Whitehawk 1-0 Hythe Town - The boys gave me everything, it just wasn't enough tonight, says devastated Hythe Town manager Steven Watt

Friday 28th April 2023
Whitehawk 1 – 0 Hythe Town
Location The Enclosed Ground, Wilson Avenue, East Brighton, Brighton, East Sussex BN2 5TS
Kickoff 28/04/2023 19:45

Isthmian League South East Division Play-Off Final
Friday 28 April 2023
Stephen McCartney reports from The Enclosed Ground

HYTHE TOWN manager Steven Watt says he is feeling devastated for his group of men after losing their Isthmian League South East Division Play-Off Final at Whitehawk.

Shaun Saunders’ side booked their return to the Isthmian League Premier Division for the first time in four years after midfielder Charlie Harris drove in his eighth goal of the season to seal a promotion, in front of Whitehawk’s largest crowd of the season of 1,428.

The Brighton-based side will join champions Chatham Town (79 points from 38 games) in the seventh-tier next season.

Ramsgate had to settle for runners-up on 72 points and player-manager Jamie Coyle resigned this morning, after the Rams lost 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 after extra-time draw against fifth-placed finishers Hythe Town (67 points) on Tuesday night.

120 minutes of football on an artificial pitch against their local rivals took it’s toll on Hythe Town tonight, as they lacked spark and ruthlessness in front of goal during this often cagey stalemate.

Whitehawk finished third on 69 points, finishing a point higher than Beckenham Town and centre-half Nathan Cooper’s 58th minute header ended Jason Huntley’s side’s promotion hopes at the end of their first campaign at this level.

“A game too far, I just think it was a game too far for us,” admitted Watt, whose side won their last six league games to compete in their first Play-Off Final.

“They were always going to come out quick. I’m sure that was the message they had from us playing extra-time on Tuesday night.

“I just felt like a game too far, it had that feel about it.  I thought we didn’t get going in the first half.  I think maybe the occasion got to a few.  We didn’t look our usual aggressive and our front foot self. We looked a little bit reserved.

“Second half, I thought we were brilliant.  I thought we took the game to Whitehawk, we really put it on them but we just didn’t get that chance that we got in recent weeks and we’ve taken.

“Congratulations to Whitehawk, they’ve had a great season, fully deserved their win tonight and we’ve got to lick our wounds and move on.”

Whitehawk started the game on the front foot, in front of a noisy home crowd, although playing an air raid siren at corner kicks should be banned by the authorities.

The Hawks should have taken the lead inside the opening nine minutes, following a set-piece.

Harris floated the ball in with his right-foot from the right, Cooper flicked the ball on for 10-goal striker Robert O’Toole to lash his volley over the crossbar from six-yards.

Whitehawk went close following the second of their seven corners shortly afterwards.

Harris’ corner from the left was cleared and Harris recycled the ball back into the box and found seven-goal striker Charlie Lambert in space at the first post but his first time right-footed hooked volley screamed across goalkeeper Steven Phillips and past the far post.

“You’re going to come here and you’re going to be under the cosh and you’re going to be under the cosh early , so we knew that was going to happen,” added Watt.

Hythe Town weathered the storm, however, and called goalkeeper Luke Glover into making a comfortable save in the 18th minute.

Whitehawk holding midfielder Tommy Brewer was penalised by referee Morgan Conn for pushing over Ethan Smith – who plays behind lone striker Johan Caney-Bryan.

Frannie Collin – who sat in front of the three central defenders alongside Jarred Trespaderne, who came in for Marvin Hamilton (hamstring) – drilled a low right-footed free-kick from 35-yards, which was comfortably gathered by Glover who dropped down to his knees in the centre of his goal.

“Fran’s had a shot from far out. He’s looked to drill it and have a bit of skip of the surface to try to test the keeper but it was a decent effort but obviously a comfortable save,” added Watt.

The Cannons then quietly grew into the game but this winner-takes-all clash was largely a cagey affair.

