Westleigh Park, Havant
Back near the turn of the century, when we used to arrive on the field with the goal-hungry triple threat of Tim Hambley, Paul Wood and James Taylor, we Hawks used to purr. In fact we did more than that, we used to give off a swagger, a collective hubris that used to arrive in the form of a Guantanamera’d “score in a minute, we’re gonna score in a minute”. We’ve not sung that for a good while now, probably because it’s a long time since we put sustained pressure on an opposition goal. Well, that combined with a more realistic lack of conviction we have these days.
However we might be able to use the tune again. These days though it would the slightly less scan-correct “Pen in a minute, gonna get a pen in a minute” as prior to this weekend’s game we had been awarded penalty-kicks in our previous five fixtures, four of which were scored (one by the acting goalkeeper) and one which struck a post. For this game we upped the ante even further, being awarded two in the first half. With regular taker (and that said gloveman pro tem) Jamie Collins recovering from an exploratory heart operation, Luke Nightingale was entrusted with both as he was, successfully, at Lewes in the Trophy last Tuesday.
The first was pitched so perfectly it might as well have been taken by a tuning fork. No goalkeeper in the world, nor even the most athletic of octopuses, is going to claw one that’s put into the very top corner, but Luke squeezed it within the right angle, and thus we went into a 12th minute lead against a side currently sitting atop our league. However it was only to last two minutes as Spencer Knight’s free kick sailed from nigh on the half way line over all defensive and attacking bonces and straight into the far corner, our young keeper Nathan Ashmore seeming to believe himself in the middle of a modelling assignment for a life-drawing class. He’d been captured trousers down either way.
Replacing Kevin Scriven, suspended after being sent off against Bognor, Nathan sent several of his goal-kicks astray and a great many of his high claims took a bounce off the turf before being controlled. However to come in against the league leaders with precious little action all season, rarely featuring on the bench and with no reserve team to hone himself having left the comfier confines of our Academy, was always going to be a big ask.
Following the manner of their equaliser we anticipated a lot of speculative long shots designed to test Nath’s callow paws, but after one which dipped just high and wide, it was our mob that took the initiative. Perhaps the presence of an inexperienced keeper whose confidence had just taken a knock focused the mind of everyone else, but we descended, attacked and dug in where necessary, league debut makers Steve Cook (on loan from Brighton, at right back) and Paul Hinshelwood (signed from Bognor after our Christmas games and Mick Jenkins’ subsequent resignation, in centre midfield) slotting in more than comfortably.
In fact, everyone played well, particularly Gary Elphick and Charlie Henry. Indeed, Charlie is really showing off his talent of late, every time he gets the ball there is the excitement, not really seen since the days of the aforementioned Woody jinking up and down the right flank, that “mmm, something could happen here”. Charlie started the season well, scoring four brilliant goals in the first seven games of the season.
After a second 25-yard strike in successive games at Thurrock back in late August he was christened Charlie Thunderboots by our man Barry behind the goal, although drink having been taken, this came out of Baz’s mouth as Tharley Chunderboots on its second outing. As that sounded like a posh kid fresh into Oxbridge who can’t handle his snakebite, or possibly a character in a Two Ronnies serialised sketch (Tharley Chunderboots and Piggy Malone in…) then we’d probably have opted to stick with the former. However Charlie then had a long injury lay off and is only really now coming back to full fitness.
Before the closure of the first half we had hit the bar and Luke had found keeper Danny Gay’s hands with his second penalty. The second half was genuinely tense end-to-end stuff but neither side was able to break the deadlock. If, rather than having a golden goal competition, we did a golden ‘general-standard-of-the-play’, then this would have been the one where the pint glass full of pound coins went to whoever pulled the folded piece of paper reading ‘mmm, a good advert for Conference South football there’ from the tombola of non-league clichés.
On this evidence, we’re looking much tighter a unit than has previously been the case this season and performances of this nature will be much more welcome. Perhaps playing against Chelmsford brings the best out of us as, arguably, our two best league performances this season have come against them. Or perhaps this is the famous ‘gelling’ we’ve all been hearing so much about. Let’s hope so, as it’s taken its sweet time in turning up at West Leigh Park.