Isthmian League

Report | Whitehawk 2-0 East Grinstead Town

It was the best of times. A tale of two teams: one in red, the other in black and yellow. In the season of early darkness, auburn leaves spiralling to the cold ground, it was the epoch of belief; the dawn of the Hawk. 

On an afternoon where the sun tried timidly to break through the thick grey haze, the ruby shapes below swelled and surfed their way to land unforeseen, unexplored. Still there are those that lurk above them in the table, delicately stitching their own stories of success, but as eight games pass and the month of November nears, this is a Whitehawk side yet to smell the stench of league defeat, yet to trudge solemnly from the turf.

For this was undertaken by the shattered band of men dressed like wasps. Only ten would survive the full duration — Shea Cascoe Rogers dismissed for a careless clomp on Joel Daly’s shin in the 80th minute — as the Hawks came frothing from of the traps in a second half commandeered by the exquisite hosts. A touching moment for Harry Shooman, opting to play despite a difficult week dealing with familial health issues, embraced by an elated stream of teammates after nodding in the afternoon’s opening goal. From then on, it was all Whitehawk.

Until the very last kick of the day, somewhere around ten to five, the Hawks had grabbed the game between their talons and flew back to the nest. Debutant Mo Juwara, sent onto the field midway through the second half, capped off a splendid P.M. with a sizzling left-footed drive between the legs of Matte Pierson. The Whitehawk attack has been serenaded since the earliest days of August, but look to the standings and the goals against. Not a team in the division has conceded fewer goals than the assiduous defence on display here, and it’s easy to see why.

In his post-match interview manager Shaun Saunders spoke highly of the discipline his side displayed. For the first time in this still rather fresh campaign the Hawks deployed a back three with Hamish Morrison and Shooman operating in the wing-back roles. Two speedy, attack-minded defenders with oodles of energy, lungs for absolute days. A ripe recipe for reward, surely? Not instantly was this seen as the opening chapter to this affair spluttered with an air of banality akin to the clouds above. 

With 30 minutes played a goalkeeper was mercifully tested: the marauding Will Miles finding space for a strike from just outside the box, bending it away from Pierson’s reach but with a lack of pace as the guarder of the goal theatrically springs to his right to divert the ball away. Flip to the other end, where a Hawks backline is caught on the counter attack. The lively Tahjae Anderson, who had already squandered two half chances in the earliest of exchanges, squared the ball across the face of Luke Glover’s goal for Matt Daniel to slide home. Scenes of delirium from the dozen visiting supporters is brutally cut short by the linesman’s flag, who indicates an offside. Oof. 

As half time approached the Hawks had already lay siege to the East Grinstead box. On frequent occasion was the ball sprayed out to the wings for an opportunity to cross. When setting up in a narrower, midfield-heavy formation there has to be a seismic shift in the team’s willing to overload the box. Constantly crowded out by the visitor’s defensive sting, Rob O’Toole and Charlie Lambert the only two consistent red shirts in an area well-shielded by Pierson and his defence.

From the moment referee Alex Bradley — who’s last game at The Enclosed Ground saw him brandish five red cards in *that* game — blew his whistle to commence the second slice of action, there was a side with all the desire and heart in the nearby hills. Everyone in tune, cohesion between the two forwards in Lambert and O’Toole got things clicking in the attack.

Spawned from the midfield, the game’s floodgates were pierced through the imperceptible Daly who drove unerringly into some space in front of The Wasps’ defence to clank the underside of the bar with his left-foot. The ball smacks the chalked white line and springs upwards in front of goal – now it is a question of speed, desire…heading ability. Shooman is in a footrace for the ball and times his leap to perfection, billowing the net with his close-range header to release the fireworks and sound from a deafening Din End.

By now centre-back Harrison Parker was in a foul mood. An unhappy wasp is rarely a bad sight but here, as he flaps his arms about and shouts tawdrily at his colleagues, the mood was darkening as he worked tirelessly to resist the rising waves of the Whitehawk onslaught. Lambert was next to test Pierson, striking on the turn from a routine Charlie Harris free kick. It worked against Ashford United a few weeks ago, but this hit was a touch more central, and Pierson was able to tip it onto the crest of the crossbar and away into the Din.

The Hawks, still in command but mindful a brief second of defensive snooze could cause cataclysmic concern, were buoyed by the sending off of Cascoe Rogers. Perhaps 60 seconds had passed from the moment he stepped onto the field to the moment he slogged off it. Emotional in his walk around the pitch purposefully away from the home support, his side’s task now stood colossal. And soon after colossal turned impossible as Juwara swept home the Hawks’ second as the valuable three points propels them back into the play-off positions.

An afternoon of frustration and felicity, Shooman claiming the Man of the Match award for sheer strength alone but, heed to the scoreboard, and it might have looked a very different tale if not for his instinctive drive to spot the flight of the falling ball. A fine week for Whitehawk who return home next Saturday, but an even sweeter one for Shooman who, on arrival to his home after the game, sees the return of his father, Matt, proud and pleased, and no doubt devastated to have been forced to give this one a miss. 

They say emotion often brings the best out of you, and so visibly was this witnessed by all in red on The Enclosed Ground’s delicate green pasture. To the end, to the end. The Hawks remain unbeaten.

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