Now then, what’s a felicitous cliche to mark this occasion? Ah, a game of two halves, of course! For this one truly lived up to its hackneyed description. Three first half goals for one team, two second half goals for the other. It was as if the players had swapped shirts at the interval; the rich contrast in style and play from both either side of half time catering for a thrilling FA Cup tie.
Enthused from the outset, relentless rain sweeping across the soggy grass allowed that bit of fizz, bit of zip that enticed the crowd. Bodies slipping, squelching, struggling: it was football in its purest and most exciting sense. From left-to-right the showers fell from the sky. Twenty-two footballers, half clad in red and half in blue, trudged out into the deluge with 150 years of tradition resting on each of their shoulders. They knew what was at stake. The rambunctious revellers in the lone grandstand knew what was at stake. Up blew the noise of a distant whistle; the games were afoot.
Just the one switch from last Saturday’s sour setback with Lancing saw Henry Blackmore return to the fray in place of Leon Redwood. A booming bashing of a drum behind the Hayes & Yeading goal, a brisk twist of the neck confirmed we weren’t in Rio de Janeiro after all. The noise was good, but it was replaced by an impressive cheer as Amos Nasha opened the leaky floodgates.
It was well executed in truth: finding a yard of space to merely stab a shot goalwards. Through a crowded box it travelled, revolution upon revolution before nestling in that hallowed corner. Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke rooted to the spot; the west Londoners were in front after five minutes of football.
There was a rather one-sided feel to the occasion. ‘United’ — as they are so recognised — merciless against a shellshocked defence. Drowning in overlaps and marauding runs it didn’t look like it would be a particularly pleasing afternoon for the Whitehawk backline. Tyler Goodrham came close enough to adding a second before Francis Amartey actually did add a second a short time after.
This one came just prior to the half-hour mark. The Hawks had settled a touch but there was little stopping this strike of the highest class. Impressive was Amartey, jinking and jerking his way into the box he carved out an unlikely opening. Like the crack of a whip the ball left his foot and darted through the wet air. Too hot for Stroomberg-Clarke, too hot for the netting. The hosts had doubled their advantage.
It started to look a little bleak. Not so murky as the clouds above but gloomy enough that this contest looked settled. But wait, a chance! An opening for Whitehawk and for Javaun Splatt, the frontman pounced on a hospital pass in dangerous territory. He needed no invitation. The trigger pulled; the ball soared along the soggy marshland towards Ravan Constable. To Splatt’s anguish it couldn’t be any more at the ‘keeper. Threat averted; they would soon be celebrating a third first half finish.
Again, another loose pass. The conditions were causing general havoc as those that resembled fledgling penguins slipped and slid all over the pasture. Moses Emmanuel is on the left-channel, screaming for the ball. He gets it. He smacks it. Not the ball but the post as it rattles true. The circular object rebounding to the grateful feet of Nasha, he can’t miss. 3-0. The welcomed break soon arrived. It was demanding stuff. But strap in for the latter half, we’re not done yet.
Resumption. Not a huge deal had changed in those ever-dreary fifteen minutes. The rain continued to soak the surface, so much so that by now the entire near touchline reminded one of the Somme. Splish, splash, splosh. Maybe the worsening conditions were starting to hinder the hosts? Ross Standen had instilled some sort of spiritual energy into the veins of those dressed in blue. Hello, hello, here we go…
An incisive James Fraser reverse pass played Ollie Munt into a wide degree of space on the right-hand side. Controlled with the knowledge of his intending pass, Munt delicately played it across the face to the awaiting Henry Muggeridge who did the business and dented Hayes & Yeading’s lead.
Much, much better it now was. Fighting with the freedom, the shackles were off, the confidence was oozing from their damp skins. Fraser fancied his fate by firing from relative yardage but to no avail. And in the opposite goal the Hawks’ shot-stopper was trying to ease the sting after Amartey’s blazing attempt expertly picked out Stroomberg-Clarke.
Wait, what’s this? Blaring shouts and screams for offside dismissed by the referee’s arm pointing in the direction of the centre-circle. Splatt was unmarked and unfazed as he gleefully connected with Fraser’s clipped cross over the defence. A little caress, the finest of finesses made things very interesting indeed with thirty minutes still on the imaginary clock.
Omar Rowe had only been on the field for a matter of minutes prior to being slipped clean-through on goal. Bad to not score, criminal to miss the target. Yet as the defence opened up like Moses himself had appeared in this Hayes industrial estate, Rowe fired low, but wide of gaping goal.
As the minutes ticked by and the pressure for an equaliser intensified there was always going to be frailties at the back. So it’s always pleasing to have Adam El-Abd at the core of your defence when he’s blocking the ball from reaching the net. And with that arrived Simon Mensah, on for Munt who had run himself into the groggy ground.
But there was no fairytale ending in sight. No glorious grandstand finish in this mysterious part of the capital. Deep into the additional minutes and Omarr Lawson has the football. Running on empty, he cuts in onto his left foot. There’s the means for a shot and so he goes for it. With a place in the Fourth Qualifying Round at stake his attempt takes the slightest of deflections, angling it millimetres over the crossbar. Hands on heads, that’s how close Whitehawk came to forcing a replay.
Dry yourselves off, take a minute to reflect and appreciate what was achieved. The Hawks didn’t cave in, didn’t submit under their own weight. There was an abundance of fight and grit on that football pitch. An abject first half replaced by the true Whitehawk style.
No sooner does this cup run end that the possibility of a new one emerges. The buoyant heads turn to the FA Trophy and Tooting & Mitcham, only there can the start of something new and special arise.