Whitehawk were guilty of a glaring miss in the 34th minute when Alfie Rogers released Lambert down the left.  He cut inside Hythe’s left-wing-back Marcus Goldsmith (who worked hard to get back as the home side caught Hythe on the counter-attack).  Lambert’s 20-yarder, which was stroked and heading towards the bottom far corner, was spilt by Phillips and only Rogers will know how he put his right-footed shot past the left-hand post from eight-yards with the goal at his mercy.

Whitehawk sealed the deal by scoring the winning goal with 42 minutes and 9 seconds on the clock.

Substitute striker Khristopher Oti – who had earlier replaced Lambert – was sent to the ground by Jack Steventon – who plays at the heart of Hythe’s back three.

The wall did its job to block Harris’ drilled right-footed free-kick but no one pressed Harris, who drilled a left-footed shot through a crowd of players into the bottom right-hand corner from 22-yards.

Watt said: “Disappointing really. I expect us to save that or block it.  They had better chances before that to score and if they had taken one of them, you’re maybe not as disappointed with the goal itself.  But look, it happens. It skipped off the turf as well and it didn’t help Steve.”

Watt then expressed his thoughts at the interval.

He said: “I said to the boys at half-time ‘we need to get out there, we need to have a proper go.’ 

“I didn’t care if we lost three or four-nil.  It doesn’t matter. We’re not meant to be here but stop playing within yourselves and start playing with a bit of confidence because that’s what’s got you here.   I felt we did that well in the second half, we just couldn’t create that chance.”

Hythe Town created a half-chance inside the opening 11 minutes of the second half when Goldsmith’s reverse pass put left-winger Shad Ngandu in behind right-back Hamish Morrison but he lacked composure and rolled his shot into Glover’s hands at his near-post from 10-yards on the angle.

“I don’t think anyone can question the boys’ effort, application or desire second half to try to win a game or get back into the game.  We tried everything that we possibly could. It just wasn’t good enough on the night,” admitted Watt.

“It’s that old cliché, it was a game too far on an incredible season.”

Whitehawk were kicking down the slope during the second half but didn’t look like scoring until the halfway mark, following their fourth corner of the night.

Harris floated the ball in from the left towards the back post where Cooper’s replacement, William Miles, sent a free-header towards the roof of the net from eight-yards, forcing Phillips to use his left-hand to push the ball over his crossbar.

“It’s a save I’d expect Steve to make in his sleep,” admitted Watt.

“He’s on his back foot chopping away and he’s looped a header back in, so it’s a save I expect Steve to make.  When it’s a floated ball from a corner, I don’t like people get across us when it’s that type of ball delivered in the box, you feel every chance to deal with the header.”

Watt rolled the dice and threw on striker Jeff Duah-Kessie with 20 minutes remaining to partner often isolated Caney-Bryan.  Winger Sam Itauma came on with nine minutes remaining and 35-year-old targetman Nathan Elder came on for his second substitute appearance since the 8 October, for the last four minutes.

Watt explained: “I just felt it got to that stage where we had to get the ball up there and it was one of those games, I think, if we were going to get a goal, it was going to be a delivery or a second ball where another body up there that can hold (it up).

“We had three big boys up there at the end to try to get back into it but it wasn’t to be.”

Hythe Town went close to grabbing an equaliser in the final seven minutes, following their third and final corner of the night.

Collin swung the ball in towards the near post where right-wing-back Liam Smith hooked his half-volley flashing past the foot of the near post from six-yards.

Watt said: “It was a bit of a half-chance really. If a chance is to go in you’re either looking at their goalkeeper or we’ve had a massive slice of luck so it’s a half chance, nothing like we’ve created in recent weeks.”

Itauma gave Caney-Bryan his big chance to grab an equaliser but the former Sittingbourne striker was guilty of a poor touch inside the box and Hythe’s chances of taking the game to extra-time vanished.

“That’s the one for me, that summed up the night. It’s as clear as day, just two inches away from his foot, it hits his toe and if it’s two inches either side, he controls it, he’s got a free shot,” agonised the Aberdeen born Watt.

The final whistle brought a pitch invasion and red smoke lit up the sky as the hipster Whitehawk faithful celebrated their team’s deserved promotion.

