After a run of 5 loses in a row in December, the week leading up to Saturday's game at Peacehaven & Telscombe saw the Magpies busy in the transfer market and taking a more introspective approach to training. Upon arrival at the Unibet Stadium it was clear that there was a different feeling around the group to that in recent weeks with a refreshed, collective desire to effectuate the footballing ethos that the Club is so proud of. New signings Dave Carruthers and Tom Frankland went straight into the starting line-up in goal and on the right respectively, whilst Harry Bachelor was making his first start since 22 October after injury.
It was evident from the outset that the hosts were targeting the right-hand side, with Ellis Cowd particularly threatening throughout the match. As early as the 3rd minute Cowd was involved in a quick, short free kick that resulted in a shot from the edge of the area that Lewis Scally did extremely well to block on the line. Peacehaven had further clear opportunities to take the lead in the opening exchanges via that route but a combination of committed defending and solid fielding by Carruthers ensured parity remained. Despite the hosts having the clearer openings early on it was clear that here were two youthful sides looking to play pleasing-on-the-eye football with an exuberance that promised an entertaining afternoon. Unfortunately, in the 24th minute the chances of that spectacle were vastly reduced when the assistant referee deemed a challenge by debutant Frankland to be worthy of a straight red card much to the bemusement of all those in attendance.
A required change in formation for the visitors nearly paid dividends as Ed Davies did well down the right-hand side and fizzed in a volleyed cross that Charlie Pitcher at the back post was a whisker away from connecting with. The final ten minutes of the half though saw the numerical advantage start to take effect for the hosts. First another foray down the right produced a cross that Jake Le Grange did very well to meet with a forceful header but it flew back off the crossbar with Carruthers beaten. Only a minute later it was Le Grange vs. Carruthers again but this time the latter showed great reactions to stick up a hand to block the striker's effort.
In the 40th minute a moment of indecision in the Loxwood backline gave the hosts the advantage. Marcus Allen seized upon the opportunity and did well to swivel and curl the ball into the top corner to open the scoring in some style. The visiting Magpies reacted well to this set-back though as Byron Napper slipped Pitcher in and although Jordan Hawkins in the home goal blocked the effort, the offside flag had already been raised. There was enough time for Allen to have a chance to double his tally though when he rose well to meet a corner late in the half but it could only evade the far post.
Buoyed by the fact that finding themselves a man down certainly wasn't curtailing all their offensive threat, Loxwood came out for the second half on the front foot and in fact at times it was they that appeared to have the extra player. Despite their positive play, they were initially unable to carve out any clear opportunities though, in fact it wasn't until just after the hour when Scally met a Napper corner but his header went narrowly wide.
As the 24th minute was in the first half, it was the 72nd that would provide the most contentious moment of the second half. Neat recycling of a half cleared free kick saw Davies cutely put Scally in and although he showed great skill to loft the ball over the onrushing Hawkins and into the net, the (unusually) rotated at the break assistant flagged for offside when it appeared that the Loxwood defender was at the very worst in line with Ager Wake in the Peacehaven defence. Regardless of the decision that does not excuse what happened next when Pitcher was ill-advisedly liberal with his opinion and was duly dismissed for his comments towards the aforementioned official.
Remarkably with a two man disadvantage the visitors continued to cause the hosts problems with Toby House working extremely hard to occupy the back line and Davies finding space in-between the lines. In the 82nd minute the latter wriggled into the area and appeared to be tripped but the penalty claims were waved away and to add insult to injury the hosts duly broke up the other end and substitute Jack Doe kept his composure before slotting home to surely seal the 3 points. The visitors had other ideas though and perhaps with the hosts losing a degree of focus believing the job was done, Davies found some space on the edge of the box and tried to place a shot in the far corner. Rather than wait to see if it would find the target, House seized the opportunity to bundle the ball home to make sure and in the process, bag his 14th goal of the season.
Sensing the opportunity to grab a point Loxwood poured forward and continued to create opportunities, most notably in the 89th minute Davies worked himself some space again and let fly from 20 yards but his effort flew wide of the far post. That was until the second minute of time added on when Joel Colbran did exceptionally well by the left-hand by-line, firstly holding off Cowd's challenge (who had done well to return to the play following a crushingly fair challenge from Scally moments earlier) before drawing a foul on the edge of the area. Davies stepped up to deliver an exquisite ball to the far post and captain Eddie French held off the attentions of two defenders to rise and head the ball back across Hawkins into the net for the equaliser and spark wild celebrations.
There was little time after that for either side to provide a fifth goal in a match where incident on the pitch had the final word over incident off it. Whilst the visitors certainly arrived earlier in the afternoon with the intention of taking three points, the greater intention was to come together in the face of recent adversity. There can be little argument that this was certainly achieved with the next task being to build upon it when Crawley Down Gatwick visit Plaistow Road at the second time of asking next Saturday.