The FA Cup! Last season I managed to get to a game in every round until the 4th qualifying round when National League teams entered and of course they were barred from having spectators.
Without really realising I’ve managed to do the same so far this time around with Sunday’s 1st qualifying round tie between Littlehampton Town and their Sussex neighbours Whitehawk.
Having seen Town dispatch Sittingbourne a week and a half ago in the Preliminary Round, it was time to see if they could repeat the feat of sending another Pitching In Isthmian side out of the competition.
A glorious afternoon of Sussex sunshine greeted the crowd of 525 and the players as Town wasted no time in getting started. An early goal and a high press is the way Littlehampton seem to start in most games and this one was no different.
A floated Dave Herbert free kick into the box was met by an unmarked Dion Jarvis whose header was saved by Nathan Stroomberg, but George Gaskin was on hand to tap in after just two minutes. That certainly signalled to the Hawks they were in for a game this afternoon.
The lead however only lasted nine minutes as Town struggled to clear the ball when it came into their box and Henry Muggeridge, who was pivotable for the Hawks all afternoon, made sure the ball ended up in the back of the net for the equaliser.
Ten minutes later the visitors were in front, a clumsy push on Muggeridge by Lewis Jenkins gave the referee no option but to point to the spot and James Fraser gave the Hawks the lead for the first time of the afternoon.
Gaskin had a chance to pull the scores level again two minutes later, after beating the offside trap, he lifted the ball wide of the on-rushing Stroomberg but with not enough purchase on the ball it was cleared to safety.
Just after the half hour, Town had a penalty of their own. Lucas Pattenden’s strong run down the right found Jarvis in the box, who was brought down and Herbert made no mistake with the spot kick restoring parity once again.
With the game flowing end to end Jarvis then found himself clear of the Hawks defence and while his chip beat Stroomberg, who came then stopped and found himself in no man’s land, it also beat the crossbar.
It was Hawks then back in front, once again the Town defence unable to clear the ball convincingly and Muggeridge slotted home his second and the visitors third, a half time lead for Whitehawk and a chance for the 525 to catch 15 minutes of breath.
Just before the hour mark Town should have levelled once again, Joe Benn with an exquisite through ball to Gaskin saw the striker lift the ball over Stroomberg but unfortunately just over the bar. The Golds though didn’t have long to wait for their third goal, Jarvis with a strong run to the by line, the ball finding it’s way to Benn at the far post who volleyed past Stroomberg for 3-3.
Town then created the better chances and looked the more likely to score with Hawks struggling to break through the Golds back line and giving away possession cheaply in the middle of the park.
And out of nothing came two sucker punches, six minutes to go and Callum Edwards struck home a fourth goal for the visitors, Binfield a little slow getting down and the ball was past him. Worse to come two minutes after that goal Omarr Lawson scored a fifth with Binfield slightly unsighted from the bodies in front of him and looked a now comfortable passage into the next round for the visitors.
However, Gaskin and Town had other ideas as the front man curled in his second and Golds fourth in the final minute to leave a nervy five or so minutes of stoppage time for Hawks to negotiate, but for all the pressing from the home side they couldn’t find one more goal to take it to a replay and bow out after the most pulsating game of football of the 10 I’ve watched so far this season.
Having seen a lot of the home side so far there is no doubt they’ve competed very well against two sides from a division higher and with a strong start to their league season as well they are certainly heading in the right direction.
Great to see a fantastic attendance once again, as has been the case at grounds up and down the country, I just hope people enjoyed what they saw and carry on coming to watch the football on offer.