So, the FA Cup dream is over for another year. But, you know what? There’s a whole lot of solace to take from this gripping, often nail-biting clash between two Sussex foes. One hailing from the league above, flying high with National League aspirations.
The other recently promoted from Isthmian Premier, coming in as proverbial underdogs and leaving with a sour taste in the mouth. This was a cup tie that, for all its drama, could easily have drifted the other way.
A splendid late September afternoon in West Sussex, the Hawks hadn’t played the Rebels in a competitive fixture since 2019, when both sides were competing in the same division. In years gone by the two have seemingly drifted apart, yet on the plastic blades of grass this one seemed an even match, even after a second half controlled by the hosts.
Charlie Lambert returned to the attack, in place of Dom Johnson-Fisher, who was nursing a knock. Ryan Worrall, too, came in with Tommy Brewer back in the squad. But those changes all seemed to work in the first 45 minutes of this Third Round Qualifying clash. Within minutes Jack Dixon came within a body of nestling the ball in the netting, denied on the line in the first of two such occasions.
And after numerous waves of attack, Ben Pope was soon felled in the box, tumbled by goalkeeper Roco Rees after he had spilled the ball. Charlie Walker stepped up, giving the ‘keeper the eyes as he sent him the wrong way, powering home the opener on 18 minutes.
An opening half commandeered by the white shirts of Whitehawk, Walker came close again soon after his goal, but saw his firmly-hit strike diverted away on the goal line. This would have been the difference maker, the two-goal lead that could have changed the outcome as a whole.
The Rebels then came forward following the restart in their droves. Former Hawk Jake Robinson on the scoresheet not once, but twice, as he expertly turned home a cross with an overhead kick on 62 minutes. In truth, it had been coming. Imran Kayani and and Louis Collins arrived on the pitch to replace Stefan Wright and Charlie Lambert, with the former already on a yellow card.
It was a decision that made sense in theory. Joel Daly slotted into left-back, with pace on the wings in the hope of exploiting Worthing’s high-line which, in the opening half, had proved frail at times. But the goal arrived and the hosts continued to push forward, piling on the pressure as Daly soon gave away a penalty, which Robinson dispatched professionally high into the net.
That’s how this content would finish. The Hawks pushed for a leveller as the match wore on, but after a busy half for Rees, there would be little for him to do in the half that followed. The National League South outfit claimed a slim victory in front of a large crowd, moving on into the next round of the competition.
For Whitehawk it is just a case of taking the positives, to which there were many. It was always going to be a tough task, but after a fine first half the result leaves a feeling of longing, of what could have been. There’s still a long season ahead, and all the signs of a positive league season seem intact.
But still we must wait for a return to league action, with our attention shifting to the FA Trophy next Saturday, with Ascot United the visitors to The Enclosed Ground.