At precisely 4.20pm the Din End erupted in a plume of pandemonium. By this point in the afternoon the game at hand had long since diminished as a contest, now it was just a case of by how many. The usual disarray at the rear of Faversham Town’s structure permitted Joel Daly with another route to goal, controlling and scuffing the ball on its way beyond Leighton Fanshawe. Use this as a metaphor for the affair: even when things weren’t perfect to the eye, Whitehawk still found a way to shake and shiver the stands.
It was an afternoon where everything seemed to go in. Faversham Town arrived into this a side buried deep, gasping for breaths near the foot of the table. It showed when no one closed down Charlie Lambert seconds before he gave his side the lead. It showed when they allowed Nathan Cooper the freedom of Sussex to drift and deliver a fine strike that slammed in via the woodwork. And it showed when Charlie Harris was allowed to pick his pass with perfect precision, finding Joe Shelley in the box to who squared it to Rob O’Toole for his second of the match, and his side’s sixth.
Since the start of the season Shaun Saunders’ side have shined at The Enclosed Ground. In the seven matches played on the sloped surface five have resulted in victories, whilst the remaining two have been 0-0s. But it’s not just winning, it’s a brutal bashing, a flawless fantasy of goals raining down upon their opponents. Seventeen goals for, two goals against – an equal dominance in attack and defence, a few away draws the only thing restricting this team from the upper echelons of the league table.
But here they played like a side flying high above the rest. It was brutal at times, yet a superb collective effort assured this a home win just 24 minutes into the contest. The Hawks hadn’t scored a goal in an opening half since October 1, following a September that became revered for Saunders’ fast starts. This was the very definition of that: Lambert, O’Toole and Cooper all rippling the netting inside half an hour. The first was sheer individual beauty – control and finish to match – as a venomous Harris corner found its way to Lambert floating at the back of the pack. From there it was all about the strike, sweet and straight, clipping where post meets crossbar on its way in.
And then, the second: more of pinball than football, gormless defending from the Kentish opposition causes havoc in the box as Fanshawe is spectacularly equal to a close-range strike, before O’Toole prods home the second. It was all too easy. Every second ball was won, comfortably, by a man in red. Space between midfield and defence allowed Kai Brown to rove with intent, switching the play on frequent occasion as ‘The Lilywhites’ box became bombarded with a merciless fury of crosses.
There was no cohesion, no communication. When Cooper picked up the ball 25 yards from goal, shifting across the pitch with those lanky legs, most inside the arena would have expected the net to splash once again. Crashing the ball onto the inside of the post, the ball soared into the side netting opposite, ripping a ball-shaped hole in the polypropylene in the process. The Hawks have revelled when attacking the Sea End, shooting uphill. Perhaps it suits the high-press, high-octane style deployed by Saunders. Whatever it is, whenever a red shape has a hold of the football in the opponent’s half, they always look like scoring.
For all their ills, Faversham still carried a small dose of threat on the rare occasions the ball would be in the Hawks’ half. Dozing in the defence, a short-corner enhanced the angle for a cross that Bradley Schafer steered high over the right glove of Luke Glover. What’s that? Whitehawk have conceded at home? It had been 77 days but the resistance had finally been snapped. Somehow, someway, Simon Austin’s depleted, fractured XI had unearthed a path back toward salvation. For this was a half utterly controlled by its hosts, yet a faint glimmer of hope had emerged.
It’s been commonplace for Whitehawk to storm into an early lead, and then ease that foot off the accelerator. Goals change games, and Schafer’s strike soon before the interval had injected an element of concern for Saunders and his side. In search of goals once more, there was a rampancy floating above the red-shirted heads as Daly sealed victory with a rough finish that deceived the hapless Fanshawe, lying low on the green grass. The Hawks were unforgiving, unrelenting. Rarely was the ball ever played backwards, the habitual movement from Brown and Daly shifted Faversham back, back until they were inside their own area, unable to escape.
By the 76th minute Stefan Wright had entered the fray, playing a slick one-two with fellow substitute Marcus Marku that released the former down the right-hand channel for him to drive, dash; reaching the byline before delivering the most delicious, delightful, precise of crosses for Harris to head home. It was perfection – as was most of this Saturday – for a swollen Din to rejoice to.
Feeling the ripple and raucousness of the stand much of the yellow and blue shapes stood solemn in a heap, puffing with faces moist and ruddy. Misjudging the flight of Harris’ optimistic long-range pass was Connor Wilkins, setting Shelley on his way after setting himself beautifully in the box for a pass across the face to O’Toole. There, the sixth would arrive. Further camaraderie and closeness from behind the bruised net, there’s something so delicately special about seeing this team succeed on their own turf.
Few in non-league, let alone this league, come close to the noise and energy these fans create. To play in front of them must be special, but to win with such devastating consistency has to be euphoric. Nine games in, and defeat is yet to befall Whitehawk this league season. Tougher tests are to arise – starting next Saturday at Ashford United – but before all that it’s a switch back to the cup. To Horsham on Tuesday, where old friends reunite. They’ve shown already they can compete with those in the league above, so let’s revel in vicious victory, and recharge for the next victim.