With 83 minutes played the dazzling Kai Brown departed the field. For the duration he had pushed and pulled, tormented and tired out his miserable opponents. A name not on the scoresheet, but reason for such supremacy and shine. This was a night of ruthless aggression, a statement in its own right. Four times the visiting net swelled on a still, crisp night beneath the sharp stars. In a competition few regard and fewer realise, the prolonged peep of the referee’s whistle was met with a bubbly cheer. Velocity Cup? Always loved it…
Ashford United had clambered into this without conceding in little over 200 minutes of football. It took Charlie Lambert just 660 seconds to ruffle the relaxed netting. Before the opening half was even at an end Shaun Saunders’s side had once again sauntered into a shimmering 3-0 lead. Brown was electric in the 10, a magnet for the ball, control so fine, so pure in his hunt for angles, fragility and vibes. Dripping in class, movement so habitual those trying to pick him up were twisting around, dithered and dizzy at the blur of Brown.
It was the third time in five attempts that Whitehawk had wandered off the pitch for a little drink and dissect with a 3-0 advantage. It was shadows of Three Bridges — a commanding lead before the inevitable relax — until Joe Shelley thundered in his sixth goal of the campaign, five of which coming via the spot. Not bad for a 40-year-old – now entering Tom Brady, Roger Federer and Darren Stevens territory. But what was most impressive about this night was the consistency, the willing and the persistence. For a side one point adrift of the Hawks in the league table, they never even looked like scoring.
It was all about the press: Joel Daly, Lambert and Brown deployed in a three behind Rob O’Toole, with Charlie Harris roving and Shelley protecting. All in sync, all robotic in their innate sense of direction. In a cagey, close opening 10 minutes the scoreboard would soon show change. Adept thinking from Harris – free-kick taken quickly! – picks out the pursuing Lambert who punishes a sluggish defence by rifling the ball into the very top corner of Sam Hignett’s goal. It was perfection, straight from the training ground sort of stuff, as it sparked the Sea End into sentience.
It was the speed and awareness of Brown that brought others into play. When you have that much room in the final third it’s going to craft a chance, stimulate the supporters. The ghostly motion of Whitehawk’s latest addition brought it all together. A switch to the wing saw a ‘Nuts and Bolts’ box drowning in Hawks hardware. Harry Shooman the provider for his side’s second, swinging a delicious, tantalising thing into congestion for someone, perhaps O’Toole’ to divert it goalwards. The captain will claim it, naturally, and it will go down as his first competitive goal for the club.
It was at this moment that Tommy Warrilow, Ashford’s manager with arms folded, face of a dad who has just sat through three hours of his child’s school Nativity, had wished his side ignored entering this competition. I drove all those hours for this? From the M25 to The Enclosed Ground, Ashford were now parked in their own half, left shrieking for an answer. Only a worrying injury to Ryan Warwick the gloom from a half otherwise conducted and captured by Whitehawk. They had stretched their adversaries to extreme lengths, reducing them to mere elastic.
But there was more before the half was at a close. Defensive ineptness on display, a Harris corner bound for the near post ricochets off a number of bodies, yielding a panoply of points in the process, before Stefan Wright gets the final faint touch as it spins into the net. Everyone declares it their own, even a Nut and Bolt raised his hand at one point, but the scoreline extends, and the damage is done.
Time to settle down, then. Look to the weekend, and a taste of Kent in the form of Sheppey. But no, remember Saturday? A 3-0 cushion at Corinthian so nearly relinquished, a fourth goal in front of a bouncing Din End would surely secure progression. Brown remained electric, linking Daly and Shooman as the Hawks continued to cause havoc upon the visiting trenches. Harris blazed one marginally wide, Wright curled into the hands of Hignett. Life remained, movement existed, attacks were built.
Life in the Din was merry. As if transported to the streets of Rio de Janeiro at the time of Carnival, a constant bang of the drum and stand transported Whitehawk into an exotic haven of buzz and colour. To full applause those cozied up were as Saunders used his final sub with seven minutes remaining; Brown departing having hypnotised Ashford’s frightful defenders. On came Toby Reeder, who played a part in the final act: the obligatory Shelley strike.
Spanking his spot-kick into the corner for further celebration and cheer, it capped a divine evening on home soil. Not since November 2015 have the Hawks scored four goals in back-to-back matches, with Lincoln City the defeated latter. It’s been some time since those revellers who traipse through East Brighton Park have called their castle at the road’s end a fortress but, after four games and nine goals to start the season, its gates are swiftly being re-fortified. Who knows what the next game might bring. Just make sure you’re there to see it.