Remember the name: Dominic Johnson-Fisher. It takes a special kind of performance on glorious days like these, where Whitehawk grabbed the Hornets by the stinger, snapped it off and tossed the rest away, to stand out amongst a peerless pack of red. A selfless assist to go along with his first goal for the club, in front of the Din End, at the most opportune of times.
The clock was nearing 3.40pm when Luke Robinson robbed Lee Harding of possession, before forcing his way to the by-line. Then, it was all about the ball in. And Johnson-Fisher could hardly miss from a matter of yards out. The goal was mere embellishment come the full time whistle, for this was a performance full of silk and shine, gloss and glory.
Perhaps it was the moment the ball nestled in the netting. Or the sight of Horsham’s full-back Harvey Sparks in a heap on the floor, head spinning at the hypnotic shapes, sights, sounds. Within the space of a few seconds, Johnson-Fisher had forever changed the outcome of this Bank Holiday Monday clash.
On Saturday, Shaun Saunders’ side had travelled to Billericay Town’s New Lodge, and annexed the place. They’d not lost a game, let alone conceded a goal, as the Hawks cruised to a 3-1 victory. 48 hours later and the ball was rolling once again. Horsham the visitors for the first time in a league fixture. They, too, arriving in good stead: three successive victories assured following a late winner against Dulwich Hamlet on Saturday.
You know the end result on this Monday, as the sun tried its hardest to force its way through the cosmic clouds above. But there was so much that made this possible beside one young man’s breakthrough outing: the tenacity of stand-in captain Joel Daly, the penalty save at 2-1, and the willingness of a hyper-gelled backline fronted by Luca Cocoracchio and Joe Tennent.
It was backs to the wall, hold onto your brolly sort of stuff for a second half largely dominated by Dom Di Paola’s Horsham. But in the opening half it sang a more balanced tune. Slip it into cruise control, Easy Rider vibes straight down the 66. You could tell these two sides had just played 100 minutes two days prior, as the legs slowly started to function once again as the clock swelled.
With 34 minutes played Horsham would snap the deadlock – Jack Strange turning home a corner after Mitch Walker was sandwiched by about five men in red and navy coloured jerseys. Charlie Lambert had come within a Lewis Carey leg to handing his Hawks the lead just minutes prior, yet chances were few and far between up until the breakthrough.
The perfect moment, then, for one Johnson-Fisher to step up, placing his header into the corner where Carey had just sprinted across from. Jogging behind the goal with arms outstretched, a humble smile to go with it. It’s the first of many, no question, and for him and his adoring family, ardent at such a sight, this is a moment he and they will never forget.
So that’s the half: 1-1. Closely fought, it was two strong sides going toe-to-toe, opening up as the 45 minutes came to a close. So what happened in the second half? Horsham pushed up the pitch a little, moved the ball quicker, making the Hawks’ backline work harder as they started to drop, desperately searching for an outlet somewhere up on the slope.
But then again, with Lambert stationed over the ball 20 yards from goal, anything is possible. You’d seen it nine days earlier in front of the Din. And you’d seen it at Billericay on Saturday. The boy can shoot, and shoot hard. This one, however, took a rather large whack off James Hammond’s lower limbs, spinning over the line as Carey had already dived to his right.
The Sea End is alive to the sight of Lambert. Horsham may have pressed hard, but in the transition Whitehawk were fluid. Daly might have just ran a marathon at the game’s end. We’d be surprised if Stefan Wright can even walk today. Everyone pouring their soul into this one, it prompted Di Paola to look to his bench, point the finger at Charlie Harris, summoning him to enter the fray.
The last time he stepped onto this pitch he’d sealed the Hawks’ fate with a superb left-footed strike in the play-off final. 122 days into the future, and here he is again, glazing over The Enclosed Ground surface, looking to dent the Hawks’ charge.
The substitution paid off, as Horsham were awarded a penalty in the 64th minute. Walker had set the tone at Margate, throwing himself down to his left to gobble up the side-footed effort. This was almost a carbon copy: Jack Mazzone aiming for that same corner, Walker hoovering the ball up once again. This was a pivotal moment in the match, ‘the deciding factor’, if you will.
From then on the pressure was relieved. Horsham still threatened, but the backline grew in strength. Ryan Worrall helping out as the mindset changed to simply one thing: protect the goal at all costs. Louis Collins and Connor Cody came on to add a few more healthier legs to the midfield and attack respectively. Time, now, was on the Hawks’ side.
Breezing into eight minutes of stoppage time with the nails chewed, hands placed onto heads, Daniel Ajakaiye has the chance. Slamming the ball at goal with the angle slightly acute, Walker sticks out an arm to divert it just over the bar. Horsham fans behind furious with the reality: no points on this Monday afternoon.
And then, the knockout blow. Carey caught well out of his goal, almost as if he thinks the whistle has already blown. Johnson-Fisher takes it beyond the ‘keeper and suddenly it’s a foot race. An empty goal, a few Hornets racing back; Johnson-Fisher does the unselfish thing, squaring it across to Luke Robinson, who strokes the ball home for his first of the campaign.
This was a meaningful weekend for Shaun Saunders’ side in seeing how they would fare against two top sides in the division. Well, the result is in: Exceptionally well. This, too, without Jack Dixon, Tommy Brewer and Charlie Walker.
There’s a long road still yet to ride but, if you had any doubts at all, this is a side that will make you smile, make you believe once again. Those in red step off the field, broken, battered; yet ready for the next fight ahead.