Saturday 3rd February 2018, 1500 Kick Off
Whitehawk FC vs Weston-super-Mare AFC
The Build Up
With January out the way, and the promise of better weather, I was looking forward to a month of uninterrupted Saturday football. Surely, as Spring edged its way closer the veritable wave of nonleague postponements would recede to a trickle, and those of us who love nothing better than a Saturday afternoon watching football in towns most people thought were fictional can start to enjoy our weekends again. So, it was with much disgust that I remembered promising to watch my girlfriend play hockey on the first weekend of the month, and would likely miss the chance to watch the beautiful game. However, my disgust turned to a more palatable emotion when she revealed it was a midday start, and so my hunt for a 3pm kick off in the area began.
As it happened, Whitehawk are a mere six miles from Brighton & Hove Hockey Club, so it was to East Brighton and the Hawks that I would travel. Whitehawk, it’s fair to say, are not having a great season. Having avoided relegation by one place last season, they’re currently dead last, 14 points from safety, and with an astonishing -43 goal difference.
Look closer though, and there are grounds for cautious optimism in the new year. A promising January run, where Steve King’s Hawks picked up a creditable ten points from five matches (including a first home win of the season against playoff contenders Truro City) has moved them from relegation certainties, to mere relegation heavy favourites. Top scorer Gold Omotayo (six goals) has impressed on this run, winning the Vanarama National South Player of the Month Award, and, bolstered by the signing of Guinea-Bissau international Arnaud Mendy in the week, I was keen to see if Whitehawk could maintain their impressive recent form.
The Hawks’ opponents today also come in avian form, with Weston-super-Mare’s Seagulls coming to town. Fresh off the back of a 4-2 victory over local rivals Bath City in the week, Weston-super-Mare will approach this game high on confidence. Despite losing Oldmixon Primary School’s top scoring teacher – 16 goal Dayle Grubb – to Forest Green Rovers in the January transfer window, the Seagulls have plenty of others to pick up the goalscoring slack. Most notably, Gethin Hill, the Welsh striker registering 12 so far this campaign. Currently 10th in the league but with a game in hand over Welling United and Chelmsford City above them, Weston-super-Mare could be on course to beat their highest ever league position of 7th.
I drove from the hockey club to the Enclosed Ground, Whitehawk’s 2,175 capacity home, which is nestled in a hill on the edge of the South Downs. It would be remiss of me not to comment on the drive through Brighton. As if having an entire city of 20mph speed limits isn’t bad enough, I managed to get stuck behind some complete gimp, who felt it appropriate to drive at 12mph for almost the entire six mile drive.
When I got to the Enclosed Ground, I was struck by the fact it was clearly named by a lifelong lover of irony. That is the only reason a pitch which must be the most open to the elements in the entire national league system could be named “enclosed”.
With tickets at £12, and a programme at £2, watching games at Whitehawk is inexpensive, and tallies with their Ultras’ stated aim of Football for All – a belief that watching football should be accessible to everyone. I wholeheartedly agree. A further pit stop in the Supporters’ Club for prematch scran relieved me of a further £7, but it was £7 well spent. A chicken burger, replete with a plentiful garnish, chips, and a Diet Coke.
As I ate my meal, I enjoyed the warm up music, featuring classic reggae, the Strangler, the Great Escape and the Beachboys amongst others, it was certainly eclectic. However, the piece de resistance was surely a frankly bizarre homemade recording of “Whitehawk”, to the tune of “Rawhide”. Odd. It was clearly an Ultras related song, and was a rare off note for a band of fans who must be among the most musically talented in the National League.
As soon as the match started, it was obvious that Kyjuon Marsh-Brown was on it. Within three minutes he’d skinned his full back all ends up on two occasions. One of four footballing brothers (big brother Keanu’s at Forest Green Rovers, and younger sibling Kwai is also a Hawk, whilst the eldest Ronayne played in the Eredivisie with RKC Waalwijk), Marsh-Brown was an immediate and dangerous outlet for the home side.
It was no surprise therefore, that it was the Chiswick born youngster who opened the scoring on 13 minutes. When former Plymouth Argyle (good man) midfielder David Ijaha bustled out of defence with the ball, he laid it off to Marsh-Brown around halfway. The small, but vocal, Whitehawk crowd could sense danger every time he was in possession, and were rapt with anticipation. The winger drove towards the box, and cut inside right back Ash Harper. Two touches later, he released a curling, dipping effort from just outside the box. Luke Purnell in the Seagulls goal had no chance, and Whitehawk took a deserved early lead.
It was a brilliant goal, and it’s fair to say – the home fans loved it.
Four minutes later, Whitehawk had a chance at a second when Ijaha again barrelled out of defence in possession. A few short passes were exchanged in midfield, before Sam Chaney found himself in possession wide right. He cut inside and shot low and hard, but straight at Purnell. Despite a little fumble, the ‘keeper was easily able to gather at the second time of asking.
Chaney passed up a second opportunity to score on 22 minutes, when he outstripped his marker for pace, and drove into the box. His low shot was well saved by Purnell, and neither Gold Omotayo, nor Kyjuon Marsh-Brown could stab the rebound home.
Whitehawk had started brilliantly, and it felt only a matter of time until they would extend their lead, and it was Marsh-Brown front and centre when they did. His pace and tricky feet did for Harper again, and on the byline in the box Marsh-Brown was barged to the floor. The 21 year old dusted himself off, and calmly slid the penalty home himself to make the score 2-0 with half an hour player.
