Westleigh Park, Havant
It is footballing law that former players, on returning with their new club, will more often than not haunt you something merciless. Like a series of ghosts to whom you owed money. Thus the fact that Sutton United turn out ex-Hawks like an excitable taxidermist weighed heavy upon us coming into this fixture. That and the five defeats in seven games.
The 4-1 defeat at Salisbury resulted in a bit of a reshuffle, cowboy ‘strikers’ Warren McBean and Mark Nwokeji being thrown through the saloon doors as quickly as they had burst in. The horses they rode in on were also banished, which is an improvement. A month ago they may well have been signed on Conference South forms and tried out in midfield.
However, the departure of these gentlemen, and Nathan Ashmore’s dropping from his between sticks berth, did not pay instant dividends, with another defeat following at Eastbourne Borough. Lyall Beazley’s debut in goal was though deemed ‘encouraging’ and there was certainly more to be said for it as a performance than at Salisbury where we fell apart like an Airfix model held together by saliva and blind faith.
Yet as with the 4-1 humping of Truro when last we turned out in this environment we began this fixture with the verve and élan of a seasoned Toreador never so much as scratched by furious horn. We took the lead in the 19th minute, Ryan Woodford proving just how much we missed him during his season long (plus) lay off, meeting a cross with a header as meaty as a butcher’s stock check.
Given our season start and general gloomy countenance, it was surprising to us that we WEREN’T surprised when we scored again thirteen minutes later, Craig Braham-Barrett being put through one-on-one with Sutton keeper and former Hawk hero Kevin Scriven (a man who’s glovework once saved me from spending a night in Swindon bus station), and slotting calmly beneath him. The dominance continued until half time and then more usual service resumed.
Only six minutes into the second half, another of our former charges Tony Taggart, the man who’s shin was responsible for our first ever league scalp at Notts County, popped up to fit the cliché mentioned earlier, scoring with a header that looped into the far corner.
After that we were largely the battered, having been the batterers in the first half and it felt like only a matter of time until Sutton scored again (in fact the whole thing reminded me rather of this game against Eastleigh a couple of years back). This is not to say that we didn’t have chances, but Scriven was found to be in good form. Another one showing off in front of us. Git. Furthermore, had one rebound hit Lee Peacock, charging forward like a Light Brigadier, about an inch to the right of his forehead, it may well have hit the net rather than the advertising.
In the end the equaliser came ten minutes from time, Sam Page striking a volley through a penalty box collection of bodies following a skied clearance.
It could have been worse with Craig Watkins, yet another man once of this parish, being put one-on-one with Lyall Beazley but, as was the case on far too many occasions when with us, he did not have the necessary composure to seal the deal.
Heavy duty forward Craig Dundas did have the ball in the net for Sutton close to the final whistle. Guess what, Dundas played for us in a couple of friendlies once. Possibly doesn’t count him as a proper ex-, but one we certainly exchanged flirty texts with. However this was ruled out for offside, although my connections within the Sutton body politic suggested to me afterwards that, based on images taken by their club photographer, this was a error on the part of the man with the flag.
In the past few weeks many have asked for a new broom to sweep through Havant & Waterlooville. In doing so some have said, and I am amongst them, that mid-table is fine, as long as we feel the commitment and are entertained more often than not. In that respect, one cannot really argue with the sporting spectacle that played out before us today. However, given our start to the season, combined with a two goal advantage at half-time, means the theatre of it all has a bittersweet after taste.
Our next two fixtures are against Maidenhead and Thurrock who boast in their attacks former Hawks Manny Williams and Rocky Baptiste respectively.
*This posting is dedicated to the memory of Ian Stewart, a long standing supporter of H&W and, prior to the merger, Waterlooville, who passed away unexpectedly earlier this week. Ian was always a cheerful presence at home and away games with a dry, mischievous, mildly eccentric sense of humour and our world of Hawk will miss his wit, his commitment, and his decency.