The Magpies went into this match-up with one of the league’s high-flyers in Haywards Heath and were buoyed by the return to the squad of Eddie French, Jay Lovett and Byron Napper, although the latter was only able to make the bench, but they were now missing Jon Dollery. Although this experience would be invaluable, the hosts would have to be at their best to overcome a side that possessed several well-travelled campaigners and had only given up points on 4 occasions so far this season.
Unsurprisingly it was a lively start to the game with both sides keen to press their opponents and as if there wasn’t going to be enough scrutiny of the officials in a high-paced affair, referee Callum Tulley ensured a tense afternoon for himself when he awarded a yellow card to Mark Cave inside 40 seconds for an innocuous challenge that prompted no remonstration from any quarter. From the resulting free kick the ball broke to Alex Laing who’s swivel and shot took a wicked deflection but Harrison Hilfiker did well to react and hold the effort.
From that the hosts went straight up the other end where Charlie Pitcher made some room before shooting high across James Shaw in the visitor’s goal. The ‘keeper did well to palm the ball up and although the ball continued to travel goal wards there was time for Josh Spinks to complete the clearance. As soon as the 7th minute the Magpies had another good opportunity when Joel Colbran swung in an excellent ball from the right to find Lewis Scally, but the midfielder’s flicked header just evaded the far post. Heath created their own danger from a wide area moments later when Laing’s cross found Trevor McCreadie free at the back post but his header back across goal came back off the post and the follow-up effort from Callum Saunders was miraculously cleared off the line by Lovett. McCreadie would go close again in the 19th minute when he put another far post header goal wards, but this time it was French who thwarted him by deflecting the effort over the bar.
After this breathless start the two sides had begun to nullify each other’s threat with little more than Pitcher’s off-target, looping header to threaten either goal for the next 20 minutes or so, but that isn’t to the say the match wasn’t entertaining with two sides looking to play a flowing brand of football but finding defensive units that repelled their advances and a degree of officialdom that was doing little to provide the game with much momentum.
Just as it was looking to be a stale-mate at the break, the visitors seized upon an error by the Magpies. Mark Cave’s free kick from a dangerous position didn’t beat the first man and from that Heath immediately counter-attacked and a simple foot race between two of the fastest players on the pitch, Laing and Magpie’s substitute Rhyan Ramsey, ensued but it was the former that just won it and was then able to prod the ball past the advancing Hilfiker who had sought to narrow the angle and prompt much jubilation.
At the break Napper was introduced at the expense of Matt Daniel in an attempt to get a greater hold of the midfield battle and for the first 5 minutes of the half that’s exactly what happened, but the ball was given away in a sloppy manner from a throw and in the blink of an eye Laing was again found on the break and his quick shot inside the near post from 20 yards was too quick for Hilfiker who, despite getting a hand to it, couldn’t keep the effort out and the lead was doubled.
With the Magpies now having the chase the game even more the play became more open and somewhat end-to-end. Saunders found enough space in the box to get a shot away at the near post that Hilfiker did well to push behind and then from a corner at the other end French got across his man but, much like the Loxwood skipper had done in the first half, Nathan Cooper was on hand to deflect the goal bound effort over. Moments later in the 59th minute, Saunders popped up again, this time ambitiously trying a lob from an acute angle but the ball nestled on the roof of the net. The Magpies added more fire-power just after the hour mark by introducing Toby House for Harvey Enticknap and whilst the additional attacking threat managed to win a few free kicks in and around the visitor’s box, little came from those opportunities and the task was made infinitely harder on 72 minutes. As had been the risk almost from the very start, Cave committed a late challenge and gave the referee little option but to brandish a second yellow to the player and Loxwood were reduced to ten men.
With the weight of numbers firmly in their favour, Heath went looking for more goals and Laing so nearly secured his hat-trick in the 75th minute but his header skimmed the bar, and 8 minutes after that McCreadie got into the box and went over with French in the vicinity but amongst the silence of no appeals for a foul nor any flag from the assistant referee 15 yards from the ball, Mr. Tulley saw fit to award a penalty, which Saunders duly dispatched.
The Magpies gamely continued in pursuit of a consolation and came close when Ramsey’s dangerous cross in the final minute was spilled by Shaw but Scally was unable to keep his effort from the rebound down and the hosts’ hopes of avoiding a shut-out were over along with the ball.
Team: Cave, Colbran, Daniel (Napper 46), Enticknap (House 61), French, Hilfiker, Jacques (Ramsey 41), Lovett, Pitcher, Scally & Wood Subs not used: Camp & Jee Lacey & Son Man of the Match: Colbran