The Magpies welcomed Wick to Plaistow Road on a wintery afternoon, keen to make amends for both a disappointing performance the previous Saturday against Lancing as well as a poor showing in the reverse of this fixture back in August when they conceded a late winner moments after drawing level. Since then the Wickers have had a difficult season, finding themselves in and around the relegation zone for most of it, however a recent change in management and personnel meant that they could not be taken lightly. Max Bickell's impressive showing from the bench last week earned him a starting berth this time around and there were also starts for the returning Olly Gill and Lewis Scally in place of Ed Davies and the absent Rhyan Ramsey.
It was a very eventful opening few minutes to the match. Firstly, Harry Bachelor and Byron Napper linked up well on the right-hand side for the latter to deliver a cross that picked out the unmarked Bickell, but the young front-man was unable to keep his header down. From the resulting goal kick Wick went straight down the other end with the ball eventually breaking to Andrew Chick, but he too couldn't keep his effort under the crossbar. Immediately the ball was transferred back the other way and Bickell was able to slip Gill in behind and whilst he was actually able to test the 'keeper, Lewis Boughton was able to push the cross-shot away to safety. The Wick stopper had to be at his best 5 minutes later when Matt Daniel shot on the turn from a recycled corner across goal but was thwarted by an impressive tip around the post. The visitors again found joy down the left channel straight away and after the ball found its way to Daniel Simmonds in the area who duly went down after turning back inside, but referee Luke Chapman booked the Wick number 10 for simulation amongst a limited degree of protest.
The game descended into a degree of calm after that with both sides cancelling each other out on a pitch that was becoming (unsurprisingly) more heavy as the afternoon wore on, and it was the by-passing of the surface that nearly provided the opener in the 21st minute. A direct delivery from the back was misjudged by Napper whose header looped into the path of Daniel Hutchings who let fly with a volley from a tight angle that beat Dave Carruthers in the Magpies' goal but came back off the crossbar and away to safety. Nevertheless, the hosts thrived on the deck just 5 minutes later when Napper and Gill interlinked before the latter slipped Bickell in the right channel and he stretched to tuck the ball under the advancing Boughton and with it break the deadlock.
However, similar to the previous week, the Magpies lost their way a little after taking the lead and whilst there wasn't any direct threat from the visitors initially, the pressure was beginning to build and as such it was of little surprise when the equaliser came. Simmonds got in behind the Magpies' back line and he calmly turned back inside French before side footing past Carruthers from 12 yards out to level things up. The Wickers could well have taken the lead just 2 minutes later too as Hutchings found Ashley Harper at the far post but the tall forward couldn't take advantage of the space afforded to him. There was enough time in the half for each side to have a golden opportunity to ensure they had the lead at the break. In the 44th minute Swaine set Bachelor away down the right wing and he duly picked out Daniel who's first time effort hit the base of the far post. Only a minute later another long ball from the visitors put the hosts under pressure and amidst the hesitation between Eddie French and Carruthers, Simmonds poked the ball goalward but the home 'keeper reacted well to palm it away and ensure the sides went in level.
Where the first half was a fairly even affair, the second was to prove far from equal as the Magpies clearly had the bit between their teeth and Swaine's half volley on 48th minute from 20 yards was a sign of things to come although on this occasion it was comfortable for Boughton. 3 minutes later Napper, Bachelor and then Daniel linked up delightfully before feeding Bickell but he was denied by the 'keeper's outstretched leg. And the same player was thwarted again when his header from French's deep cross was well held. Boughton was powerless in the 57th minute though as Gill managed to block a clearance from Bachelor's cross and then promptly seized on the loose ball and fired into the bottom corner to retake the lead for the Magpies. Just after the hour mark the two sides traded efforts from tight angles but both Simmonds and then Bickell failed to find the net and then the hosts struck again to make the game safe. Daniel got away in the right-hand channel in the 68th minute and calmly squared the ball to Napper who shared a neat 1-2 with Gill before coolly slotting the ball left-footed into the corner for his first goal since early November.
In the 74th minute Robert Brown snuck in for the visitors but he spurned the opportunity to half the deficit and could only shoot wide, although he was being rapidly closed down by Carruthers. Just a minute later the hosts forced a corner and from Gills' delivery Joel Colbran rose well at the far post to head goalward but it was tipped over the bar. Substitute Charlie Pitcher had the next clear opportunity when he was set clear by Daniel following Carruthers' commanding punch at a corner but both his first and follow-up efforts were blocked and Gill was unable to find the target from the resulting corner that was taken short. The Magpies only had to wait until the 80th minute for their fourth goal though. Ed Davies had come off the bench and he fed Gill down the right channel who delivered a deliciously, tantalising cross at pace that Pitcher met at pace at the back post and duly fired home for what was his first goal since Christmas week.
It could have been more, but Davies was himself denied when he followed up on a blocked effort by Gill but Boughton recovered to tip the effort over the bar, although the officials didn't spot the save and awarded a goal kick. With 3 minutes to go the influential Gill slightly miss-hit a cross from deep on the right-hand side and Boughton had to be alert and agile to tip the ball onto the bar to deny a fifth. The final whistle soon followed and the hosts had both a victory and performance, particularly in the second half, that inspires confidence ahead of the remaining dozen games of the season where they will have the opportunity to test themselves against some potential potent opponents. It could be an interesting run-in.
Team: Bachelor, Bickell (Pitcher 73), Carruthers, Colbran, Daniel (Davies 78), French (Jacques 63), Gill, Napper, Scally, Swaine & Williams Subs not used: Camp