced right in front of the keeper to the back post, where the in-form Khris Oti headed it home with a dive. Fans and players alike were swindled—our joys robbed by the traitorous yellow flag of the line judge. Consolation call, I say!
The efforts of O’Toole, Robinson, Oti, and the attack would then take a back seat to the defensive shift Whitehawk had to put in. The Chats grew into the game well, outmanoeuvring the press with composure and deft little touches. Jack Evans and Callum Peck were essential in linking the build-up.
Choppy seas were ahead for the Hawks. In the 26th minute, the Red and White ship nearly capsized, but a scrambled goal-line clearance kept the Whitehawk lead intact. And, just two minutes later, late starter Luke Glover denied a Chatham equaliser at full stretch. In the wise words of Antonio Conte, these are the moments where you suffer. On this night, I believe the boys embraced that suffering with aplomb.
Neither team ironed out any meaningful chances for the rest of the half, so the Hawks headed into the dressing room with a one-goal lead courtesy of a well-taken own goal. Each of the Whitehawk fans embraced the good fortune with chants, cheers, and chalices full. Manchester City were drubbing poor RB Leipzig. It’s always a shame when you can’t enjoy proper Champions League nights at half. The Red and White faithful delayed the inevitable as long as possible. Eventually, though, it was time for a Sea End second half.
That wind bites you up in those stands—stabs at your ears and nips at your nose. So, the fans’ skin turned red for what would be a crucial half indeed.
The Chats came out swinging, pinning the Hawks deep in their own territory. The away side pinged switches out wide, held the ball well in the centre, and played nice through balls to their wingers down the flanks. That being said, it wasn’t exactly nervy days. Sure, you’d like to see a bit more of the ball, but the defensive shape was tight. All the lads knew their roles, especially Leon Moore, whose resolute yet dazzling performance won him Man of the Match.
Twenty minutes in, Robinson, with his trademark bobbing and weaving, nearly willed his way to what would have been a Hazard-esque, goal-of-the-month winner. Although Chatham goalkeeper Nathan Harvey kept it out, that Lukey Robinson spark became a catalyst for the team energy.
Five minutes later, a huge chance for Chatham came from a freekick, as an Ashley Nzala header waved to Glover’s crossbar and harmlessly passed over. Hearts of both the individual and collective variety sank into various bums. 1-0, still, but only just.
Shaun Saunders recognized the need for even more energy, and plugged in Stefan Wright for some reserve juice. The fans got even more into the game with such a sub, and our cheering was nearly rewarded not once, but twice.
In the same spot to boot! The ball fell to Wright on the right side after a sharp Hawks counter attack, who blasted it near-post. Alas, Harvey got two strong hands to it. A minute later, a Charlie Harris free kick fell to Wright again, but this time the Hawks fan favourite attempted to blast it into the roof of the net. Fingertips from Harvey. What a little tango!
Now, stomachs were starting to ache. Goals there would have been huge. Moments later, the Chats had the ball in the net according to their silent brigade of travelling fans. Hit the side net. C’mon fellas—rookie mistake.
In the 90th minute, though, the dodgiest moment of the night occurred. Glover and Nathan Cooper miscommunicated on a deep ball, so it just dangled there between them, waiting in purgatory for damnation or eternal jubilee. It looped into the air, paused there as Hawks fans’ mouths gaped, and finally dropped onto the crossbar. Big bounce atop and safely behind. Heads fell into hands. Other hands gripped hair tight. Even the teenagers huddled around a single pitcher stopped their miscreance to take a deep breath.
“Six?” cried the Hawks fans in deafening unison as the board lit up after 90 minutes. Despite our worries, the boys rubbed dirt on their wounds. Gritted their teeth. Died for the badge. All those cliches of real tough, real masculine sports playing. They did the badge well, and the game ended 1-0 to the Hawks.
It is often said that the best teams win when they’re not at their best. That’s another cliché for ya. They’re cliches for a reason. The fact the Hawks suffered for so long in the game and came out on top means terrific things for the home stretch of the season. It also means terrible things for those who try to give us a red spot on our league-best form. Second in the league, clean sheet against the former second-placer, and endless chants of “Whitehawk are massive everywhere they go.” We all know where we can go, so let’s do our part to make sure we get there. Get in!