After a disappointing start to the season with defeat away to AFC Hornchurch on the opening day, Leatherhead played their first game in front of the Tanners faithful on Wednesday 15th August under the Fetcham Grove floodlights. Whitehawk were relegated from the National League South last season, but there fans travelled in large numbers and made themselves heard only on. Leatherhead started the game brightly with attacking intent. Early on, Salmon’s lung-busting run down the right flank was well spotted by Cullen. Salmon managed to whip a fantastic ball to the far post and Benyon ghosted in unnoticed, doing well to get his shot away. Unfortunately it hit the side netting but those in the Bernard Edwards stand initially thought it had nestled into the net! Salmon continued to exploit the space down the right and was wreaking havoc upon Whitehawk’s left-back.
Soon after occurred one of the game’s foremost talking points. With Benyon bearing down on goal he was brought down inside Whitehawk’s penalty area in what first appeared a stonewall penalty. The referee put the whistle to his mouth ready to blow but eventually decided otherwise. Unfortunately, we do not benefit from the hindsight of VAR down at the Grove! In a double blow, Whitehawk went straight up the other end of the pitch and scored. An in swinging free-kick was met with a deft header from Hawk’s no7. Despite a superb pre-season and performance on the night, it appeared a lapse in concentration from Seager may have given the goal scorer a yard of space to direct his header goalwards. Leatherhead had another valid appeal for a spot kick waived away just after the half-hour mark after a challenge on Okojie, which left him clutching his leg in agony leading to the referee stopping play. The frustration of numerous decisions going against us left Assistant Manager Martin McCarthy fuming and extremely animated in the dugout!
Leatherhead were certainly the better team in the first-half, playing fantastic easy on the eye football. There was a brilliant give-and-go interchange between Gallagher (DG) and Salmon high up the pitch ending with a deceptive Cruyff turn from DG, allowing him to get away from this marker and stride towards the opposition area. Unfortunately he was brought down illegally just on the edge of the box, but nothing came of the resulting free-kick. Shortly before the interval the Tanners got themselves on the scoresheet, and deservedly so! A long ball launched forward by Salmon was latched onto by Tanners target-man Okojie. He took one touch to bring the ball down before firing a rocket volley into the net! A fine way to open his account for the season. The final moments of the first-half saw a melee ensue between DG and Hawk’s no11, requiring intervention to stop things spilling over.
Moments after the restart Whitehawk had a very good claim of their own for a penalty after one of their players was clipped just as he was about to pull the trigger. They say things even themselves out over the course of a season, but what about during the duration of one game? Drage and Jerry could well form a formidable centre-half partnership this season. They are both possess an imposing physical presence and good aerial ability, while Drage’s finesse combines well with the solidity of Jerry’s no-nonsense defending.
15 minutes into the second half Benyon stretched to get onto the end of a long ball and played a cross into the box. Okojie’s header ricochets on the crossbar, and a few minutes later he misses another golden opportunity in what is almost a carbon copy of the first chance, missing from one foot out. Shaun played a fantastic game and his contribution to the team is noteworthy, but he will know himself he must do better and become more clinical in front of goal. At this point Whitehawk were clinging on by a thread and it appeared only a matter of time before the Tanners got their nose in front. However the game ended all-square after 90 minutes. Leatherhead will feel frustrated at not walking away with all 3 points, but will take many positives into Saturday’s game with Haringey