There are FA Cup wins and then there are ruthless FA Cup wins. From the first whistle on this beautiful September afternoon, Whitehawk wrenched complete control. Four times the Redhill net rumbled – all of a very different variety. Shaun Saunders’ 60th birthday weekend was one of success and substance, prosperity and progress.
Channel back to a scorching summer last year. The Hawks hosting county league side K Sports in the very first stage of the competition. 143 supporters sauntered to The Enclosed Ground to witness a drab 0-0 to commence the campaign, with the replay going the way of our Kent opponents.
Through all the embarrassment of an early FA Cup exit, we all know how the season ended. It’s been a quite incredible journey for Saunders, who has transformed a side wilting and waning in the division below into the champing red mass they are today. 559 present on this FA Cup afternoon, and how straightforward it all was.
It took only five minutes for Charlie Lambert to record his fifth goal of the campaign. The forward is in the form of his life, and this strike against a band of buoyant Lobsters epitomised his capabilities. The carousel passing in the Redhill half – utterly in-sync, utterly in-tune – ends with a delicate through-ball into the path of Lambert, who drove the ball home from 10 yards. The Din End rises, Redhill heads spinning; the Hawks up and running.
And that just set the tone. The Hawks’ insatiable attack, romping fearlessly from all angles, would prey on myriad defensive vulnerabilities from the Surrey opposition. Jordan Clark’s side had defeated two Isthmian League sides on their route to The Enclosed Ground, but this one just proved a game too far.
Lambert fizzing the ball into the box with 26 minutes played, Louis Collins with an intelligent lay-off to Charlie Walker, who slipped the ball beyond the legs of Luke Wynne-Roberts at the near post. Over in the engine room, Joel Daly was the driving force. Espousing a doctrine of control in the centre of the pitch, there was always some form of pattern emerging. Frolicking about the place with a sense of zip and zoom, skipping beyond bodies with such delicate ease as the Redhill defence dropped further and further back.
This is what Daly brings to this team. An omnipresent hawk in the midfield, swooping and soaring. Every side needs someone who can pick up the ball and drive forward, slice a side open and deliver the knockout blow. At half-time the scoreline reflected the rampancy of the hosts. Redhill testing Mitch Walker on just the lone occasion, this afternoon was going exactly as the script intended.
Imran Kayani joined the fray for an injection of life into an already-firing Whitehawk attack at the expense of Lambert. The latest addition to the squad, Kayani made his debut last time out in Canvey Island, and was of a similar vibe seven days later beneath another strong sun.
This was an effortless half of football from a Whitehawk side who barely moved out of first gear, if not second. There was something serene about watching the blurs of red knock the ball from side-to-side with absolute ease. Even shooting uphill toward the Sea End – full of its usual colour and charisma – Saunders could freely look to his bench, and assess his options.
It’s a strong bench, too. Squad depth will get you far in this division, but so will a hefty dose of camaraderie and coherence. So far, the signs are good. Walker added his second of the day with a delicious free-kick. 25-yards from goal, it’s a dipping, whizzing, whirling thing as it drifts under the crossbar, Wynne-Roberts’ fingernails no match for the velocity of this strike.
That was the clincher for this cup tie. Finlay Chadwick came on and so did Ryan Worrall, slapping the palms of Daly who departed to a standing ovation. Whitehawk dipped a little, then found a further means of energy as Kayani delivered the finishing touch: a deft strike from just outside the box, racing onto an exquisitef lofted pass from Collins.
The balance was strong here, Daly a determined cog in the machine, Walker the headline act, Redhill reduced to rubble. Can the Hawks keep this form going? Is this to be another memorable campaign? This felt like a pivotal afternoon on the long, winding road.