The Magpies made the trip to Sussex FA HQ on Saturday to face Lancing in the League on the back of a 7 match unbeaten run, which went back over a month. After a number of changes in the midweek match against Lingfield, Harry Bachelor, Joel Colbran, Harrison Hilfiker, Jay Lovett and Michael Wood were all back in the starting line-up and amongst the substitutes was Charlie Pitcher (above) who re-joined the Club in the week from Shoreham.
The visitors' hopes for a strong start to the match were dashed in just the 3rd minute. Mark Cave's back-pass to Hilfiker in the Loxwood goal was under-hit and although the 'keeper just got his foot to the ball before Lancing's Luke Donaldson, the resulting ricochet spun up and over perfectly for the Lancers forward and he was left with the relatively comfortable task of tapping the ball into the unguarded net to secure the lead.
Parity was almost immediately restored when Toby House did well down the right to get a cross in, which looked destined to reach Sam Beard 6 yards outs, but Josh Green in the Lancing goal got fingertips to the ball to avert the danger. In the 21st minute skipper Byron Napper looked likely to level things up when he seized on a Lovett knock-down from a Beard corner, but his shot looped over the bar. 4 minutes later Lovett had a chance of his own, also from a Beard corner, but the experienced campaigner couldn't get a clean contact from 6 yards out and Green was able to stick out a foot to block the effort.
Although the visitors had dominated the exchanges following that poor start, the potential potency of the hosts could not be taken lightly and they soon caused more problems when their direct play wasn't properly dealt with. Firstly Donaldson seized on a loose ball from a free kick in the 33rd minute but his lobbed effort when over the bar. They had greater joy 7 minutes later though when Mike Williamson chased the ball into the area where Hilfiker was adjudged by the Assistant Referee to have got to the ball second before bringing the Lancing man down and a penalty was duly given. Robin Deen stepped up to take the resulting penalty and fired it low towards the bottom left corner, however, he had not counted on Hilfiker flinging himself full length in the right direction and getting down low to tip the ball around the post. The danger wasn't over though as from the resulting corner Alex Bygraves rose highest to head towards goal, but it went just past the post and the scoreline remained as was come the half-time whistle a few minutes later.
The second half nearly started the same as the first as Tom Caplin drove forward for the hosts, but his shot from distance was comfortable for Hilfiker as he plunged to his right again. Moments later Cave nearly had another moment to forget when he was dispossessed by Ryan Waterman deep inside his own half who then slipped the ball to Donaldson, but his guided strike fortunately didn't have the impact of the first half incident.
These scares prompted a prolonged period of Loxwood pressure with Wood and House initially linking up well to put the latter in a clear shooting position but his shot was the wrong side of the near post. Then Napper robbed Caplin as he tried to dribble the ball out, but his adrenaline-fuelled shot from 25 yards was always rising and so went by without threatening the scoreboard. Manager Beard was prompted to make a change, bringing Pitcher on for House, only to be immediately confronted with an injury to Cave that saw Eddie French enter the fray. It was to prove to be the first of these two substitutions that would have the greater impact.
In the 72nd minute Lewis Scally won the ball and did well to set Pitcher away down the left and the striker, who scored in excess of 25 goals for Loxwood last season, wasn't shy in cutting in and shooting and whilst the ball looked like being destined for the far corner, a wicked deflection ensured the equaliser by giving Green no chance. And it was only 4 minutes later that Pitcher would have another big say in the outcome of the match. This time there was no doubt who would take 'credit' for the goal as the young striker got ahead of his marker and rose well to meet Beard's in-swinging corner and duly glance a header inside the far post to give the Magpies the lead for the first time.
The final 10 minutes and added on time would prove to be a nervy affair as the hosts threw caution to the wind in pursuit of an equaliser whilst the visitors did all they could to stand firm against a somewhat aerial barrage of pressure yet try to remain a threat on the break. Lancing substitute Brad Donaldson was being given regular opportunities to put testing deliveries into the box from free kicks, but on the few occasions that an attacking head made connection first it was all very comfortable for Hilfiker in comparison to a more turbulent first period for the young stopper.
In added-on time the Magpies could have put the game to bed, particularly in the 92nd minute when neat interplay between earlier substitute Yassin Raman and Pitcher put Beard in space in the left channel of the penalty area, but his resulting cross-shot evaded the far post. As it happened a bemusing 6 minutes of additional time was played, but the visitors held on thanks in no small part to some heroic clearances from Lovett and French at the heart of the back line.
This was a very pleasing result for the Magpies as they found themselves playing on a 3G surface that initially held the ball up, but after a mid-match deluge had to adjust to a greasier pitch, all against a side that offered little space within the width of the 18 yard box and worked diligently on their defence.
Pitcher will no doubt take the plaudits following his return to the Club, but this win owes just as much (if not more) to the excellent penalty save by Hilfiker who did well to recover from the decision to award the spot kick in the first place before performing his heroics just before the break to keep the Magpies in the match.
With no match this midweek, we now look forward to welcoming Saltdean United to Plaistow Road next Saturday for the first time in quite a while as the two sides compete for a place in the quarter finals of the RUR Cup. Team: Bachelor, S Beard, Cave (French 66), Colbran (Raman 52), Hilfiker, House (Pitcher 65), Lovett, Napper, Scally, Summerfield & Wood Subs unused: Enticknap & Smith