I tell ya, that’s entertainment. Five goals, a faint mizzle, and three points coming the way of the Hawks. A record standing 40 years snapped in half, this tense, topsy-turvy clash between Whitehawk and Bognor Regis Town saw the former earn a 22nd competitive match unbeaten on home soil – a new club record.
It’s a fortress alright. 284 days have passed since Shaun Saunders’ side left The Enclosed Ground turf with heads down. A quite staggering achievement for a side who, in this calendar year, have completely and utterly shredded most opposition sides on this pasture. There’s not a pitch like it in the league. No one enjoys coming here, and no one seems to leave with much.
So, a the stakes were high in this one. A win for Whitehawk could send them up to 3rd come the night’s close, this the sixth and final consecutive match at home before taking to the road on Sunday. A picture perfect setting ahead of kick-off as a large throng of visiting supporters made their way into the Din End, in fine voice ahead of the first kick of the evening.
Bognor began in fine style, carving through the Hawks’ midfield at will in an opening 15 minutes annexed by Robbie Blake’s ‘Rocks’. Targeting the right-wing, Stefan Wright’s head was spinning at the sight of Lucas Pattenden shuttling toward the byline. They’d grab an early goal, too, as a teasing cross was placed home by Danny Howick at the far post to send his travelling cohort into early raptures.
An then, the riposte. 28 minutes later Bognor were somehow staring at a 3-1 deficit. Whitehawk had grabbed hold of the contest, forced the white and green shirts back into the corner and sat them down. The leveller on 18 minutes was nothing short of sublime. Imran Kayani is a man in devilish form, and he took this fifth goal in four matches with absolute conviction.
Luca Cocoracchio with a fine defence-splitting pass cracked open the Rocks’ backline, and then it was all straight lines, all vibes from Kayani. Racing through on goal, the finish creeping in at the near post was sheer delight. In his programme interview on Saturday, Kayani had mentioned how he had been likened to Mohamed Salah, and this moment of play was the Liverpool forward all over. Surely now, a call-up to the Pakistan national side is edging closer by the day.
And that was just the start. With the Hawks firmly in this fixture and the game wide open like a door swinging in a storm, captain Jack Dixon was next to appear on the scoresheet. He’d scored in the Hawks’ last league defeat – a 2-1 defeat at Margate on the opening day of the campaign. In what was his side’s 10th consecutive match unbeaten in the league, Dixon aptly got his goal with a powerful left-footed drive across the ‘keeper and into the far corner.
With 39 minutes played the first half thrill reached its climax. Ryan Worrall, who was excellent throughout the night, lofted a lovely lob to the far post that goalkeeper Ryan Hall called for, flapped at, and let Charlie Lambert head thunderously into the netting from mere yards to spark further squawk’s in the adjacent Sea End.
Half-time, 3-1 Hawks. A scoreline few would have predicted half an hour earlier, yet a bit of togetherness and strength saw them emerge from a difficult position, with Whitehawk a half away from rejoining the play-offs contingent.
Within a few minutes of the following chapter the script was re-written. There’s an arm in there somewhere, apparently, as the referee points to spot. Dan Gifford drilling high beyond the tips of Mitch Walker’s fingers to inflict nerve and fear into the home support.
35 minutes is a long time in a football match, yet for the most part Whitehawk made this potentially tense end feel fairly routine. The Rocks rushed forward, only to be thwarted by the presence of Joe Tennent and Cocoracchio. Joel Daly the driving force again to help the stem the tide, whilst Louis Collins entered the fray for some extra legs in the final stages.
Worrall’s free-kick angling for the top-corner was expertly palmed away by Hall as the cherished seconds ticked by. One final attack of the day as Walker, through a crowd of bodies and sheet of rain, dives down to his right to hold onto a low, firm strike. The referee’s whistle is in his mouth, and that’s the game, the points and the record. A first league victory over Bognor Regis since March 2013, and how sweet this felt as the heavens poured in over East Brighton Park.
Wave that flag, twirl the scarf; the Hawks’ start in their first season back in the Isthmian Premier may have surprised a few as we near November, but that’s what a bit of camaraderie can give you: confidence, desire and heart. Stir that into the mixture, and what do you get? Whitehawk FC, that’s who.