The Magpies got their Sussex Senior Cup campaign started on a glorious, autumnal afternoon at Plaistow Road where they hosted Midhurst & Easebourne from the division below but are a side making significant progress on and off the pitch and as such could not be under-estimated. Manager Mark Beard shuffled his pack again after playing 120 minutes in midweek and that saw returns to the starting line-up for Harry Bachelor, Joel Colbran, Toby House, Jay Lovett and Byron Napper whilst Tom Atkinson, Sam Beard, Eddie French and Michael Wood took a breather on the bench.
The hosts were in no mood to repeat the sluggish start of Tuesday night and in only the 3rd minute a short corner saw Bachelor deliver an excellent ball into the box to find Lovett at the far post, but the experienced front man could only put his first-time effort over the bar. This was however a sign of things to come in the first period.
Rhyan Ramsey was having joy down the left hand side but was just failing to move the ball onwards quick enough to cause Midhurst any damage. However, in the 18th minute he picked out House in the centre and the young forward calmly lifted the ball over the advancing defender before hitting a viscous volley that went just over the bar. Those older than House (just about everyone) held their breath awaiting a Gascoigne-esque goal from Euro '96 but sadly it wasn't to be a replica of an iconic moment that occurred before this particular protagonist was even born!!!
Just 2 minutes later House nearly made amends when he was put away by Ramsey in the left channel but his near ost effort was blocked out for a corner, which was duly wasted. Midhurst tried to play out from the back from the resulting goal kick but as they were pressed Martin May misplaced his pass and it was Mark Cave who seized upon the error by intercepting and driving into the area before calmly finishing past the onrushing Aaron Jeal inside the near post to finally open the scoring.
It wasn't long before the advantage was doubled. In the 24th minute Yassin Raman drove down the right hand side before cutting into the box and squaring the ball to House who scuffed his shot but fortunately had Ramsey on hand to react swiftly and tuck the loose ball away for his third goal in his last four matches.
The chances were coming thick and fast now: Ramsey and House combined well again with the latter being put through but Jeal was on hand to thwart him once more; Napper then got in on the offensive act when he rode three fouls in quick succession before driving into the area but his ball into House was cut out at the last for a corner, from which Cave had a fierce short that fizzed just over the bar. After all his effort, House did manage to get on the score-sheet in the 35th minute. Colbran set the impressive Raman away down the right before driving the ball into the near post where the young striker was waiting. Whilst his first touch wasn't how he'd have wanted it, the second was exquisite, flicking the ball up over the defender before lashing an unstoppable, left-footed volley high past the 'keeper for 3-0.
The visitors very nearly got one back against the run of play 6 minutes later though when a long ball forward was only partially cleared to Gary Norgate who tried his luck on the volley from fully 30 yards but his effort was carefully watched by Hilfiker as it flew just high and wide. The Magpies were not to be forced off the front foot though as in the 45th minute it was Raman's turn to get in on the action. After cutting inside off the right flank, he had a delicious exchange of passes with House that put him in the clear and he calmly slotted past the 'keeper inside the far post for his first 1st Team goal. You'd have been forgiven for thinking that was the end of the first half action, but there was enough added time for House to be bundled over in the box and for Cave to step up to take the resulting penalty, but the effort was too close to Jeal and he duly ensured the half time score wasn't even worse.
If the hosts were expecting comfortable ride in the second half, they were grossly mistaken. Midhurst came out heavily intent on salvaging pride if not the tie itself. In the 47th minute Lewis Scally dwelt on the ball too long and was duly dispossessed by substitute Scott Dormer who took the opportunity to bear down on goal but Hilfiker was alert to close the angle and execute an excellent block.
What followed as a prolonged period of the Magpies keeping Midhurst at arm's length whilst trying to take advantage on the break. The competence of both defences meant that this passage of play was full of effort but with very little goal-mouth action to speak of although in 61st minute another error from Scally presented Norgate with an opportunity but his shot was tamely straight at Hilfiker. A better opportunity came only 2 minutes later though when Nehniah McKenley-Burke got in behind substitute Atkinson and delivered a ball into Lewis Hamilton, but the Midhurst substitute's hooked volley wasn't as accurate as his namesake's driving. He had the opportunity to make amends three minutes later but his shot was pushed behind by Hilfiker who was having a far busier second period and could only watch as 2 minutes later another Norgate effort flew over the bar.
With 19 minutes to go Loxwood finally began to bring some more potency to their counter-attacks as Raman drove infield before slipping House in behind the backline but he could only shoot straight at Jeal. Ironically it was as the tide appeared to be turning back in the hosts' favour that the visitors finally secured their breakthrough. Their third substitute, Daniel Watts, clipped the ball into Norgate from the left back position and this time the tall forward made the chance count as he neatly finished across Hilfiker and inside the far post. It was no more than the visitor's spirited second half performance deserved, but it appeared that there was little left in the tank for them to capitalise further as from then on it was all about the Magpies.
Sam Beard's free kick with 11 minutes to go found Lovett, but his glancing head just evaded the far post. 3 minutes later Beard himself had a chance when he collected a quick free kick from Napper before cutting in from the right but his shot was easily fielded by Jeal. With 4 minutes to go Napper tried his luck from distance, taking a half-cleared ball down neatly on his chest before unleashing a left-footed volley that dipped just a yard wide. With a two minutes to go though, the fifth goal was finally secured. Colbran fed the unwavering House and he linked up quite beautifully with substitute Wood that pulled the centre backs apart and enabled House to tuck the return pass neatly home for his second of the game and sixth of the season.
There was time for House to repay the favour by holding the ball up well before setting Wood through on goal but the forward's second touch took him a little wide and gave Jeal enough of an opportunity to deny the Magpies a sixth although the final whistle that immediately followed made it all academic.
This was a very pleasing third win in three games and capped a string of matches that has enabled all squad members to gain a healthy balance of game time and rest ahead of a testing return to league action when Chichester City visit Plaistow Road on Tuesday night. Team: Bachelor (S Beard 55) , Cave, Colbran, Hilfiker, House, Jacques (Atkinson 55), Lovett, Napper, Raman, Ramsey (Wood 69), Scally Subs unused: French & Penfold