Isthmian League

Report | Whitehawk 2-2 Kingstonian (4-2 pens)

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t even a victory after 90 minutes but, as Charlie Walker thumps the ball high into the roof of the net from 12 yards out as the clock swung beyond 9.50pm, Whitehawk booked their place into the quarter-final of the Velocity Cup.

And to be perfectly honest, that’s all that really matters. Kingstonian may be sitting bottom of the league, destined for the division below, yet any side at this level of football is going to put up a fight, frustrate and potentially eliminate the Hawks from a competition that might have been at the back of the minds. 

Whitehawk were the better side on the night. Even after Andy Somo, who was present for pre-season and evidently had a point to prove, lifted the ball over Mitch Walker to open the scoring, the red shapes surged and spun to overcome the early deficit. But as the second half drifted into the dark sky and the Hawks spurned a couple of chances, the K’s levelled from the spot to set up a shootout.

Stefan Wright returned to the starting XI at the expense of Joey Taylor, whilst young Josh Nandhra made his first start for the club as his brother, Kian, earned a spot on the bench alongside fellow youth teammates Edan Hicks and Eiri Keskinis. 

The magic of the cup. Though Hicks and Keskinis had played on the same patch of turf 24 hours before, it was perhaps fair they wouldn’t emerge from the bench in a tight, closely-fought contest. What awaited the winner was a home tie with Haringey Borough – a difficult yet positive prospect of reaching a second Velocity Cup semi-final in consecutive years. 

Kingstonian started the better, grabbing an early goal to the synchronised sighs of the supporters in the Sea End. It was a fine finish, but not five seconds before the ball was bouncing about the net, it had been in the hands of goalkeeper Rob Tolfrey. A simple yet pitiful goal to concede from a defensive point of year, Somo demonstrated all of his abilities in a matter of moments to break the deadlock.

Charlie Harris, who was celebrating his birthday on the night, found pockets of space in the visiting half to spray the ball wide to the flanks. Whitehawk’s leveller came in the form of Charlie Lambert who, fresh from a fine outing on Saturday, earned his reward this time with a strong left-footed finish that beat Tolfrey. who was a touch slow to react. 

12 minutes later and, after a healthy serving of possession, the Hawks put the ball in the back of the net for a second time. It was well-worked, too, as the lively Imran Kayani beat his man to deliver a delicious cross into the box for Rob O’Toole to head home with aplomb. His first goal since returning, the one with the sobriquet ‘Chief’ has yet to really display his offensive capabilities since his return, but he took this like a striker in form, and celebrated like a legend of the game. 

A quite brilliant piece of defending from a visiting player that simply did not turn to show his squad number at the time diverted the ball away from Luca Cocoracchio’s path as the half ended in the Hawks’ favour. 45 minutes stood in the way of a quarter-final, but victory alone for Shaun Saunders and his side would be beneficial enough.

Whitehawk threatened, wasted a few crosses and put a few shots over the net before Tolfrey’s first meaningful save of the night occurred in the 75th minute. By this point both goal scorers had been taken off for Walker and Alex Malins respectively with a 3-5-2 formation deployed. A half of very little, save for the typical din in the Din from a crowd that barely got above 100. 

Walker’s shot on the stretch was kept out by Tolfrey as the K’s kept breathing, and the defibrillation came in the form of Eddie Dsane who powered his penalty-kick beyond Walker’s palms in the 89th minute. One can be pleased points were not on offer, for this would have felt like a mighty blow to the belly. The third goal never arrived, and with it increased the opportunity for setback, for tension, for shootout victory.

Somo blazed over the opening spot-kick as Ryan Worrall, Harris and Kayani all slotted home with ease. Walker saved Kingstonian’s fourth before the other Walker drilled home the winner, booking the Hawks’ meeting with Haringey Borough in the next stage of the competition. 

It was an evening under the bright lights that pushed Whitehawk all the way, yet as the final spot kick rumbled the net and the Din End burst into life, the winning vibes returned to blanket an Enclosed Ground yearning for victory.  

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