Hythe Town 3-2 Whitehawk - I felt my boys didn't do themselves justice in the play-off final but tonight the boys were outstanding and you're not going to have a better chance to get to the FA Trophy Last Sixteen, says Hythe Town boss Steven Watt

Tuesday 12th December 2023
Hythe Town 3 – 2 Whitehawk
Location Reachfields Stadium, off Fort Road, Hythe, Kent CT21 6JS
Kickoff 12/12/2023 19:45

The Isuzu FA Trophy Third Round
Tuesday 12 December 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from Reachfields Stadium

HYTHE TOWN manager Steven Watt says it’s always good to create new history for the club after reaching the last 32 of The FA Trophy for the first time after his hard-working side pulled off another shock at fortress Reachfields Stadium.

The Cannons have beaten Burgess Hill Town (3-1), Chertsey Town (4-2), Concord Rangers (3-2), Ramsgate (3-1), Tonbridge Angels (3-1 on penalties after a goal-less draw) and deservedly turned over Whitehawk here tonight.

Shaun Saunders’ side beat Hythe Town 1-0 in the Isthmian League South East Division play-off final last April and five players who played in that match turned out for the Brighton outfit on a muddy playing surface tonight.

Hythe Town opened the scoring through central midfielder Aaron Barnes’ eighth goal of the season, before Hythe Town came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half and deservedly doubled their lead through Jake Embery’s sixth goal of the season.

Whitehawk pulled a goal back with 10 minutes left after substitute Josh Nandhra finished off a three-man counter-attacking raid, before Bradley Schafer swept in the home side’s third goal, before Whitehawk scored a flattering second goal through Charlie Walker’s thirteenth goal of the season.

The Cannons can now look forward to their fourth consecutive home tie, when Vanarama National League North side Chorley visit on Saturday 13 January 2024.

“An unbelievable achievement if I’m being honest.  I can’t remember too many clubs at our level to (reach the last 32).  I think Aveley did it a few years back (reaching the Quarter-Finals in season 2019-20),” said Watt.

“I said to the boys in there, you’ve got a chance to create a bit of history. It’s not been done in recent memory.  We’ve got a great opportunity to get in the last 32 and get another home tie to maybe go one step further.

“I thought the boys were outstanding tonight, I really did.  I felt it was a very comfortable 3-2 win. I don’t think it was a 3-2 game. If anything, we should’ve been way more in front from what we were.  We’ve given them two really sloppy goals towards the end.   You can’t give teams like Whitehawk with the quality that they’ve got those types of opportunities but I thought the boys fully deserved to go through.  I thought the scoreline flattered Whitehawk, if I’m being honest.”

Hythe Town were without 10-goal striker Johan Caney-Bryan, who was serving a one-match suspension, which was Watt’s only change from the side that beat Broadbridge Heath 2-1 here 10 days ago.

Hythe Town went into this tie sitting in sixth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division table with 23 points (seven wins, two draws and three defeats), while Whitehawk arrived on the Kent coast sitting in 12th place in the Isthmian League Premier Division table with 23 points (five wins, eight draws, three defeats).

Whitehawk goalkeeper Mitchell Walker almost gifted Hythe Town the lead after only 98 seconds.

The keeper called for the ball so centre-half Joe Tennent rolled a back-pass back but the former Dover Athletic keeper missed the ball completely as it bobbled in front of him but managed to get back and find the touchline with his clearance as Frannie Collin (who played in behind Embery) pressed.

“Credit to the club for the game being on. It was never going to be pretty, the pitch was always going to cut-up.  I thought both teams dealt with it well if I’m being honest and we always felt we would get opportunities to score goals,” said Watt.

“It’s gone back and it’s taken a bobble and these things happen on a pitch like this.

“It’s something that we spoke about before the game about not passing back to Steve (Phillips) and if we are back passing, make the sure the back pass is out within the width of the goal. Little details like that, when you’re playing on a pitch that isn’t running it’s best.

“It was great to see Mitch.  I played with Mitch at Dover. He’s a great goalkeeper and made some great saves tonight at times. It was great to see him again, I haven’t seen him in years.”

Whitehawk created their first opening just 109 seconds later when left-winger Dominic Johnson-Fisher drove forward before hitting a right-footed drive which sailed over the crossbar from 30-yards.

Mitchell Walker was the busier of the two goalkeepers and he denied Hythe Town taking a thirteenth minute lead.

Ethan Smith stepped inside his man before unleashing a right-footed drive towards the top right-hand corner from 30-yards, forcing Mitchell Walker to dive to his left and use both of his hands to push the ball around the post.

