The Magpies came into the middle match of their run against the top three teams in the SCFL having been humbled at home by Haywards Heath and they now faced the challenge of playing top-of-the-pile Shoreham at their home ground where they had taken 27 points from a possible 27 already this season. The task ahead of them was made even more challenging with Joel Colbran on Sussex U18 representative duty in Essex and Jay Lovett a late withdrawal. They were, however, buoyed by the signing in the week of Beaconsfield Academy prospect Ed Davies who went straight into the starting line-up.
The Musselmen's quality was evident in the early stages when a flowing move down the fight saw Tom Burton slipped into the area, and although he was flagged offside Harrison Hilfiker did well to block the resulting effort. The young stopper did equally well in the tenth minute when Robert O'Toole shot from a tight angle but Hilfiker got down well and held the drive. The pressure was kept up by the hosts and two minutes later Joseph Dryer did well to get to the by-line and stand up a cross but when Burton seized on the loose ball he could only scuff his shot and it was comfortably blocked.
After surviving the early stages, the visitors started to get a foothold in the match and slowly but surely began to exert some pressure of their own, predominantly by forcing set plays in pertinent areas of the pitch. One such free kick in the eighteenth minute was well delivered by Charlie Pitcher to Mark Cave at the far post, but his well-directed header back across goal just evaded Toby House who had got ahead of his marker and looked to prod the ball home. Shoreham served notice of their potency again in the twenty-seventh minute when they countered quickly and Scott Packer did well to get a shot off but Lewis Scally did even better to block the effort and whilst the ball spun up and into the path of Burton his off-target header was correctly ruled offside.
In the thirty-first minute Cave and Michael Wood worked hard to fashion a cross from the former, which was expertly cleared for a corner, however the resulting delivery wasn't good enough and Shoreham immediately sped down the other end and whilst Burton showed great calm to round Hilfiker, Pitcher came from nowhere to block the effort at a seemingly unguarded net. From the hosts' corner, though, they nearly had more joy when an excellent delivery was met well by Andrew Pearson who headed towards the top corner but Harvey Enticknap got up equally well to clear off the line.
The Magpies' pain was only deferred though as in the thirty-fifth minute Eddie French was rightly penalised (and booked) for a foul after trying to bring the ball out of defence and this presented Dryer with the opportunity to put another quality ball into the area and he duly did so with Joe Keehan this time on the end of it and there was no mistake this time as the midfielder thumped a header into the bottom corner with Hilfiker powerless to stop it. It got even worse two minutes later when an early cross from the left saw Scally try to guide the ball back to his 'keeper, but his header was under-powered and whilst Hilfiker blocked the first effort from O'Toole, Burton was on hand to ensure that he didn't miss a second open goal, which he found emphatically to double the lead.
Each team was able to muster another clear effort at goal in the remaining minutes of the first half. First Cave delivered a dangerously whipped free kick to the back post for the visitors where French towered over his marker but his powerful header was straight at Josh Heyburn in the Shoreham goal who comfortably pushed the ball over. With a minute to go Dryer seized upon a loose ball by Enticknap and delivered yet another good cross where Joe Keehan was again on hand with a header but this time Hilfiker foiled him with an impressive stop.
The Magpies changed their shape at the break and introduced Rhyan Ramsey for Enticknap in the process but it was the hosts who still applied the pressure at the start of the second half. Dryer again hot the by-line and although Hilfiker got fingertips to the cross, O'Toole still managed to get a header goalwards but he was thwarted by the woodwork. House soon went close to getting a goal back when he got on the end of a Matt Daniel cross, but his guided header went wide of the far post despite claims for a corner to be awarded.
In the pursuit of goals to get back into the game it became clear that the efficiency of each side's counter-attacking was going to prove the vital. In the fifty-second minute, it was the turn of the visitors to demonstrate their threat as initially Hilfiker had to block an effort from Burton after his own under-hit pass but the loose ball was picked up and quickly transferred forward where upon House wriggled well in the area to create enough space to get a shot away but it was deflected narrowly wide. A few minutes later Daniel seized on a loose ball himself but his tame shot looped up and was easily collected by Heyburn who set his own team away and although Burton subsequently got the ball in the net from the break it was correctly ruled offside despite his ardent protest.
Despite the Magpies' improved efforts it was the hosts that managed to show the quality needed to strike next. Some swift and precise link-up play down their right-hand side in the sixty-eighth minute saw a driven ball put across the box, which O'Toole slid home for his 16th of an already prolific season and ensure that the three points were all but secured. To the visitors' credit though they didn't fold and what followed was probably their best period of the game as they began to find joy in wide areas, particularly on the right-hand side. Firstly, Davies and Ramsey combined well for the latter to drive a tantalising ball across goal, which was well deflected behind for a corner; then Byron Napper seized the opportunity to drive forward as defenders backed off but his left-footed drive from twenty yards was well blocked. The eightieth minute probably saw the best chance go begging when Ramsey was again at the centre of the action, this time linking well with Cave before delivering a ball into Michael Wood, but he couldn't get enough on the ball to threaten the goal and with it went the last chance of the match for a consolation.
In fact it was the hosts who would have the last say on the afternoon's proceedings. After a combination of Hilfiker and substitute Clyde Jacques denied a header following another set piece with five minutes to go, Eddie French had a moment to forget in the final minute when an ill-advised back heel in his own area did nothing but set up Richard Greenfield who duly accepted the free chance and drove across Hilfiker to complete a comprehensive victory for the hosts.
Whilst Shoreham clearly showed the quality and proficiency that is seeing them lead the way (now by 5 points) in the SCFL, the Magpies showed on numerous occasions that they possessed the technical capabilities required to cause such sides some serious difficulties with the challenge being to ensure that the quality is present in the final third create, and ultimately take, the clear opportunities that will secure points against the so-called bigger teams, In that respect it is pleasing that next up is a visit to Pagham this Tuesday night where the prize on offer is a semi-final place in the Sussex RUR Cup.