Hythe Town’s hurting players and management watched the trophy presentation and they can be proud of their efforts during the course of the season.

Watt said: “Of course it does (hurt), of course. It doesn’t hurt me personally. I’m devastated for those group of players, that’s where my heart comes from.

“I’ve been fortunate, really fortunate in my career to have nights like this go my way and some of these boys have never been in play-offs, so I just wanted it for them, I really did.  I wanted them to go away and say they’ve achieved promotion.

“What we’ve achieved this year is incredible as it is, it really is.  That’s not me saying that because I don’t think the players’ are good enough. I’ve said all season, they are.

“It’s incredible how they’ve done it and how they got there. I think it’s incredible. My heart and my disappointment comes for that group of men in there because they are a special, special group of men.”

Watching the Hythe Town camp watch the celebrations was reminiscent of when Ian Jenkins’ Cray Wanderers lost their Isthmian League Division One South Play-Off Final 1-0 at Tooting & Mitcham United in 2008 – a year later, THAT free-kick from Simon Osborn sealed a 1-0 home win over Metropolitan Police in the Play-Off Final.

“It’s good to watch, to see the feeling, to experience it.  We stood there like men, we applauded, we congratulate.  That’s what we are, we do things the right way here,” said Watt.

“One thing people can’t say about us is that we we’re disrespectful or don’t treat opposition the right way and I said to the boys ‘well stand here and watch it and we’ll soak it up and we’ll congratulate’ and we’ll become better men because of it, so I’m really disappointed for those boys.”

Watt now wants to sit down with the club hierarchy and plan for next season and keeping the former Chelsea, Dover Athletic and Maidstone United centre-half at Reachfields Stadium has to be number one priority, especially with managerial vacancies at Ashford United, Herne Bay and Ramsgate in this division.

“I don’t know what’s happening with the club yet.  We need to have a chat and see what’s happening moving forward and see what the plans are and then we’ll decide from there.

“As I said to the boys before the game we’ll celebrate two things tonight. We’ll either celebrate a promotion or we’ll celebrate the season, so we’re going to have a celebration tonight. We’ll have a meet up tomorrow with all of the boys and we’ll have another few beers and celebrate what we’ve achieved and then we’ll see what happens from there.

“With success and with teams like this, when you get success their phones will be a lot busier this summer, so I said this could be the last time that we’re all together. I don’t want it to end like this.  We didn’t end it like this on the pitch, we’ll end it together enjoying it, we end it celebrating what we’ve all achieved and I can’t speak highly enough of that group of men and what they’ve done for me this season.”

Watt had this message for the Reachfields faithful.

“Thank you so much, it’s been a pleasure this season to give them this day and I apologise we wasn’t able to go that one step further for them because I really don’t think there was a group of supports deserve it more with what the club’s been through over the last couple of years.

“I think Whitehawk deserved it on the night.  I think on the night they were better than us.  I don’t think there was a massive gulf between the two sides.  I thought it was a tight cagey game but on the game itself they did enough to win, we didn’t.

“The boys’ gave me everything. It just wasn’t enough, tonight.”

Whitehawk: Luke Glover, Hamish Morrison, Stefan Wright, Tommy Brewer, Nathan Cooper (William Miles 22), Luca Cocoracchio, Joel Daly, Alfie Rogers (Leon Moore 90), Charlie Lambert (Khristopher Oti 35), Robert O’Toole, Charlie Harris.
Subs: Luke Robinson, Reece Price-Placid.

Goal: Charlie Harris 43

Hythe Town: Steven Phillips, Liam Smith, Marcus Goldsmith (Nathan Elder 86), Jack Steventon, Jason Fregene, Lex Allan, Shad Ngandu, Jarred Trespaderne (Jeff Duah-Kessie 70), Johan Caney-Bryan, Frannie Collin, Ethan Smith (Sam Itauma 81).
Subs: Josh Stirman, Morgan Williamson

Booked: Ethan Smith 19, Shad Ngandu 45, Liam Smith 90

Attendance: 1,428
Referee:  Mr Morgan Conn
Assistants: Mr David Payne & Mr Andrew Tregoning
Fourth Official: Mr Daniel Blades