Whyteleafe FC

Report: Whitehawk 1-0 Whyteleafe

There was always a likelihood that Leafe’s visit to Brighton to face Whitehawk FC would be an exciting encounter. The south coast side sit in third place in the BetVictor Isthmian South East clash but were well beaten (4-2) by fourth placed Leafe at Church Road ten short days ago.

Whyteleafe were in for a tough game. A bitterly cold January evening and a heavy grass pitch that slopes not only from end-to-end but also from side-to-side and as if that wasn’t enough to contend with Harry Hudson’s men probably didn’t realise just how tough it would turn out to be, though …

A third versus fourth clash is always going to be a tight contest and Whitehawk started brightly. Hudson was without wing back Matt O’Donoghue, which meant ever-dependable centre-back Ricardo Thompson taking his spot.

However, Harry could at least call on Nathan Campbell once more, the skipper having recovered from injury.

Cam and his central defensive colleagues, Jamie McGeoghegan and Corey Holder were kept on their toes by Whitehawk’s attackers. Despite being in the ascendency, our hosts never really looked like opening the scoring though and Whyteleafe settled well and were very much in the game, hitting the bar in the 15th minute.

That changed in the 26th minute when the tricky Whitehawk right-winger, Lucas Rodrigues beat three Leafe defenders and burst through down the left-hand side, beating keeper, Tyler McCarthy with a stinging shot from a tight angle.

Whyteleafe were still very much in the game and as the first-half closed were on top and looking for an equaliser. This continued into the second period until the 61st minute that saw not one but two Leafe players given their marching orders – at the same time. Firstly, midfielder, Bentley Graham, who was the outstanding player on the pitch, but had already been booked, got a second yellow and was shown red, while joining him on the long walk back to the dressing room was left-back Peter Wedgeworth.

A massive blow for Harry Hudson obviously, but still Leafe pressed on looking for an equaliser. Without doubt though their task was made all the harder with two players off. It goes without saying that Whitehawk went looking for the killer blow and seemed likely to extend their lead.

Any team with a two-man advantage will cause problems but a passing side like Whitehawk will be even more dangerous in that situation. Leafe though had other ideas and with Nathan Campbell marshalling his remaining troops marvellously, defended with courage and sheer determination.

Leafe goalkeeper, Tyler McCarthy deserves special credit. He pulled off five incredible saves somehow keeping us in the game. One double stop was particularly impressive.

Then came the hammer blow. Helge Orome had come on as a sub in the 73rd minute but was given his marching orders just six minutes later. Three red cards. None of the 148 crowd could really believe it let alone the players. So, Leafe down to eight men for the last eleven minutes and hanging on.

Although Whitehawk tried everything they could to score, Leafe somehow held firm. Harry’s latest signing, winger, Andrew Sesay (signed from Three Bridges) made his debut coming on in the 59th minute. He looked bright, but in the circumstances, could hardly be expected to shine. He looks promising though.

The drama extended to the 89th minute when Whyteleafe got a corner from the Whitehawk left. With nothing to lose, up came keeper Tyler McCarthy. We couldn’t get an equaliser, could we?

With our usual corner takers, Bentley Graham and Peter Wedgeworth, both in the grandstand, Mannie Mensah stepped up to take it. His cross was arcing towards Tyler’s head, who made a run from the edge of the penalty area and as everyone held their breath, the ball was just taken away from the keeper’s head as he was going to launch himself at the ball! So close, but a fairy tale ending wasn’t to be.

As the final whistle blew Leafe’s eight men were out on the feet, including Tyler who having just missed his header had to do his best Usain Bolt impression to sprint back to his goal! A man of the match performance from him though, without doubt.

Whyteleafe’s travelling contingent of fans gave the team a standing ovation, as, it has to be said did many of the Whitehawk supporters, which was good to see.

A loss is always hard to stomach, of course, but when that defeat has involved such a courageous display and an incredible fighting spirit, it isn’t so bad. Whitehawk stay third, Leafe slip to sixth but with many, many reasons to remain cheerful. The paper millers from the valley of Cray (in fifth place) are up next and visit Church Road this Saturday (February 1).

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