After back-to-back cup matches against opponents from the division below, the Magpies returned to Premier Division action on Tuesday night, hosting a Chichester City side that have enjoyed a very positive start to their season. There were only two changes to the starting line-up with Sam Beard and Michael Wood coming in for Yassin Raman and Jay Lovett, who were both on the bench.
The hosts were under pressure from the off as Chichester looked to impose their physical brand of football and they could have taken the lead as early as the second minute when Clyde Jacques mis-judged a long ball allowing Ifeanyi Onwuachu to get in but his first time effort fortunately went high and wide. The direct warning wasn't heeded though and a 6 minutes later another long ball was pumped into the Magpies' box following a clearance, but this time the ball fell to Scott Jones who controlled it well before firing a fierce, left-footed shot into the far corner to put the visitors ahead.
Loxwood nearly responded to this setback immediately as Toby House received the ball just inside the box and did well to create some space for himself before unleashing a shot on the turn that the Charlie Searle in the Chichester goal did very well to parry away one-handed. This foray forward but the hosts was the exception in the early stages as Chichester regularly threatened in and around the final third as the hosts struggled to get a foothold in the game. The score line could have made worse reading had a goal mouth scramble that saw the ball go in the net not been thwarted by an offside flag and Mark Cave's defensive header from a corner not fortunately strike the crossbar, narrowly avoiding a spectacular own goal, and then the follow-up volley was sensationally blocked on the line by a Joel Colbran diving header.
However, it was these let-offs in quick succession that appeared to finally stir the Magpies into action as Cave drove forward moments after his heart-in-mouth moment and slipped Beard away down the left. The youngster's cross-shot was well tipped away by Searle but only to Rhyan Ramsey coming in off the other flank, however his first time effort from an acute angle was cleared off the line. Soon after Byron Napper's ball into the box was cleared only as far has Harry Bachelor but his volley was sliced harmlessly into Searle's arms. He nearly made amends in the 26th minute when Cave found him but his shot from 22 yards flew just wide of the far post.
Chichester duly served notice of their ever-present threat moments later when Josh Clack got clear down the right before cutting in and letting fly on his left, but the shot was straight at Hilfiker and comfortably gathered. Still the hosts were asking their way back into the game with swift passing and movement and created another opportunity for House in the 34th minute when he was able to shoot on the turn again after being fed by Bachelor but this time the effort was easier for Searle to deal with. The young striker wasn't to be denied 4 minutes later though.
Hilfiker switched the play well with a ball out to Beard who flicked the ball onto House, in turn he instinctively set Wood away down the left and after beating the full back he drove into the area before shooting from a tight angle. Searle did well to parry the effort, but it wasn't to a safe area and House kept his composure to place a header in off the far post for the deserved equaliser and his 7th goal of the season. Despite there being to capitalise on this momentum before the break, the visitors did well to take the sting out of the game for the remaining minutes and ensured it was all square at half time.
The second half began with the visitors nearly taking another early lead. A loose pass in the defensive third following a cleared corner was seized upon by Ben Pashley who unleashed a shot from the edge of the box but Hilfiker did extremely well to get down low and tip the ball around the post. This wouldn't prove to be the young stopper's last telling contribution of the night.
Unlike the first period, the second was proving to be a battle of attrition with few clear-cut opportunities as both sides cancelled each other out in the midfield. However, as legs began tire, and despite both managers' efforts to liven things up from the bench, the game descended into an end-to-end contest and that would test the character of both squads.
With 18 minutes to go Napper's was the first to force a 'keeper into meaningful action for fully 25 minutes when he drove forward and let fly from 25 yards which Searle did very well to tip around the post. Beard delivered the resulting corner perfectly and a last-ditch header denied substitute Lovett just two yards out. The play was recycled from there and eventually came to Lovett again but his left-footed volley was straight at the 'keeper and the danger was finally quashed by the visitors.
Chichester's proficiency from set-pieces nearly told towards the end. In the 85th minute a deep corner found captain Ellis Martin at the far post but Lovett did extremely well to throw himself in front of the centre back and block the goal-bound effort. 3 minutes later it was the Magpies' turn to threaten from a dead ball. Beard's delivery was eventually cleared to Tom Summerfield (above), making his long-awaited return from injury, and he showed a customary burst of pace to get in behind on the left and his stinging effort was very well cleared off the line. Inadvertently this clearance spawned a counter-attack and as the ball was drilled across the goal mouth Hilfiker somehow got across to deny Jones a tap-in from point-blank range.
In injury time the home 'keeper had to demonstrate his promising ability again to secure a point when a short headed clearance from Scally presented Jones with another opportunity and the striker's effort appeared destined for the far corner before Hilfiker strained to get fingertips to it and tip it around the post and bring on the final whistle and ensure the points were shared. Team: Bachelor (Lovett 62), S Beard, Cave, Colbran, Hilfiker, House (Rahman 90), Jacques, Napper, Ramsey (Summerfield 62), Scally & Wood Subs unused: Atkinson & French