“Fantastic strike, fantastic strike.  That’s what Ethan’s about. Winning the ball back, driving forward,” said Watt.

“It’s something we spoke about. He needs to add some more goals to his game, which he has done (scoring six goals this season).  He’s scored a lot more goals than what he has done last year (3).  It was a great save from Mitch.”

Whitehawk’s players were struggling to cope with the muddy conditions, while Hythe Town’s players showed plenty of heart and desire to get the job done.

“I can’t fault these boys, these set of players and playing on a pitch like that and they give me it every week,” said Watt.

“It’s a privilege to manage this group of players.  To play for us you have to run through a brick wall for one another and you have to do that, minimum and then off the back of that hopefully results will come.

“The desire and the willingness to win, not just the willingness to win. We speak about the willingness not to be beat.  It’s this thing we speak about. A team that want to win isn’t the same animal as a team that won’t be beaten and that’s the type of mentality we have in the group.  We just don’t want to win games, we just don’t want to be beaten.”

Hythe Town deservedly opened the scoring with 27 minutes and 32 seconds on the clock, following a set-piece.

Left-wing-back Kai Garande swept a free-kick into the penalty area from close to the half-way line on the left and Jack Steventon’s flick on played in Collin, whose shot was blocked by the advancing Mitchell Walker.

Whitehawk failed to clear their lines and just nine seconds later, the ball fell to Barnes, who produced a clinical, quality right-footed finish around the diving keeper to find the far corner from 20-yards.

“Look, tonight was going to be, for me, set-pieces and a bit of quality would win the game, so that goal was a combination of the two,” said Watt.

“A second-phase of the set-piece.  Jack Steventon flicked it on for Fran and it’s another great save from Mitch and then we contest the next ball.  I think Liam Smith challenges it and it drops to Barnsey and Barnsey is just a classy footballer, got bags and bags of ability and when it falls to him on the edge of the box you’re thinking, ‘yes, goal’.”

Whitehawk started to get back into the game after the half-hour mark.

Tennent clipped a long ball out of defence down the right-channel, which was cleared away by Liam Smith.

The ball was played down the line but Whitehawk’s right-back Joel Daly recycled the ball back towards the edge of the box where an unmarked Charlie Walker struck his first time shot over the crossbar.

Daly threw the ball to attacking midfielder Charlie Walker, who turned his man before hitting a right-footed drive towards the top far corner from 30-yards.  Hythe goalkeeper Steven Phillips clawed the ball out high to his right and almost let the greasy ball slip through his fingers but he managed to pounce on the ball at the second attempt as it bounced.

Whitehawk striker Ben Pope took a bang to the head and received treatment for around five minutes, as the referee played 53:29 in the first half and 50:13 in the second.

“I think we were comfortable and we restricted them to very little throughout the night.  I felt the only disappointing thing was the goals we gave away at the end,” said Watt.

“I never felt under any sort of pressure during the game. I felt really comfortable and for me it was a comfortable first half.”

When asked about his half-time thoughts, Watt added: “Keep doing the same things. It was a night of doing the basics right, win your headers, win your tackles, play in their half. It was all about doing the right things and make sure that everyone did their jobs and we didn’t take unnecessary risks.

“When we get in and around their box, make sure we ask questions. We always felt we could ask more questions if we put balls into their box. We would get more opportunities and as you saw in the second half we got plenty.”

Hythe Town came out with all guns blazing at the start of the second half.

Garande hung a left-footed free-kick into the Whitehawk box, the ball was flicked on by Steventon sand was cleared away to Embery, whose curling shot was clawed away by the visiting goalkeeper at his near-post after only 185 seconds.

Ethan Smith then played the ball in from the right and Schafer scuffed his shot which comfortably rolled into the gloves of the Whitehawk goalkeeper.

A poorly executed free-kick in Tennent’s defensive third was intercepted by a hungry Ethan Smith, who powered into the penalty area before drilling his shot over the crossbar, aided by a deflection from a pressing Tennent.

Hythe Town kept knocking on the door and in the 51st minute, Collin’s corner from the right was hit deep towards the back post where centre-half Lex Allan played a one-two with Schafer before his cross-shot forced Mitchell Walker to palm the dipping ball over his crossbar.

“We said at half-time, we didn’t want us to sit back and I wanted to go and get the second.  Whitehawk score goals and they score a lot of late goals, as you’ve seen tonight, so one goal was never enough tonight. 

“We needed to go and get the second.  We spoke about coming out fast and get the second and trying to put the game to bed, if you like.”

Whitehawk should have done better with an opening when winger Johnson-Fisher broke down the left before playing a 20-yard pass inside to Jack Dixon, who found a pocket of space before dragging his right-footed shot harmlessly wide of the left-hand post.

