Isthmian League

Report | Whitehawk 2-0 Hythe Town

As darkness rolled over The Enclosed Ground with Whitehawk clinging onto a 1-0 lead, Joel Daly did a remarkable thing. With a desperate Hythe Town cohort cornered deep inside their own half, Daly collected the ball in full stride near the touchline before embarking on a mazy, marvellous run that would culminate in a cluster of red-shirted men dancing wildly under the bright lights, and a sea of utter delirium in the Din End.

Winning ugly. It was scrappy, sluggish, strenuous yet, as 5pm reached East Brighton, there was only one side cavorting in the magical twilight. On this long path to potential euphoria, the events of November 12 might prove a critical moment on the timeline when we look back in April. For every club who lifts a title, secures promotion, there are moments that hold greater significance over others. It’s not just about winning, it’s about how you won.

At times in this match Whitehawk were right up against it. Joe Shelley finding the net for a tenth time this campaign with a superbly executed header, it spurned from effectively nothing. Ahead of the match manager Shaun Saunders spoke honestly at the threat he was anticipating from Saturday’s opponents. “It’ll be a tough afternoon I feel. It’s not going to be one of the easier ones this season, for sure.” Not wrong, Shaun. For Hythe arrived a compact unit, neutralising the Hawks’ free-flowing football with their physicality and sheer brute force.

From the opening minute Steve Watt’s side were right at it. Visiting teams will know the difficulties that face them when stepping out onto the silky green pasture of The Enclosed Ground. It was just a matter of time before one came to sit back, overload the defence, remain narrow. They worked hard, counter-thrusting when they could, and slowly growing into the afternoon. For Whitehawk they just started things a little too slow. Charlie Harris and Will Miles absent, it left a question mark hanging over a midfield that welcomed back Ryan Warwick, who would walk off the pitch in the 69th minute to deserved applause and laud.

Defensively Hythe were solid. Opened up just once in the first 44 minutes — Charlie Lambert wafting at one yards in front of goal from a Daly knock-down — it was a first half that lacked a spark, lacked a threat. Firmly resolute at the rear, there was never any worry of conceding as Luke Glover’s gloves remained untouched. But as a continual flame went amiss, a moment of quality arrived. It’s a fabulous header, shades of Alan Shearer in his prime, Hamish Morrison delivered a flat-cross into the box for someone, something to steer it beyond Steve Phillips in the visiting net.

Timing his leap to absolute perfection, the bundle of bodies in the box ends with the ball spiralling over Phillips’ dazed head, and into the red and white netting behind. It was harsh on Hythe; in control of their destiny for much of the opening period, they would ultimately be undone by a wild Biff leaping to glory.

And with that the whistle for half time blew around a hazy setting. A scarily warm day for November, it’s pleasant to revel in such heat…but shouldn’t it be a little colder? Regardless, the sinking sun had almost vanished by the time the players returned to a chillier setting as the Din slowly swelled with its usual delights of noise and newcomers.

With the second offering underway and Whitehawk attacking down slope, facing their perennially raucous revellers, that balanced feel which remained prevalent during the first chapter was on display once again. By now Hythe were starting to push men forward, opening up the channels for Kai Brown, Daly and Lambert to spin and surge. The latter came within a few inches of connecting with an overhead kick, minutes before Shelley saw a header cleared off the line.

These were the chances, the fruits of life, but a lingering fear stayed with Saunders. 1-0 is still game on. Any mistake, any opening could see the points slip slowly away like sand in a palm. Frannie Collin almost restored parity with a dipping free-kick that skimmed the top of Glover’s crossbar as Whitehawk rode the increasingly swirling storm of Hythe Town. Marcus Marku was added to a tiring midfield to provide some desperate electricity, clearing the lingering clouds.

Descending deeper into darkness with the bulbs above now shining bright, Brown’s low strike was thwarted by a spread Phillips who kept his side in the contest. On for his debut was Jerson Dos Santos, signed from Haywards Heath Town to bolster the squad depth, and to cause a stir in the visiting areas. It was tense, tetchy as time moved on.

Nervy were the final few minutes, bones jittering under the immense pressure, the fault line slipped deep into stoppage time as the packed Din End exploded with limbs flailing, smiles widening as Daly secured victory with individual brilliance. It’s what he does. Glover sprinting the length of the turf to join the camaraderie, this is what team spirit looks like. So saviour these moments, these pictures and these players as they embark on an uncertain odyssey of wonder and surprise. This is just the beginning.

As the season-high crowd of 464 slipped out into the night the feeling is one of immeasurable joy and anticipation. ‘They couldn’t, could they?’ Look to the stands, to the players and the management. With the setting of another sun it still shines blazingly over The Enclosed Ground. We hark on about positivity, about zest and joy. And why ever not? This must be the place: the place to flock to, the place to revel in, the place to believe in.

Leave a Reply