“Behind every kick of a ball, there has to be a thought,” Dennis Bergkamp once famously said. Perhaps that was reverberating in the mind of Joel Daly who, after regally breezing beyond a number of Three Bridges’ legs, kicked the ball with such precision that it scorched into the top-corner from 25-yards. It was wondrous, elegant; the third in a half commandeered by a ravenous Whitehawk side with the collecting of a further three points. For all the dark shadows this fixture brings, there was only one side who saw light at the end of the tunnel.
At the game’s conclusion Shaun Saunders spoke of his player’s fast starts, putting the game to bed early. On a sweaty, sunlit Bank Holiday Monday the unchanged Hawks stormed into a deserved three-goal lead before the visitors even had time to react, time to ponder. Across the entire pitch the red shapes spun and surged as they pounded profusely on Mitch Bromage’s door, the goalkeeper could scarcely respond. Frothing out of the blocks, the midfield pressed like predator’s starved of the football. From the moment The Bridges stepped out onto the green lawn their fate was duly sealed.
On Saturday Charlie Harris’ corner-kicks proved a menace for the Cray Valley backline. But here, on the shores of a once pristine Sussex coast, Three Bridges wilted beneath the perfection of the football’s arcs and angles. In the 11th minute Will Miles rose immaculately to thunder the ball high into Bromage’s top-corner. The camaraderie on display as all but Luke Glover join in the celebrations, the hugs, the smiles. Rob O’Toole heads in minutes later; a foul on Bromage, deems the referee.
It was relentless. The 422-strong crowd were all eyes as O’Toole is expertly slipped through on goal by Javaun Splatt, trucking his way toward goal when his balance falls, and the ball is toed tamely into the gloves. A moment later and the next wave of attack: Harris runs onto a deft ball over the defence on the right-channel to pick his cross, drilling it onto the lazy, falling arm of Tad Bromage. Penalty awarded, Joe Shelley to take; sending the other Bromage the other way. It’s 2-0. The game sealed before the seventeenth minute.
As the Hawks settled and The Bridges awoke, Kevin Rivera was involved in a dangerous collision near the centre-circle. Down on the ground for considerable minutes, it was refreshing to hear he was up and talking soon after. But back to the game at hand, which was starting to show flickers of last season’s revered battle. Scrappiness descended as Noel Leighton, waved a red in the previous affair, evidently fancied another minute in the media spotlight as he scythed Daly with his studs, prompting an early bath.
It was reckless, but Daly cared not. For not thirty seconds had passed when the meandering full-back weaved his way through the opposing midfield, clearing the space for a strike of such ruthless delight. Bromage hapless as it flew through the air and crashed high into the netting. Lap it up, soak it in; this is your moment, Joel. This season’s pièce de résistance had arrived early. Who was to stop them now? Only the referee’s whistle upon which to curtail the half. A fine show, marvellous indeed. For the first time since March 7, 2020, the Hawks had scored three goals on home soil. The victims that day? Three Bridges.
Although this was not quite decided by an 8-1 scoreline, yet on another day it probably could have been. A man fewer is always a disheartening disadvantage, but those from mid-Sussex appeared content with the 3-0 scoreline upon re-arrival. Either that, or the Hawks were merely satisfied with the lead, and would begin to unwind in a chilled affair under a sinking sun. Another corner, Harris of course, fails to be dealt with. Nathan Cooper nods marginally wide of the left upright.
Right, this one’s dwindling to a dignified end. Time for some substitutions: Harry Shooman and Henry Blackmore on for Charlie Lambert and Daly. Both had worked tirelessly, one would earn the Man of the Match award. Miles and Shooman would come close with volleys blocked and shots smothered, but in the Sea End amongst the jangle of keys the conversations were flowing; the pride has been restored.
As time grew old O’Toole snatched at one, dragging it wide as Brannon O’Neill’s 45-yarder whistled over Glover’s crossbar at the other end in the 89th minute. It had been the closest Three Bridges had come to rustling the net, pure testament to an unyielding centre-half pairing of Miles and Cooper. There’s the final whistle of the afternoon. Whitehawk deserved victors, the flume of sated supporters departs for another Saturday.
A third win of this fledgling campaign as Whitehawk nestle themselves in second position before a welcome rest ensues. Word of Saunders’ side has spread through the county, in the villages and the towns, only now can they finally declare their potency. Strap on in, folks. There is plenty more to see.