Hythe Town doubled their lead through a trademark Steventon long throw, with 11 minutes and 32 seconds on the clock.

Centre-half Steventon launched his ninth and final long throw in from the right and the ball fell to Embery, who flicked his shot across the keeper and rolled the ball into the bottom far corner from six-yards to give the Cannons a deserved two-goal lead.

“I’ve said to Jake, you’ll get a load of them this season,” said Watt.

“It’s a big threat we have. We work on long throws. It’s not as easy as throw it into the box.  People have got specific jobs with the structure of the long throw and the positions have got to be right and I ask them to do things.

“That’s what Jake’s job is. A great finish, just instinctive and you want your best players in the middle of the box.  Jake is a goalscorer so you need them in the middle of the box.”

Whitehawk skipper Dixon launched a free-kick from the half-way line and Allan pushed over Tennent and referee Ayrton Hursey awarded the away side a free-kick, which was wasted by Charlie Walker, drilling his right-footed shot over the crossbar from 25-yards with 20 minutes remaining.

Schafer skipped past three Whitehawk players and lost balance inside the box before dragging his left-footed shot past he right-hand post.

“Did the pitch suit us a bit more?  Maybe.  I thought on the night we were very, very comfortable. If you look at chances created, we probably created more than double than they had tonight,” said Watt.

“Brad Schafer goes clean through and maybe should go down but stays on his feet. He was being too honest. We should score. There were loads of opportunities there that we could’ve scored four or five at least tonight, which for a club like us against Whitehawk, who we lost to last year in the play-off final, it’s a great achievement that the boys have done tonight.”

Whitehawk pulled a goal back with 34 minutes and 57 seconds on the clock.

Winger Imran Kayani broke down the right and whipped in a cross, which was flicked on at the near post by substitute Lloyd Dawes before fellow sub, Nandhra poked the ball over the line at the far post.

“It’s a poor goal to concede really,” admitted Watt.

“We’ve got a two-v-one in our favour in a wide area.  We somehow let him free. He gets a cross in, it isn’t a particular good cross but we don’t adjust centrally in the box.

“Jack Steventon and Lex Allan have got to shuffle. We don’t hold our positions and we let players across us and I was really disappointed with that goal because it’s such a sloppy goal to concede.

“But we’ve spoken about it in there. It was a pat on the back but listen I’m not happy about this, I’m not happy about that.  We set standards here, the boys have got standards they set and we try to maintain those.”

Whitehawk’s comeback was put on hold as Hythe Town scored from another set-piece with 38 minutes and 19 seconds on the clock.

Collin played a short corner from the right to Barnes, who was given time and space to whip in a low cross for Schafer to sweep the ball past Mitchell Walker from inside the six-yard box.

“Look, we’ve worked on it. It’s a different type of set-piece routine and we’ve been quite successful from it, so it’s something that we look to do and tweak here and there,” said Watt.

“We spoke about it in the week, they had three up, so I wanted to put three out for a corner and see how they did and they were slow to react and we caught them out.”

The Whitehawk goalkeeper pulled off a superb reaction save to prevent Hythe Town extending their lead.

Substitute holding midfielder Jarred Trespaderne hit a first-time ball from inside the Whitehawk half into the channel where Collin played in Embery, who drilled his shot towards the near-post only for keeper Mitchell to beat away.

Whitehawk scored a flattering second goal with 41 minutes and 31 seconds on the clock.

Whitehawk substitute Lloyd Dawes played the ball in from the right, Garande failed to clear his lines and Charlie Walker’s clinical angled drive gave Phillips no chance.

Watt said: “So unlucky. Kai’s cleared a ball and it could go anywhere and it’s drops to him.  He’s smashed the ball clear, it hits their player and goes 90 foot in the air, drops to them in the box.

“It’s one of those, it was a cup game type goal. It was never going to be comfortable and easy at 3-1, just sailing out. It was always going to be a bit nervy, as cups are.

“I would put that down to a very unlucky goal to concede – but a great finish from him.”

When asked whether there was an element of revenge in the air for this game, Watt replied: “I’ve been asked that ever since the tie was made.  I’m being honest, so much has changed, I don’t think so.

“They’ve had a lot of changes, obviously it’s the same club’s but it wasn’t a case of revenge.

“I felt the play-off final, my boys didn’t do themselves justice because it was a game too many. They played the play-off final (the actual semi-final) at Ramsgate.  I could see after 10-15 minutes (at Whitehawk) the boys didn’t have it in them what was to be required to win the game, so I think the boys maybe they felt they had a bit to prove (tonight).  We didn’t give Whitehawk our best.

