There was a sense throughout this one where you thought there was always soemthing more to come. You can understand why, too, as Whitehawk’s home form has been almost perfect, hosting already-relegated Corinthian on a warm April day. The expectation was there in the season-high 683 crowd beforehand, rising even more when Charlie Lambert headed home, and fading rather hastily as Josh James volleyed the ball into the corner of the net from 20 yards. A point on the final day secures third, setting up a home play-off on Tuesday evening.
You could feel this was a match played in third gear. With play-offs guaranteed it seemed as if those dressed in red were already saving themselves for Tuesday. It was not the fluid, fast football we have been spoilt with all season, and credit must go to this Corinthian side who played with the shackles thrown off. In the midfield you could feel the void left by Charlie Harris and Joel Daly – the former picking up a knock in the 1-1 draw at Ramsgate seven days prior, whilst Luke Robinson continued to watch from the stands.
Harry Shooman returned and Reece Price-Placid made his home debut. Sam Freeman was back between the sticks but would later suffer a collapsed lung and two broken ribs deep into the second half. Not the finest day to look back on, but at 3pm as the clouds shifted and the sun set in for the afternoon, there was a real moment of realisation. When this season started some 259 days prior on a sweltering, sultry day at The Enclosed Ground, a mere 143 rocked up. Admittedly, it was bloody hot. But as we basked in this older sun the hordes of Hawks made their way to the Sea End, filling it up as this revered ground welcomed its highest number of revellers since November 2016, the progress was there for all to see.
But on this occasion those that they came to witness were not at their typical best. With one eye already placed on the play-offs the Hawks started a little cautiously. Corinthian dropping deep, Whitehawk’s success came through their width, through Hamish Morrison and Price-Placid. The latter looked to have it all as the crowd caught their first glimpse of him on this turf: speed, skills; shifting left and then right, he was the outlet, the route to an opener.
In truth, the opening goal was far from a well-worked classic. Morrison delivering one of his mighty throws into the box for Rob O’Toole to flick on, goalkeeper Daniel Colmer dropping the ball in front of Lambert for him to head home into the vacant corner. 1-0. News from the Homelands that Ramsgate concede, pushing the Hawks into 2nd and guaranteed home play-offs. All is bright, all is jovial.
And then things took a bit of a turn. Corinthian returned a different beast, causing Nathan Cooper and Luca Cocoracchio a few issues, and then a big issue as James volleyed the ball exquisitely into Freeman’s bottom corner. Few would have thought it had the power, had the placement – a controlled finish that levelled the scores, and changed the outlook of the afternoon.
With the Hawks attacking a packed Din End – as we have seen so much this season – that attacking spark just seemed to dwindle as the game ticked on. Stefan Wright was on and so too Khris Oti, soon to be followed by Luke Glover who thankfully was on the bench after Freeman suffered a blow to the ribs, and a trip to A&E. He would be discharged from the hospital in the evening, and is swiftly on the road to recovery.
As the match resumed and the ball found its way in Corinthian’s half, Whitehawk’s finest move on the match would end in incandescence. Lambert and O’Toole combining cutely on the edge of the box, the latter is slipped through and, on the slide, shoots at goal with the ball destined for the corner, only for Oti to come sliding in from an offside position. Sometimes that forward’s instinct can cause be the downfall, and on this occasion to celebrations were cut short with only a few minutes of the match remaining.
Even if the Hawks had earned the three points that 3rd position was as good as they could earn. Focus switches to Tuesday night, where this snaking journey continues with a home, one-off play-off against Beckenham Town. It all comes down to this: 38 league games in the book, sparking cheers and celebrations across the counties, it is now time to see this side in a must-win affair. A fizzing atmosphere awaits; oh, what an evening it promises to be.