If there was one thing that was required from Ross Standen’s red squadron after a spate of meritorious cup ties, it would be translating those past improvements into the league campaign. Winless and defeated in their previous four league games, the need for something special was growing. Step forward into the sparkling spotlight: Javaun Splatt.
And so it came to be. A fixture in cooler climates dominated by Whitehawk, separated by Splatt. Seven goals in seven games, the Hawks’ number nine has been in quietly dazzling form for some time but this, this moment of sheer brilliance will make the people of East Brighton remember his beautifully onomatopoeic name.
It was an encounter that had much riding on it. Reflected by the attendance, reinforced by the atmosphere. Whitehawk were good, East Grinstead Town less so, and this particular chapter begun just a few minutes past 3pm on a nippy mid-October afternoon. There was a new acquisition sitting comfortably in the dugout, too, in the shape of Charlie Lambert who moved along the rocky coastline from Eastbourne Borough. He’d enter the field later on, but first up on the schedule card was a cagey, tricky opening.
Not much was going on. It’s telling when a lifeless deadlock is almost snapped by a 45-yard cross? pass? shot? Either way, it had Nathan Stroomberg-Clarke sprawling across his line to flap it away from danger. But then the Hawks kept the ball for a bit, played some coherent football, and scored a breathtaking goal.
Watch it, and you will be astounded. Marvel at its beauty, revel in its inventiveness. With options sparse and the prospect of a shot always on the mind of someone in a rich vein of form, Splatt floated into a bubble of space on the corner of the box. Swivel into position, have a swift gander elsewhere, unleash inferno upon your opponents. With a mighty swipe of the boot, the ball soared through the air until it reached its final destination: the very top of the corner. Even Matte Pierson’s flailing right limb couldn’t prevent it. Whitehawk had the lead.
The confidence was dripping from Splatt’s figure. With each passing moment of receiving the ball there was only one thing on his fearless mind: strike it! A bouncing ball dropped to the forward perfectly 20 yards from goal and, as many would rather trap it and pass it, Splatt opted for the volley which fizzed narrowly over the sturdy crossbar.
And then things cooled a little. It was as if the goal had got everyone a bit too animated, and then everyone required a short snooze. The visiting Wasps struggled for momentum. Thwarted by a compact and seemingly robotic defence that presented Stroomberg-Clarke with a smooth half. A wonder goal and a stern defence, that’s how you encapsulate those opening minutes.
Down the tunnel they marched for some chats, some rubs and some fluids. Fifteen minutes passed and soon they re-emerged – fresher and fitter, hungry and hurried. Cautious it was, the flickering reminders of previous slim leads tossed into the nearest (full) bin creeping back into the skulls of those in red. The job was far from done, exclaimed Henry Blackmore as he dove heroically to deny Frants Bakalis a certain goal as the ball whizzed off into another realm.
But then the attack awoke from their brief slumber. Down on the left channel Stephen Okoh had been terrorising Fintan Walsh with his electric pace and sharp movements. It was his lung-bursting run along his own flank that ended with a precise whooshing cross that buzzed across the face of goal. James Fraser was arriving, but he was marginally delayed through the turbulent box as his protruding foot failed to connect.
More slick football. Delicious this time as Henry Muggeridge and Omarr Lawson combined just inside the box to present the former with a crack at goal. The shot was a tad tame as Pierson was able to block it out with his well-positioned legs. And ah!, there’s Lambert. The nifty winger came on in place of Okoh prompting a like-for-like switch that injected further creativity.
Tired legs and tired minds called for an open finish. End-to-end it went, the ball freely moving from one box to the other. Splatt was far from sated as he eyed another. Pierson lurked a few yards off of his line as the Hawks’ forward sensed an opportunity for further greatness. His lob looked promising at first but gravity pushed it down into the grateful paws of Pierson. Out the ball flung, looking to catch Whitehawk unaware. Marco Sousa-Pina discovered an opening from a tight(ish) angle. But there was Stroomberg-Clarke — on it in a flash — to drop low to smother the even lower drive. The 1-0 scoreline remained.
Time was ticking ever closer to a crucial victory. The fans, cold behind the goal, yearning for three points. Jovial and jolly as ever, they applauded the vacating Muggeridge and Fraser for Tegan Freeman and Demas Ramsis respectively. Ordinarily on these occasions the pressure from the side behind is unrelenting but no, not here. The Hawks wanted another, they wanted another from the moment Splatt’s strike found the stanchion.
What else to truly top things off? A Lambert debut goal of course! Oh, how close he came to something equally memorable. With little else on offer he had eyes for a billowed net. Struck firm it was, his fiery drive was too high to petrify Pierson.
Referee James Robinson takes a sudden look at his watch and sounds his whistle with that noise of finality. Whitehawk were winners, and deservingly so. Splatt will leave the hero but know this was not solely the case for all those in red (and Stroomberg-Clarke’s green) are deserving of the same noble title. Up to 16th they climb with the visit of Burgess Hill Town on Tuesday night approaching. Two wins from as many games, the momentum is starting to rise out of the TerraPura’s turf.