“The last thing I said whatever happens tonight, they have a game. They win, they’re going to have to deserve to win. They’re going to earn anything they get here tonight.   We’re not going to give them anything.  We gave them two goals but we scored three. 

“As you saw tonight, the boys were outstanding. Everyone involved was outstanding!”

Hythe Town ran out deserved winners and can now look forward to welcoming Vanarama National League North side Chorley to Reachfields Stadium on Saturday 13 January 2024.

“Look, it will be a great game, a great occasion for the club again. It’s another chance to get to the last 16 and we’re at home,” said Watt.

“I don’t know anything about Chorley. I have to go and start doing my homework now about them.

“Like I said to the boys before the game and we touched on it afterwards, you’re not going to have a better chance to get to the last 16! Avoiding National League clubs and being at home.”

Hythe Town at Wembley?

After a few laughs, Watt replies: “I think we’re dreaming! We can dream about it but I don’t think there’s any reality to that.  We’ll just enjoy it as much as we can. We’ll do what we do, we’ll try to win games.

“Everybody knows whatever team that goes out there, they’re going to give you everything that they’ve got for as long as they can and hopefully come the 13th, that will be enough.”

Hythe Town have banked £19,644 in prize money from two FA Cup ties and six games in The FA Trophy, with a further £5,250 (win) or £1,500 (defeat) up for grabs in Round Four.

“It’s fantastic for the football club.  Times have been hard over recent years and for all the people who volunteer here, the groundsman, everyone upstairs, they deserve to be spoken with those last 32 teams left in this competition.

“They deserve that for the hard work that they put in and it’s the least we can do is go out there and do everything we can for the football club to get to that round. We’ve done it and who knows, maybe we can do one more.

“It’s always good to create new history, it is.  Even when I played when I was non-league, I didn’t take the Trophy lightly because it’s a realistic chance to get to Wembley – maybe not for clubs of our size but for other clubs it is.

“It’s all about making these types of memories and the players have done that together as a group.  It’s all about trying to create those memories and create firsts for a football club and that’s what we’ve done here for two years.”

Hythe Town return to the bread and butter of the Isthmian League South East Division on Saturday when eleventh-placed Chichester City visit.

Since beating Burgess Hill Town 5-3 away on 11 November, Miles Rutherford’s side came away from Erith & Belvedere with a point in a 1-1 draw, before losing three home games, at home to Sittingbourne (0-2), Ashford United (1-2) before losing a Velocity Cup Third Round tie (1-2) at home to Hastings United.

League leaders Ramsgate host Chichester City on Wednesday night.

“Tough game – one of the best footballing teams in the league. We got a good hiding down there, they beat us 5-0 (16 September).   That will be revenge, so we want to put that right, so we’ll go out there, do what we do, try and win a game and then take it from there.”

When asked whether he has the money available to bring in new players, Watt revealed that centre-half Ollie Gray has returned to the club from Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division leaders Faversham Town.

“We look to bring Ollie Gray back in from Faversham on dual-registration, just to strengthen us up a little bit defensively.

“Apart from that, my hands are tied. I can’t do much. It’s an area we’ve got a few suspensions that are coming our way so it’s an area that we need to get some cover in, so we’ve done it early, rather than later, so it will be good to have Ollie back.

“I didn’t want him to leave when he went last time, so he fits into the group perfectly, so looking forward to having him back.”

Hythe Town: Steven Phillips, Marcus Goldsmith, Kai Garande, Jack Steventon, Liam Smith, Lex Allan, Bradley Schafer, Aaron Barnes, Jake Embery (Sam Flisher 90), Frannie Collin, Ethan Smith (Jarred Trespaderne 77).
Subs: Josh Stirman, Charles Noyelle, Harry Rowland, Oscar Webb

Goals: Aaron Barnes 28, Jake Embery 57, Bradley Schafer 84

Booked: Marcus Goldsmith 45, Ethan Smith 69, Jarred Trespaderne 79

Whitehawk: Mitchell Walker, Joel Daly, Stefan Wright (Josh Nandhra 76), Tommy Brewer, Joe Tennent, Luca Cocoracchio, Dominic Johnson-Fisher (Lloyd Dawes 61), Jack Dixon, Ben Pope (Charlie Lambert 46), Charlie Walker, Imran Kayani.
Sub: Stephen Harman

Goals: Josh Nandhra 80, Charlie Walker 87

Booked: Joel Daly 60, Charlie Lambert 82

Attendance: 166
Referee: Aryton Hursey
Assistants: Mr Christopher Stobart & Mr Joseph Dann-Pye
Fourth Official: Mr Michael Corderoy