Match Data 2012/2013
Havant & Waterlooville 2
Eddie Hutchinson (Jones, 54)
Emmanuel Ighorae (Nanetti, 54)
Sahr Kabba (Ryan, 38)
Rob Sinclair (Matthews, 90)
Perhaps part of that is the still closely packed lower end of the league; one more goal on Saturday and the Hawks would be three places higher in 16th in the table, but there is also a real sense that this team can produce a respectable mid-table finish and move on to ‘consolidate’ for next year.
Lee Bradbury continues to support his team with intelligent loan signings, which on the one hand gives us the youthful enthusiasm and skill of players on the fringe of league football, but on the other doesn’t allow for a Hawks side who are truly ‘Hawks’. Four of Saturday’s starting eleven belong to other clubs, and in all honesty without the loans we’d have been in a bit of a mess over the last month, evidenced by that wholly dreadful night at Sholing. But the question does remain as to what happens when these players inevitably return to their parent clubs? What are we left with and will that happen at a critical moment? Dan Butler is a case in point.
It is a worry, but focussing on the here and now the latest (and sixth) loan signing since Bradbury took charge made his debut as the match got underway. Emmanuel, or ‘E-Man’, Ighorae looked immediately at home in the midfield and made the otherwise drab opening of the game more interesting. Both sides took pot shots in the first fifteen minutes. Ollie Palmer sent one over at one end before Ryan Brett also fired from range at the other. Brett then curled a free kick into Clark Masters’ arms, but all eyes at this point were really on Salisbury. When the top of the table side come to visit there’s always a feeling of ‘go on then, impress us’ from the home fans in the air.
The Whites are just about clinging on to the top spot, having been some way clear earlier in the season. Welling can now overtake them with their games in hand, so doubts about the side’s complete league authority have already been raised. When you look at Salisbury’s recent run of away games the doubts seem well founded: four straight defeats with just two goals scored, and no win on the road since mid-December. Not the pedigree of a league winning side, and one that the rising Hawks could reasonably expect to capitalise on.
As the half unfolded it became apparent that Salisbury don’t really exude the presence of a title winning side. For example when Woking came last year, the quality of the football on the pitch and the voracity of the fans off it gave the impression that this was a team that shouldn’t be in the Conference South. They looked like a National side. With all due respect to their achievements, Salisbury look like a side who aren’t quite sure why they are where they are and are trying to work out how they’ve done it.
The secret seems to be shooting from range. The Whites are one of the few teams the Hawks have encountered in a long while who will shoot from range at any given opportunity, with the expectancy that if you take enough shots one or two will go in. That was the difference between the sides in the first half, with the Hawks carefully trying to pass the ball forward to the corners (and Ighorae was a huge part in making that happen) for crosses back, while Salisbury would just run at the defence and shoot.
This was typified about 20 minutes in when a spell of heavy pressure for the Hawks, the ball going in and out of the City box for several times, fizzled out and Jamie White tore to the other end and smashed a shot straight into the post. Simple route one football, and probably the key to Salisbury’s season so far.
Not long after that, Rob Sinclair flicked a header onto the other post from a cross by Glenn Wilson, and it did look that for all the Hawks’ pretty football, it was about to be undone by something more simple and direct from the visitors.
Despite that both sides made half time unscathed, but it was the visitors who were quicker out of the blocks after the break. Having been denied by Masters after going through one on one, Dan FITCHETT broke the deadlock when he fired home just three minutes in. Two minutes after that White drew a dramatic flying save from Masters when he powered through the defence again and it was at this point, with the midfield clearly in trouble, that Bradbury opted to swap out Ighoriae and Eddie Hutchinson for Scott Jones and Christian Nanetti.
Salisbury went two up on the hour, again simply by pushing the Hawks’ defence and shooting as soon as a chance appeared. It was FITCHETT once more who buried his shot in the net, twisting to take a second attempt after his first was blocked. Masters stood rooted to the spot, clearly blinded by the defenders in front of him, and could only watch as the ball flew under the bar.
Being two down with half an hour to go against the league leaders is not a position many would expect to come back from, but these new Hawks are a tenacious bunch and within two minutes Perry Ryan gave the side a glimmer of hope. Nanetti’s free kick reached Palmer in the box and his header popped the ball over the reaching arms of keeper Willem Puddy. It may well have gone in by itself, but the unlikely form of Perry RYAN was there to dive and turn it over the line.
Nanetti was proving himself to be more than a handful for the Whites’ back line, and having been cynically brought down once by Brian Dutton, he was up quickly to put in another dancing run up the right that ended with a superb ball across the face of the goal. The otherwise alert Puddy missed it completely, and RYAN was there again at the post to fire a header back past the keeper.
So having been out of the game at the hour mark, the Hawks were more than back in it ten minutes later. There was almost exactly a year between Ryan’s 2nd minute goal against Welling in February 2012 and the one he scored at Chelmsford at the start of the week, and two more in this game mean the utility player has doubled his goal tally since joining the Hawks in the space of six days. Long may that continue.
The pace was picking up and the Hawks could clearly sense the possibility of a win, but that all came crashing down in the 77th minute when Puddy caught Jones in the face with his knee while leaping for the ball and the striker hit the deck hard. A break in play followed as Jones was strapped up and carried off straight into an ambulance, and having made all their substitutions the Hawks were forced to play out the game with ten men.
Jones, incidentally, reported via twitter that after a night in hospital he was discharged the next day without serious injury, and different perspectives will tell you that the incident was either entirely accidental or a deliberate attempt to damage on Puddy’s part, but we should be thankful at least that Jones wasn’t hurt as badly as it first appeared.
Of course the collision left a bitter taste on the pitch, and matters became heated as eleven minutes of injury time began to play out. Fitchett would doubtless have scored a third had Ryan not pulled of a precision tackle in the box just as the striker was readying to shoot, and Chris Arthur lofted in a cross from the corner flag that almost had Puddy bowled over backwards, but the keeper just managed to claim the ball with Palmer ready on the line had he dropped it.
Ultimately though neither side could find a winning shot, and the game concluded gone five o’clock with the Hawks again giving a solid account of themselves against one of the league’s top sides.