CRAWLEY Down suffered a devastating end to the Sussex Cup final when a 90th minute goal sent them crashing to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Whitehawk at the AMEX Stadium.
Underdogs Down took the lead in the 25th minute when Gaby Odunaike prodded home to turn the match into a contest.
The Anvils missed opportunities to increase their lead just before half-time and Whitehawk also failed to find the net as Down went into the break still holding their 1-0 lead.
Down made a cracking start to the second half and saw more efforts denied or go close and it looked like they could cause a shock and lift the trophy.
However Whitehawk began to bring some pressure of themselves with 25 minutes to go and in the 73rd minute equalised through Jerahl Hughes.
Both sides battled hard for the winner which could have gone to either team before the Hawks struck the killer blow in injury-time, leaving Darren Guirey’s men less then three minutes to respond before the final whistle blew.
Whitehawk had finished the season crowned Ryman Division 1 South champions while Down were 16th after recovering from disastrous opening run of eight games which saw them bottom and heading for a likely return to the Sussex County League.
Both sides took turns in creating attempts on goal in the opening exchanges. James Fraser’s looping header was punched clear by Down keeper Mark Zwadadski, while his opposite number Chris Winterton grabbed the ball from the feet of Odunaike before he could shoot.
Hughes showed good individual skill before blasting wide while Stuart Tuck, who was one of a trio of ex-Brighton regulars in the Hawks team, scuffed a shot from 25 yards.
Down opened the scoring when a long ball by Tom Graves was missed by a defender and volleyed into the right of the keeper by Odunaike, prompting a jubilant goal celebration in a corner of the pitch.
Whitehawk’s Hughes was denied by the feet of Down keeper Mark Zawadski and Andy Pearson powered a dipping 25-yard strike narrowly over the bar. At the other end Down’s French right back Aboubakal Diarra put an attempt over the bar after good work on the right by Miles Mitchell.
The Anvils might well have added a second goal soon after the break as Mitchell supplied Blewden who was in a great position in the middle of the area but advancing keeper Chris Winterton grabbed the ball from his feet befire he could shoot.
Winterton denied Blewden again moments later when he latched on to a long ball from midfield.
Whitehawk’s Hughes fired into the side-netting and James Fraser lifted over the bar a cross from substitute Ben Godfrey.
The village side were twice more denied by Winterton when Hassan Nyang fired from 35 yards and Logan crossed into the penalty area but could not conect with a team-mate.
Whitehawk levelled with 17 minutes to go with a move in from the right from substitute Lee Newman which was putaway in front of goal by Hughes.
He then struck the underside of the crossbar as the favourites searched for a winner.
However the Anvils were not rolling over and in the last five minutes both Logan and Diarra were denied chances by the in-form Winterton, frustrating Logan with a superb diving save.
As injury-time began Whitehawk took the lead for the first time when Hughes’ initial shot was saved by Zawadski but Gargan followed up and Down had to be content with the runners-up medals.
DOWN: Mark Zawadski, Aboubakal Diarra, Miles Mitchell (Hulusi Mustafa 81), Ashley Jones, Tom Graves (Ben Swetman 80), Tom Burton, Fraser Logan, Anthony Storey, Luke Blewden, Hassan Nyang, Gaby Odunaike. Unused subs: Souleymane El Assarir, Jean-Pierre Koffi, Rob Frankland
OBSERVER MAN OF THE MATCH: