By Isaac Gleave
Whitehawk secured their place in the FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round following an impressive first-half performance in a hard-fought 2-1 win against Barton Rovers.
Early goals from Henry Muggeridge and Lucas Rodrigues proved the difference as the Sussex side progressed to the next round, although a Dean Dummett strike thirty minutes from time did set up a nervy finish for the Hawks.
Jude Macdonald made two changes to the side that won at Phoenix Sports last weekend, as Adam El-Abd returned from his one-game suspension, whilst experienced debutant Lloyd Cotton came straight into the starting XI.
With the visitors currently occupying second spot in the Southern League Central Division, their confidence was evident as they started proceedings on the front-foot, as Lewis Thomas saw his thumping header ricochet off the underside of the bar. The early exchanges were frenetic, as at the other end, Ronald Sobowale had a shot blocked by ‘keeper Niall Cooper from an acute angle, before Rodrigues saw his header from just outside the six-yard box also rebound off the crossbar.
The Hawks’ early pressure that has been visible all season was once again rewarded as they took the lead twelve minutes in. Sobowale showed excellent pace on the left-wing, who then looked up, and picked out Muggeridge who was floating on the edge of the box. The ball found the ‘skipper, who shifted it onto his left-foot, before firing low past the flat-footed Cooper to break the deadlock.
Marvin Hamilton was on hand to prevent an almost certain equaliser as he timed his challenge on Dummett to perfection, who would have been clean-through otherwise. Minutes later, another chance for Rovers went begging, as Nathan Tshikuna’s 30-yard strike rattled the left-hand post, only to fall to Rovers’ Bradley Bell who, with the goal at his mercy, skied the rebound.
Sobowale will feel he should have doubled his side’s lead moments after, as confident work by Rodrigues on the left-hand side set up a cross for the forward, who attempted to chest the ball home, but he sent it inches wide of the left post. Rovers then hit the woodwork for a third time inside thirty minutes, as Jerome Jibodu’s cross-shot on the right-wing struck the outside of the far post, keeping the Hawks’ clean-sheet in-tact.
The end-to-end half continued, as Rodrigues powered forward, before unleashing a fizzing strike which clattered the side-netting. No matter, however, as Rodrigues was on-hand to double his side’s advantage on the stroke of the half-hour mark following a slick one-two. The forward dispossessed Tshikuna in midfield, prior to a surging run towards the box, where he played it into Sobowale’s path. With Rodrigues continuing his run, he received the ball first-time from Sobowale, before coolly slotting under Cooper, and into the far-corner to give Whitehawk an early 2-0 lead.
It should have been a third for the Hawks shortly after, but Rodrigues was unable to convert before half-time as Cooper rushed out to make a brilliant block to deny the striker from close-range. As for Rovers, they had the chance to halve the deficit moments before the half-time whistle, after Bell was played in on the left-side of the box. The forward took a slightly heavy touch, and his shot from a difficult angle was turned away by the feet of James Broadbent.
Following the restart, and with the game far from over, Broadbent made a tremendous and vital save to deny Bell from just outside the box. Broadbent, whose vision may have been slightly impeded, got down sharply to his right to prevent Bell from getting on the scoresheet. Thomas, once more involved for the visitors, should have brought his side level, but his effort on the turn was tamely hit. An even clearer opportunity soon followed, with Thomas again the target, but his first-time effort from close-range was fired straight at the ‘keeper, once again to the relief of the Hawks.
Barton Rovers continued to create openings, and finally found the net twenty-five minutes from time. A corner was sent towards the near-post, where Thomas flicked it on to Dummett at the back-post, who made no mistake from a few of yards out. A deserved goal for Rovers on the balance of play, who still had plenty of time remaining to salvage an equaliser, and take the game to a penalty shoot-out.
The visitors had all of the momentum, and they should have drawn level minutes after, if not for another crucial stop from the inspired Broadbent to deny Kai Phelan from inside the box. A free-kick found the Rovers man perfectly, whose header was destined for the net, only for the outstretched arms of Broadbent to keep the score at 2-1. With the Hawks clinging on, Rovers again had the chance to tie the game up, but Connor Vincent flashed his effort across goal, narrowly missing the far post, as Whitehawk received another let-off.
Having been on the back-foot for the majority of the half, the Hawks had a glorious chance to put the game beyond Rovers’ reach. Abdulla picked up the ball inside his own-half, before driving towards the Barton goal. It was three against two as Abdulla played in Rodrigues, who, after taking a touch, squared it to Sobowale. With the goal gaping, the forward attempted to take it around Cooper, but he got it all wrong and the ball ended up in the grateful arms of the goalkeeper.
Another chance went begging for the home side as Sobowale found space to fire across goal, but there was no man in red to meet it, and the ball trickled away to safety. As the match entered its final phase, it was the Hawks with all the opportunities. First, an Abdulla strike sailed harmlessly over the bar, before Rodrigues went on a mazy run, only for a heavy touch to give Cooper the chance to come out and collect the ball.
With the game deep into stoppage time, it was up to Bell to find a leveller, but he shot high and wide from the edge of the box to give the Hawks a hard-fought victory, as they booked their spot in the next round of the FA Trophy.
Back-to-back wins for the Hawks, who find out their next FA Trophy opponents at 1pm on Monday, before they return to league action next Saturday as Faversham Town are the visitors to the TerraPura Ground.
Hawks: Broadbent, Hamilton, Emberson, Cotton (Okorougo 59’), Chappell, El-Abd, Rodrigues, Muggeridge (c), Sobowale (Fraser 89’), Abdulla (Tighe 87’), Unwin
Not used: Blackmore, Wilson, Osei Tutu, Martin
Barton: Cooper, Jibodu, Ward, Smith (c) (Powell 83’), Phelan, Thomas, Dummett (Regis 73’), Osobu (Burnett 69’), Bell, Tshikuna, Vincent
Not used: Palmer, Andrews
Bookings: Unwin (Hawks)