This isn’t to say that the Hawks had it all their own way – Weston-super-Mare were creating chances too, and on 34 minutes, an infringement I didn’t see resulted in referee Alex Blake pointing to the spot again. Up stepped Gethin Hill, who impudently dinked the ball down the middle, past a despairing stretch by Daniel Wilks, and the deficit was halved.
Weston-super-Mare were almost level two minutes later, but were unable to find the crucial touch after good play by Bristol Rovers loanee Kenan Dunnwald teed up a goalmouth scramble in the mud. The first half was a good forty five to watch, and there was time for another chance, when Omotayo released Marsh-Brown. Marsh-Brown shot left footed, but Purnell got down well to turn past his post.
It was around this time that I heard a quite delightful ditty from the Whitehawk Ultras, so I’ll speak about them for a bit. Their anti-prejudice views are well known and forthright, and they’re easy to admire. However, there was one song in particular I enjoyed – to the tune of Taylor Swift’s anthem to moving on, the Ultras deliver a belting “We are never, ever, ever going back to Bognor”. Having been assaulted in the street and broken my ribs on my last trip to Bognor Regis – I couldn’t agree more. The Ultras were in fine voice throughout, displayed great humour, and had the most thorough collection of musical instruments I’ve ever seen at a football match. They’re essentially the East Sussex version of Sly and the Family Stone.
So, 2-1 at half time, and Whitehawk deserved the lead. It was a competitive, and well fought first period, but the strength and poise of Ijaha, along with the pace and finishing of Marsh-Brown, were the difference.
It took only two minutes of the second half for the home side to extend their lead. A foul in midfield resulted in Whitehawk lofting a deep free kick into the box. When this wasn’t properly cleared, it fell to the feet of Elliot Benyon in the box. Slipping as he shot, the ball skewed in past Purnell, and Whitehawk restored their two goal cushion.
The former Bristol City and Torquay United man got a great chance to score his second ten minutes later, when he was sent through by Gulls’ loanee Sam Chaney. Benyon found himself with time and space in the box, but his shot was well tipped wide by Purnell. I think Purnell was probably Weston-super-Mare’s best performer on the day, and made a number of fine stops. It’s only natural though – he used to play for Argyle.
For the last half an hour, the game ebbed and flowed. Although possession was even – possibly even shaded by Weston, it was Whitehawk who created the better chances. And crucially, scored more goals. With Ijaha to the fore, every time the Seagulls came forward, their efforts were rebuffed. Former Arsenal man Zac Fagan, and his centre back partner Yannis Ambroisine were imperious, and Ijaha and Arnaud Mendy were able to bring the ball out from the back and pick their passes.
On 64 minutes, an Ijaha pass set up Marsh-Brown, but his left footed shot was dragged so badly it didn’t even cross the byline. 8 minutes later, substitute Nathaniel Pinney – looking more like a prop forward than a centre forward – turned sharply in the box and shot, but Purnell tipped over. The introduction of Pinney changed the nature of Whitehawk’s attacks somewhat. Clearly jinxed by receiving the Player of the Month trophy, Omotayo had looked well off the pace. Pinney, however, was a clever striker, who was able to hold up the ball well and bring others into play.
Whitehawk got their fourth on 83 minutes. Ijaha again set them free on the counter, and Benyon centred from the right. Pinney held the ball up well, delaying just long enough for Marsh-Brown to steam into the box. Pinney rolled the ball into his path and the whippet like Marsh-Brown slid home for his hat trick.
Weston-super-Mare had their chances, but only worked Wilks once or twice in the Hawks goal. When tested, Wilks responded well, coming to punch and clear his lines on at least one occasion. Purnell was certainly the busier of the two goalies, and made another good stop when Ijaha set Pinney clear.
With full time approaching, Benyon bagged his second and Whitehawk’s fifth after clever play by Pinney. When Lucas Rodrigues intercepted the ball in the midfield, he burst forward, and squared the ball. Running onto it, Pinney clocked his marker, and allowed the ball to run past him cleverly to an umarked Benyon, who finished comfortably. Five one, and a well deserved three points for Whitehawk.
The Wash Up
Watching that game, and looking at the form the Hawks have put together I genuinely cannot fathom how they’re in the position they are. A really talented squad, they have quality all across the pitch, and were good value for their four goal victory today.
Weston-super-Mare had travelled a long way, but Marc McGregor will want to put this behind him as quickly as possible. A good performance by Purnell kept the score down to five, but can’t mask a performance where his side was comprehensively outclassed.
Usually, when a team have won as convincingly as Whitehead did today, I struggle to pick a star player – although Mendy, Benyon, Fagan, Ambroisine and Chaney all had good games, David Ijaha stood head and massive shoulders above his competitors in the midfield engine room. A brawny physical presence, his eye for a pass is what sets him apart. It’s easy to see what Plymouth Argyle saw that persuaded them to sign him from Whitehawk in 2016. However, the former England schoolboy isn’t my man of the match.
That award has to go to hat trick hero Kyjuon Marsh-Brown. Some of his skills were simply outrageous, and the Seagulls defence were visibly terrified when he got in possession. A fine performance, and a three goal haul taking him to eight for the season. If the 21 year old can find the consistency to put together these performances more frequently he’ll be joining Keanu in the professional ranks sooner rather than later.
Whitehawk knocked four goals off that horrendous goal difference today, and whatever Steve King put in his squad’s Christmas pudding clearly worked. If he can eke out more performances like this, then all of a sudden, that (now only eleven point) gap to safety starts to look achievable…
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